MINDS Exchange 2024

The MINDS exchange session is a unique platform where presenters from various institutions will share their valuable experiences and insights into implementing mental health initiatives at their respective institutions through posters and discussions. The session will showcase a diverse range of approaches, providing a comprehensive view of effective mental health strategies. Attendees can expect to gain practical knowledge, innovative ideas, and actionable insights that they can leverage in their own institutions.

View the abstracts and posters below.

For information about the conference schedule, click here.
For more information about all sessions and topics click here.


Warenje community building initiative

Olya Vvedenskaya and Mayya Sundukova

Dr. Mayya Sundukova and Dr. Olya Vvedenskaya created a scientific community-building project (https://www.warenje.net/) to equip science-oriented professionals with the essential tools for cultivating vibrant and supportive research communities.
Warenje project explores intentional aspects of community building, including values, mission, and vision of potential research communities. They also develop tools for identifying and engaging community members, creating effective communication strategies, identifying allies, and developing solid and sustainable community structures.

Contact them at warenje.team@gmail.com!

The Need for Sustainable Leadership in Academia


Academia is a world of uncertainty – terminated positions, publish or perish, and Science in itself can be challenging to navigate. Therefore, the role of the group leader comes with special responsibilities. But let’s be honest – would you feel prepared to tackle this role?

As young academics from different scientific fields, our vision is an academic environment which acknowledges and fosters leadership and mentorship as central pillars for good and reliable science. We aim to empower scientists to lead themselves and others, while promoting sustainable practices that enhance the well-being and thriving of individuals at all levels of academia. Using holistic leadership practices, academics of all levels and disciplines can contribute to a sustainable future in science - on a sociological, ecological and economical level.

Driven by our own experience as scientists trained in various fields of academia, SciLead also conducts metaresearch on the topic of leadership in academia – one example is our survey on the state of leadership in German academia, which we published in 2021 (Haage et al. 2021, EMBO). Since then, we have been working on novel concepts on how to transform leadership training in academia to better prepare emerging leaders in science. We build and reach our community through interactive workshops, networking events and advocacy.

Team for Mental Health of the German Young Chemists Network

Laura Hillebrand, Leonie Reinders, Alexandra Tietze, Anna Röhnelt, Felicitas von Usslar, Tom Götze, Emilia Wilkersmann, Alena Neudert

We, the team for mental health of the German Young Chemists Network, are an initiative to inform, shine a light, and provide help in the area of mental health and wellbeing in the rather conservative field of chemistry - where the opinion that only hard work and long hours bring success often still persists. To inform students about these topics, we have organized several online lectures with different partners. To put mental health in the spotlight, we have started a blog with experience reports from chemistry (PhD) students of all walks of life, sharing their stories to help others feel less alone. To help students, we have established a mentoring program that pairs older students with younger ones to guide them with topics like stress, exam anxiety and mental overload. Furthermore, we are currently conducting a PhD student survey to collect data on their situation and potentially use our influence as part of the biggest chemical society in Germany to improve their circumstances. We are receiving positive feedback which encourages us to continue our work: Many people are interested in our talks, we were able to publish articles about our work in the “Nachrichten aus der Chemie” of the German Chemical Society and our mentors stressed that they were able to provide valuable guidance to their mentees while also learning a lot about themselves. We hope to present our initiative in the MINDS conference and look forward to hearing ideas for improvement and lively discussions.

Creative Writing for Wellbeing

Shelley O'Connor and Charlotte Cosgrove

Creative writing for wellbeing incorporates writing imaginatively and therapeutically, through the medium of poetry, biographies, and short stories. Creative writing can take you on a spiritual path, exploring your feelings and emotions. I attended a 6-week course at a local college, facilitated by an English college lecturer and poet, Charlotte Cosgrove. The course incorporated tasks inviting the group to discuss openly their feelings, or any trauma to support them in their own recovery journeys, this was well received. Tasks ranged from identifying traits that you admire and dislike in people; finding synonyms for words and writing a poem about that word; write a letter as a child to your adult self; mind dumping; letter of forgiveness; 100-word short story, among other tasks. Post session, the group would if they felt comfortable to, discuss their writings, and convey their emotions, that was conducted in a therapeutic manner. Finally, the collection of short stories and poems created are then used to compile an anthology together, to be published. Personally, this course supported me in how to embrace and effectively use reflection and reflexive writing in my PhD, and I was able to apply some of the tasks in my sessions with my own students. Not only does this course support students across educational levels, it can also be used to support academics to explore ways of developing greater resilience, managing stress, and cultivating wellbeing.

