Braden Molhoek

This chapter examines how the practice of science in the Western academy at best inhibits the acquisition of some of the moral virtues, and at worst, perpetuates vices such as injustice. I examine the differences in health and stress between undergraduate and graduate students, arguing that failing to address student mental health concerns makes it more difficult to cultivate intellectual and moral virtues. I then give further attention to the health of graduate students and postdocs. As a direct extension of these concerns, the argument shifts to the academic job market. The problems facing doctoral students and postdocs raise questions about whether virtue can be cultivated at all in these circumstances. Even if virtue can be acquired, graduate students and postdocs are either failing to be told, or failing to internalize, the realities of the employment landscape, affecting how they understand the virtues of magnanimity and prudence. The final part of the argument points to issues in academic publishing, suggesting how the current situation contributes to injustice for scholars. The conclusion of the chapter suggests first steps that can be taken in order to address these concerns.

Undergraduate and Graduate Student Mental Health

The current model of higher education requires both undergraduate and graduate students. There is growing evidence that higher education is affecting the mental health, as well as the overall health, of students. Depression and stress are common in both populations, but it is important to investigate the similarities and differences in the underlying reasons of undergraduate and graduate student mental distress.

In a 2013 study, Wyatt and Oswalt recorded data from over 34,000 undergraduate and graduate students in the United States in order to attempt to answer this question.[1] They used data compiled in the American College Health Association-National College Health Assessment (ACHA-NCHA) II, using the data of part-time and full-time students at fifty-seven institutions, including two-year and four-year schools.[2] The ACHA-NCHA II includes demographic information as well as a variety of health and behavioral information. In order to see how mental health might interact with school performance and behavior, the researchers chose to look at four collections of issues around mental health: “feelings and behaviors related to poor mental health, mental health diagnoses, use of mental health services, and perceived impact of mental health on academics.”[3] After exclusions, the eventual data set included 27,387 students under the age of fifty. The vast majority were undergraduate students (88.9%) and almost all (94.6%) came from four-year schools.[4]

At first glance, the undergraduate and graduate data are extremely similar. 17.1% of undergraduate respondants were diagnosed with depression, compared to 17.0% of graduate students. Where results differed was in the self-reporting of feelings. Undergraduates “reported higher rates of feelings and behaviors related to poor mental health. Undergraduates also reported experiencing traumatic situations within the last 12 months at higher rates than graduate students.”[5] Graduate students, on the other hand, reported higher level of stress than undergraduate students, with the most common underlying reasons being “schoolwork, finances, graduate/teaching assistantships, career planning, and family issues.”[6] The researchers acknowledge that given the low response rate of graduate students, there are limitations to the study. Of particular note, they believe that their results may only reflect the mindset of graduate students with “less severe mental health challenges,” with the assumption that those who suffered higher rates of stress or mental health challenges may have opted to not to respond to the survey.[7]

So while both undergraduate and graduate students experience depression, it seems that the underlying reasons for mental distress are different. For undergraduate students, greater independence at a time of significant transition, combined with insufficient experience and coping skills, makes them more vulnerable to stress.[8] The most common underlying causes of stress for graduate students, however, include schoolwork, finances, and career concerns. These differences mean that these populations need unique solutions in order to address mental distress as well as the issues that contribute to it.

To move the discussion into the realm of virtue studies, undergraduates are being given greater agency than they had previously had, but this freedom can have negative effects on their mental health. Certainly, making mistakes and learning from them is part of the development of a moral agent, but as the brains of undergraduates are still developing, they will need more support than those who have more practical experience. For graduate students the underlying issues generating mental health problems may be different and require different solutions, but the effect these stresses have on the acquisition of virtue is the same as it is for undergraduates, although most graduate students are old enough that at least their brains have finished developing. This does not change the fact, however, that disorders such as depression disrupt the acquisition of virtue because of how it distorts perception and reasoning.

Depression is not only a mental health concern; it also affects moral deliberation. It affects a person’s optimism, or what might be possible in terms of deliberative action. The experience (or lack thereof) of pleasure is also affected, with depressed people getting less enjoyment from experiences than they would if healthy. These two examples alone suggest how the virtues of prudence and temperance are affected by depression. If one has a skewed sense of what is possible or likely to be successful, it becomes more difficult to anticipate how one should react in any given situation. Likewise, if people do not receive pleasure from things they might otherwise enjoy, they may turn to other things in order to experience pleasure, such as overeating or abusing alcohol.

