Well-being & mental health

It is very probable that you will experience multiple ups and downs during your PhD, and that’s completely normal! However, whilst some level of stress is acceptable, distress and anxiety due to stressful situations are not. Stress due to bad relations with your supervisor or colleagues, a lack of respect, or an unrealistic workload, have to be avoided.

You have rights, and respect and tolerance are the basis of a good working environment. And there are people to assist you in finding solutions regarding your well-being.

The sections below list some of the options you have depending on what kind of support you need. If you’ve read everything but still don’t know who to contact for a particular issue, ask the PhD representative of your doctoral program or the doctoral school staff to direct you to the appropriate person.

For additional information, you will find all the rules, practices and values governing the EPFL in the compliance guide.

Interpersonal support

If you feel uncertain about what your supervisor expects from you, about how you are handling your research, and don’t really know how to communicate your doubts: talk to your peers. Other PhD students and postdocs in your lab or program have most probably already experienced similar situations and can offer advice and guidance.

If you have questions about your thesis, EPFL-related work in general, or your lab, contacting your thesis director is a good first step. You should have at least one discussion about your work with your director every year when filing the annual report, but you can always ask for more frequent meetings and feedback. Generally, it is normal to meet your supervisor at least once a month, so that you can have a clear idea of how they think your project is progressing. They should also ensure a good working environment in the lab, and address and manage conflicts between members of the lab.

If you are unwilling or unable to have a conversation with your thesis director, talk to your mentor. Upon enrollment in the doctoral program, you have been assigned a mentor, who is a professor or senior scientist that can act as a mediator between you and your thesis director. You may directly contact your mentor, who will make suggestions to solve possible issues. Your mentor is also there to give you advice about your career or discuss any other considerations that you don’t want to discuss with your thesis director or supervisor.

If you have issues with administrative or procedural issues, or are not sure who to talk to, contact the administrative staff in your doctoral program. They can usually offer very good advice and orient you to the right interlocutor, as they are aware of the structure in place at EPFL.

If you need an external point of view in the case of communication issues with your supervisor or your research group and have already contacted your mentor, the doctoral program director knows your rights as a PhD student and should be able to help solve possible issues. In the case where the program director is your thesis director, or if for some other reason you are uncomfortable to discuss with the program director, or in urgent situations, you can contact the Doctoral School (EDOC) staff directly. EDOC oversees all doctoral programs. They will offer support and intervention in a confidential manner.

If you need support from outside of the EPFL hierarchy for any interpersonal issues, contact the Person of Trust, who offers such services to EPFL employees while being outside of the EPFL hierarchy. They will work in strict confidence and anonymity, being submitted to professional confidentiality.

Medical and psychological support

If you are being harassed, talk about it as soon as possible and ask for help. Silence does not solve anything. In fact, it can have a negative effect on self-esteem. It also allows the purported harassers to continue with impunity. You will find additional details about the help you can get at EPFL and the steps that you should take to put an end to this situation on this webpage.

If you are being psychologically or sexually harassed, you can report it to EPFL’s “respect” unit. They have a detailed guide for PhD students as well.

If you are being discriminated due to your sexual orientation or identity, or generally have questions about LGBT-related issues, contact the Safe Space initiative.

If you need individual support and counseling for matters related to stress, social integration, adaptation, disability, special needs, and such, you can get free individual support through the Student Affairs. To make an appointment, please contact the Student services desk in person, by phone or by email.

If you need medical support or advice, the psychiatric and psychotherapeutic consultation on EPFL campus is here for you. To request an appointment please send an email at psy-epfl@chuv.ch. The first consultation is free of charge, paid by EPFL.

Ethical support

If you observe unethical or illegal behavior, and are unwilling or unable to get internal EPFL structures to fix it, contact the ombudsperson.

Mental health

If you or someone you know is experiencing a mental health crisis that needs immediate intervention, including suicidal thoughts, there are several resources providing anonymous and confidential support.

La Main Tendue is a 24 hour anonymous mental health helpline providing support in French, German and Italian. They can be reached directly by dialing 143 from any Swiss phone.

The Stop Suicide association is an organization working to prevent suicide among youth. Their website has many resources which may be helpful.

For telephone support in English, Samaritans is a UK-based crisis line that can be reached by dialing +44 8457 90 90 90. The Suicide Prevention Lifeline is a US-based crisis line that can be reached by dialing +1-800-273-8255. This number is free to call using Skype.

This page was heavily inspired from the PolyDoc guide.