Contact us at charleycosgrove@gmail.com (Charlotte Cosgrove) and S.B.OConnor@ljmu.ac.uk (Shelley O'Connor)!

Research & Programming

From Stress to Success: Somatic Experiencing Based Mental Health Support for Ph.D. Students

Dilara Özel

In response to the growing mental health challenges among academic communities, I developed and conducted an 8-week online Somatic Experiencing (SE)-based support program specifically designed for PhD students. This program seeks to foster a more supportive mental health environment within the academic sector by leveraging the principles of SE to address and alleviate stress and its manifestations.

The program was structured to accommodate PhD students from our university, regardless of their physical location, enabling participation from different cities or countries. To ensure a smooth and privacy-respecting online experience, preliminary meetings were held to test technological setups, with the mandatory use of headphones for all participants. This step ensured a secure and focused environment conducive to personal sharing.

The curriculum unfolded progressively, starting with introductions and the definition of stress, followed by an in-depth exploration of the nervous system through the SE perspective. Each session was meticulously designed to guide students through a journey of self-discovery related to stress identification, emotional awareness, and bodily sensations. By teaching students to recognize their stress signals and drawing on resources, the program aimed to equip them with practical tools for managing stress. Weekly exercises focused on emotions, body sensations, and the application of learned techniques, culminating in a reflective concluding session.

Addressing the imposter syndrome among us!

Darragh McCashin

Based on qualitative research and an ongoing literature review, this initiative adopts a cognitive behavioural approach to facilitating interactive group sessions to raise awareness of, and potentially reduce, imposter syndrome.

Bridging research, practice and advocacy as part of a network to promote mental wellbeing in academia

Brian Cahill, Stéphanie Gauttier, Janet Metcalfe, Stefan Mol, Darragh McCashin and Gábor Kismihók

In recent years, many studies highlighted the increased prevalence of depression and anxiety among academic researchers. This has been accompanied by high levels of career precarity among those pursuing careers in academia.

The ReMO COST Action on Researcher Mental Health built an international network of researchers from 41 European countries and several outside Europe. ReMO promotes wellbeing and mental health within the research environment. The Researcher Mental Health and Well-Being Manifesto calls on stakeholders to act to foster mental health and wellbeing, reduce mental health stigma, and empower researchers when it comes to well-being in their workplace.

ReMO regularly engages with diverse stakeholders at all levels within the research environment. ReMO launched a survey of the mental health and working conditions of researchers throughout Europe in September 2023. ReMO is coordinating a set of national briefs that will provide a background description of the mental health and careers situation of researchers within national research environments throughout Europe. ReMO successfully advocated for the inclusion of mental health in the revision of the European Charter for Researchers that was approved by Council of EU member states in December 2023.

This practical session will offer critical reflections on how to leverage pan-European networks to advance dialogue on mental health and wellbeing policy across academia at community, institutional and policy levels.

Resources shared during the session:

Creative Thinking

Fostering Mental Wellness in Academia: The Innovation of a University Mental Health Café - A Case Study

João Miguel Alves Ferreira and Sergii Tukaiev

In the bustling and demanding landscape of academia, students often find their mental health overshadowed by the rigors of academic life. However, in response to the pervasive pressures of university life, a proactive student embarked on an innovative journey to prioritize mental well-being. By founding a "Mental Health Café" as a refuge for open dialogue, students convened to share coping strategies amidst the stresses and anxieties of their academic pursuits. This initiative transcended traditional norms by incorporating music therapy sessions, where participants discovered solace in the emotive power of melodies, fostering camaraderie and providing relief from stress. Additionally, outdoor "mindfulness garden sessions" offered a serene environment for meditation amidst the natural beauty of Coimbra (Portugal), further enhancing mental resilience. This case study illuminates the transformative impact of thinking outside the box in mental health care, reshaping the academic environment into a sanctuary where creativity and solidarity foster mental wellness. This grassroots endeavor not only empowered individuals but also sparked a ripple effect, advocating for compassionate support throughout the academic community. Through creativity, solidarity, and a shared commitment to holistic wellness, the academia and university campus underwent a profound transformation, becoming nurturing environments where students could thrive both academically and emotionally.