Mental and physical health also play a role in how the brain functions, so there are concerns for the intellectual virtues as well. Suffering from disease makes it harder for students to excel in their studies. Depression and physical health concerns stemming from poor decision-making affect not only the acquisition of the moral virtues, but also the cultivation of the intellectual virtues. Wisdom, understanding, and techne all require proper use of reason, and therefore are more difficult to acquire if students are not adequately healthy. In order to encourage the cultivation of both the moral and intellectual virtues, institutions need to provide resources to students, or at least find ways to encourage increased use of existing services.

Further Attention to Graduate Student Mental Health

Because the mental distress graduate students face has different contributing factors, it is important to look in greater depth at the effects of graduate school on students. The academic study of science requires graduate students in order to perpetuate the field. Doctoral students in the sciences are needed in order to continue research but also contribute to the academy itself upon graduation, theoretically replacing current professors as they retire. Three recent studies provide a more comprehensive examination of graduate student mental health.

A 2017 study by Levecque and Anseel surveyed 3,659 doctoral students in Belgium and compared those results to three other populations: those who are highly educated in the general population, highly educated employees, and higher-education students.[9] In order to assess mental health, they relied on a version of General Health Questionnaire that has twelve parts. In this context, a mental health problem is scored on a twelve-point scale, and Levecque and Anseel used a score of GHQ2 as the starting point for problems. They also examined scores of GHQ4 as an indicator of having developed a more serious disorder like depression.[10]

The results show that “51% of PhD students experienced at least two symptoms (GHQ2 ), 40% reported at least three symptoms (GHQ3 ), while 32% reported at least four symptoms (GHQ4 ).”[11] These numbers were significantly higher than for any of the comparison groups. The higher education students scored the closest, and their symptom scores were 30.61%, 22.21%, and 14.55% for two, three, and four symptoms respectively.[12] This means that doctoral students were more than twice as likely than any comparison group to exhibit three or four symptoms, four symptoms being the threshold for developing a disorder such as depression. Age did not appear to be a relevant factor for mental health, but female doctoral students were 34% more likely to report two or more symptoms than male doctoral students. Having a partner seemed to decrease the probability of symptoms, and having children made students less likely to score a GHQ4 but did not affect scores of GHQ2 .[13]

A March 2018 study by Evans and Bira examined the mental health of graduate students by surveying 2279 students (90% Ph.D., 10% Master’s students) from twenty-six countries. The students came from a variety of academic disciplines, with 56% in the humanities and 38% in the biological and physical sciences.[14] The scales used for assessing mental health were the GAD07 (Generalized Anxiety Disorder, 7-point) scale for anxiety and the PHQ09 (Patient Health Questionnaire) scale for depression. The Generalized Anxiety Disorder scale awards zero to three points for each of seven questions; the Patient Health Questionnaire scale does the same for nine questions. The results of these surveys are quite striking.

Evans and Bira’s first conclusion is that “graduate students are more than six times as likely to experience depression and anxiety as compared to the general population.”[15] With specific reference to anxiety, 6% of the general population reported moderate to severe anxiety, a score of 10 or more on the scale, whereas 41% of graduate students reported the same. 6% of the general population also reported having moderate to severe depression, a score of 10 or more on the PHQ09 scale, compared to 39% of graduate students. Gender also made a difference in this study, with women more likely than men to experience anxiety and depression, and those who identify as transgender or gender non-conforming more likely to experience anxiety and depression than women.[16]

Evans and Bira identified two factors that made a great difference in students’ mental health. The first of these is having a good work/life balance. 56% of those who scored as having moderate to severe anxiety did not believe they had a good work/life balance, whereas 24% believed they did. The numbers are very similar for those who scored as having moderate to severe depression, with 21% believing they had a good work/life balance and 55% disagreeing.[17] The second factor was having a supportive PI. In response to every question about how a PI could support a student, at least 48% of those suffering from anxiety or depression disagreed that their PI was supportive.[18]

The final aspect of graduate student health I will examine comes from the Graduate Student Happiness & Well-Being Report, done by the University of California-Berkeley in 2014.[19] Cal randomly chose 2500 graduate students to survey, with 32% (or 790 students) responding, covering a wide range of schools and professional goals.[20] The authors used a ten-question Center for Epidemiologic Studies Depression Scale (CES-D) scale for their depression evaluation.[21] Similar to the previous studies, the report identifies roughly 47% of Ph.D. students as having moderate to severe depression. Although humanities students depression, 43–46% of biology/physics/engineering/“Other Professional” students also scored as moderately to severely depressed.[22]

The Berkeley report identifies the top ten predictors of graduate student health, the first of which is career prospects.[23] In the Recommendations section of the report, the authors state that “[i]mproving students’ feelings about their career prospects may involve doubling-down on efforts to help graduate students understand and prepare for career opportunities available to them, especially ‘beyond academia.’”[24] Finding full-time work in academia is becoming increasingly difficult, so I can understand the school’s strategy to encourage student health by expanding the definition of what “career success” means. However, I imagine many students pursue a Ph.D. for a job in academia, though perhaps fewer in the sciences than in the humanities, and concerns about the increase of contingent faculty exacerbates concerns about justice in the academy.

