Monday, March 6, 2023

Yet /another/ depressing blog post on chemistry graduate student mental health

This is a post about mental health and self-harm in graduate school in chemistry. There's some sad news here, but you don't have to read it. Your personal mental health is important to me. 

Item 1: The death of well-known graduate student Samantha Mensah (founder of the BlackinChem organization) was reported on Twitter. Here is the official UCLA obituary about Ms. Mensah. (Wow.) The context is sufficient to indicate that she died by suicide. 

Item 2: There is a Twitter thread about another graduate student (Nic Watkins) from Northwestern. The context again indicates that Mr. Watkins died by suicide, but this is less clear.  

I don't have a sense as to the quality and quantity of mental health resources available for graduate students in chemical academia these days, but I would like to think that there is more of now than there was in, say, the time of Jason Altom. I genuinely don't know, but my gut sense is that there is. Of course, we have no data to indicate that there is more or that there is less. Either way, there wasn't enough for Ms. Mensah or Mr. Watkins. 

[Both Ms. Mensah and Mr. Watkins were Black. I owe their memories respect by not speculating and simply acknowledging this fact.]

Not being a mental health professional, I don't have the expertise to understand exactly why mental health issues seem to happen in graduate school, but having once (a long time ago) been a graduate student in chemistry, it seems that one's mid-20s are when these issues happen and the isolating nature of research also plays a role. That's my working theory, but again, I'm not a psychiatrist nor a psychologist. 

You would think that a powerful and independent professional society would have a task force analyzing best practices for bettering the mental health environmental in chemical academia. Sadly, the American Chemical Society is neither powerful nor independent. It'd be hard to imagine a society of volunteers who are mostly academics deciding this particular nettle needed to be grasped. I'd vote for an ACS presidential candidate who decided to take their two-to-three years to highlight this issue, but I don't see that happening. 

This is not my first time writing on this issue, and it's something I care deeply about. I wish I had a better answer for it all, and I/we owe current and future graduate students in chemistry something better than we have right now. That's all I got. 

Finally, if you have made it this far, and you are a graduate student or a postdoc having a tough time, know this: I made it through graduate school and a postdoc and you can as well. There are resources out there to help - if you can't find them, email me ( and I will do my best to help you as well. 

Some resources: 

988 Suicide and Crisis Lifeline: The 988 Suicide and Crisis Lifeline is a hotline for individuals in crisis or for those looking to help someone else. To speak with a trained listener, call 988. Visit for crisis chat services or for more information.

Crisis Text Line: The Crisis Text Line is a texting service for emotional crisis support. To text with a trained helper, text SAVE to 741741. It is free, available 24/7, and confidential.


  1. Extremely saddened to hear this news. Thank you for your continued advocacy.

  2. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

  3. That official UCLA obituary was sickening. It was pretty much UCLA patting themselves on the back for being so good at DEI after their toxic environment drove her to commit suicide.

    I also don't see how the context of it implied that her death was a suicide. It was intentionally vague about the cause of death, which usually means either drugs or suicide if the person was young (more commonly the former).


looks like Blogger doesn't work with anonymous comments from Chrome browsers at the moment - works in Microsoft Edge, or from Chrome with a Blogger account - sorry! CJ 3/21/20