Increasing Academic Publication Opportunities for Undergraduate and Graduate Students

Vanessa Ip

There are a total of 87 student-led journals across University of Toronto campuses, with only a handful focusing on the sciences. Many of them accept academic writing such as original research, literature reviews, theoretical papers, and letter to editors. As many researchers know, publication, especially if peer-reviewed, is highly valued. Student journals allow undergraduate and graduate students a low-stakes opportunity to publish their academic work and gain experience in the review process. I am proposing that student journals add a section to publish formal academic work outside of their current guidelines. Examples include article or topic critiques, commentaries, and informative articles. This would allow for more casual and lay-audience friendly section, similar to a science magazine, where students can submit work that they do not think is novel or “high quality” enough. Doing so also removes the barrier of students who are in years one to three, who have likely not taken a thesis or independent study course yet. I have experienced this first-hand through IMS Magazine, which publishes only professor interviews, opinion pieces, and summary of new topics in the scientific field. I think that including these types of academic writing would encourage students to submit and get familiar with the peer review process. Even considering the idea, would allow editorial teams to think about the limitations of their journal and how inclusive or accessible it is to students.

Coping with Creativity: The relationship between Depression/Anxiety and creative coping in College-Age Students

Nelly Dragu

The relationship between creativity and mental illness has been established in the literature. There are multiple possible explanations for how mental illness and creativity are connected, and creativity has shown to be an effective treatment for different mental illnesses (for example, through art therapy). Despite this, there is limited research on which creative activities those with mental illnesses naturally use to cope. Information on the type of creative coping that the mentally ill naturally gravitate to and find most effective can further inform possible treatment plans and suggestions. This study aims to address gaps in the literature concerning how college-aged students with the most common mental illnesses, which are depression and anxiety, use creativity to cope. This study will look at how type of mental illness affects the type of creative coping chosen, how severity of mental illness impacts use of creativity, how severity of mental illness impacts frequency of creative coping, and if there is an interaction between multiple mental illnesses present and how that may affect frequency and level of creative coping.

Wellness with WACHSO: Supporting UBC WACH graduate students through student-led wellness events

Jalisa Karim and Hebah Hussaina

The Women+ and Children’s Health Sciences (WACH) program at UBC has over 60 graduate students enrolled. We have been the Wellness Coordinators on the WACH Student Organization (WACHSO) since the program began in 2022 and have taken a holistic approach to wellness, including mental, social, and physical well-being.

Events we have run included a Crafts & Chats event and a Games Night, where we provided wellness packages to attendees. At our Wellness Wednesday with WACHSO event, students met each other speed-friending style with questions focused on wellness, took a movement break, and shared dinner while participating in crafts. These events allowed students to de-stress and take a break from focusing on their work while discussing common well-being topics including imposter syndrome.

We started an annual WACH Us Move week that we ran in Jan-Feb 2023 and 2024. This week involves daily physical activity challenges, such as “resistance/strength training”. Every day students can send proof of them completing the challenge for a chance to win prizes. These challenges help students to engage in physical well-being during the winter months when they may not be as active.

We have aimed to make our events accessible and inclusive to all students. For example, our WACH US Move challenges could be adapted to any level of ability. We also have a Bunny Therapy event planned for March 2024, where students can choose to interact with bunnies and other attendees.

Achieve results and feel good with the Grid™ Method

Magdalena Bak-Maier

We delivered a series of time-efficient and highly relevant empowerment workshops aimed at early career researchers and students targetting: (a) organization and time management, (b) career management and (c) mindset and confidence. We established a baseline to test the impact of this intervention over 3 and 6 months. Participants not only took practical actions but felt motivated and empowered. The Grid method helped them tackle practical work as well as how they felt about themselves. Typical feedback included:

“I have also picked up a number of useful tools to aid my productivity which, up to now, was quite effective in breaking down tasks but ineffective in balancing the different quadrants of the Grid.”, “It has helped me with achieving a better work-life balance and moving forward, I think the concepts taught with help me feel more productive in all aspects of my life.” "The simple and easy tool Grid help me nowadays to have a global idea of what has to be done during the week without forgetting the personal life. Some precious advices were said to help me manage work stress as a perfectionist.”

Find out more case studies and ideas at www.maketimecount.com/grid

Social Entrepreneurship as a Tool to Enhance Researcher Wellbeing

Diana Freiberga, Zigmunds Freibergs, D&Z Projects, Ltd.

Researchers often face immense pressure, isolation, and burnout in their academic pursuits. Institutional policies in Latvia fall short in recognizing and addressing these challenges. Social entrepreneurship is a tool that can help overcome these issues by offering specialized support while involving diverse funding opportunities.

We have recently started such an enterprise in Latvia. Our business model involves offering wellbeing and soft skills-related trainings to research institutions. To execute these workshops, we use our own expertise or attract external experts. One of our recent events, Researcher mental health afternoon at the Latvian Biomedical Research and Study Centre was focusing on highlighting the mental health issues in academia with a complementary stress management training. We attracted a life science manufacturing company as a sponsor and attempted to provide as much value as possible. The event was well received and led to an invitation to plan a series of wellbeing seminars for the researchers of another scientific organization.

Altogether, the greatest benefit of this approach is the autonomy and flexibility of serving the research community without being dependent on a sole organization. Starting from the ground up, the biggest challenge has been sustaining the personal enthusiasm, earning trust with no previous results, and validating our business model which continues to be our priority for the current development stage of the enterprise.

Personal Development Modules for Learners and Professionals

Geraldine Maughan

Having studied the Personal Development (PD) module for four years, it is expected learners will have gained the skills to continue with what I, and McLeod and McLeod (2014, p. 9), understand PD to comprise of, namely: "an enduring, career long commitment to engage in cycles of collaborative reflection on both life experience and practice, leading to new ways of understanding and active experimentation of new ways of being with others, for the purpose of being able to be as useful as possible to the service users with whom one works". Self-awareness is required to know when one’s own limits are reached and when to say “No” in order to preserve one’s own mental health. Stress and burnout are generally experienced by workers providing direct, one to one, services to individuals, especially those in mental health and health care professions. Additionally, organisational factors, issues such as overwhelming caseloads, long hours/shifts, and insufficient resources also play a role in burnout (Stoesen, 2008). Johnson and Acabchuk (2018) confirm self-care is thus critical for one's efficacy and the achievement of both professional and personal obligations. That sense of self-efficacy or achievement is attainable when PD is provided as core modules for those students training to work with the most vulnerable in society. Feedback from forty-one participants outlined how PD Group Work was, and is, fundamental to their mental health and well-being both personally and professionally.

Informal Pastoral Support for Postgraduate Research Students

Paul Baxter

Postgraduate Research (PGR) students have their research and admin support provided by their supervisory team. Pastoral support, where this is provided at all, is typically also provided by the supervisor. In our School (of Computer Science, SoCS, equivalent to a department), we are setting up a pastoral support system for PGR students that is separate from the formal supervisory arrangements. This entails identifying an academic not involved in the student’s supervision to act as an informal contact point (i.e. contact initiated by the student) for pastoral issues, or issues that the student is not comfortable raising with their supervisory team. With this arrangement we can decouple (to a certain extent) research progress from other issues, if that is what the student would like to do. While there are informal support networks that exist within research groups, and University-led skill-training programmes (at U.K. institutions at least), these typically rely on the initiative and personal circumstances of the individual students. We have made all the arrangements necessary, and identified the individuals who can act in the pastoral role outlined above. What remains now is to launch with the PGR students in SoCS. Having not run such a scheme before, we have many unanswered questions. We therefore seek to get feedback on our proposal, learn from similar existing attempts and best practices where they exist, and discuss how to maximise benefits for students and staff alike.