The top ten also contains predictors related to physical health, such as overall health and the amount of sleep students are able to get.[25] The remaining predictors can generally be categorized into two groups: financial and engagement. The financial predictors include living conditions and financial confidence, that is, how much students worry about money. The engagement predictors include social support, academic engagement, academic progress and preparation, feeling valued and included in the department, and mentorship and advising.[26] Again, we see significant overlap across studies regarding the underlying contributors to graduate student health.

Employment: Postdocs

One way in which doctoral students in the sciences might try and improve their career prospects, particularly if they are not able to secure a full-time position in academia before graduation, is to become a postdoctoral fellow, commonly known as a “postdoc.” Such a position keeps a young scholar in academia and provides opportunities to research and publish. However, these are not permanent positions, and research shows that life satisfaction for postdocs is no better than for graduate students. In 2013, Gloria and Steinhardt published a study which applied the positivity ratio to a sample of two hundred postdocs from a research school in Texas. To determine a person’s positivity ratio, researchers use “the 20 item Modified Differential Emotions Scale (mDES; Fredrickson et al. 2003, Frederickson 2009). Ten of the scale’s items assed the participants’ positive emotions (e.g. amused, hopeful, inspired, and proud) while the remaining 10 items examined negative emotions (e.g. angry, distrustful, fearful, and overwhelmed).”[27] The positive score is then divided by the negative score to obtain the positivity ratio. The scale presents a ratio of greater than 2.9 as a flourishing individual, a ratio between 1.0 and 2.9 as a languishing individual, and a ratio below 1.0 as depressed.[28] Researchers wanted to see whether these ratios were related to individuals’ stress, anxiety, and depressive symptoms, so they also used a ten-point stress scale and twenty-point anxiety and depressive symptom scales.[29]

The relationship between the positivity ratio and stress, anxiety, and depressive symptoms aligned with the researchers’ hypothesis. Individuals identified as flourishing based on the positivity ratio also had the lowest level of the other symptoms, with an increase in these among the languishing, and the highest totals among the depressed.[30] The languishing, who made up 58% of the two hundred subjects, were the largest group. Depressed postdocs represented 29% of the sample, followed by the flourishing at 13%.[31] The differences in stress, anxiety, and depressive symptoms were statistically significant.[32] Not only did the depressed category, according to the positivity scale, have the highest rates of stress, anxiety, and depressive symptoms, but the average rates of depressive symptoms were high enough “for clinically significant levels of depressive symptoms.”[33] In both the depressed postdocs sample and the general population, 21% reported a depressive symptom score of 16 or higher, which indicates moderate levels and could be a sign of clinical depression.[34] In this sample the rate of depression was much closer to the general public than in the earlier studies I described, which could mean that postdocs fare better than doctoral students. But even if that is the case, postdocs still have major concerns about the next step in employment, being hired as faculty.

In the discussion of virtue, these studies make it increasingly clear that graduate students especially, and postdocs to some degree, experience severe mental health stressors as a part of their academic lives. As stated previously, disruptions to mental health can make it more difficult to deliberate or reason, thereby making the acquisition of virtues more difficult as well. An additional virtue to bring into the conversation at this point is Aristotle’s virtue of magnanimity. In this virtue, the great-souled person is aware of what they are capable of doing. Given the disparity between the academic jobs that graduate students and postdocs want, and the availability of these jobs, it is clear that academic institutions have not been effective at conveying the nature of the job market and job prospects to students. By not being transparent or completely honest about placement rates for tenure-track positions, schools are allowing students to believe that long-term academic employment is far more likely than it actually is. Whether this is because they have a financial interest in recruiting and retaining graduate students, or whether they have just been unable to provide accurate information (as opposed to making their placement stats look better than they are) or to convince potential graduate students, the results are the same. Far more graduate students are interested in long-term tenure-track employment than can be placed in available jobs.

It is also worth mentioning that the postdoc study uses the category of “flourishing.” In a virtue approach, the ultimate end for humans is flourishing, as in a life well lived, a life that led to the cultivation of the virtues. Aristotle argued that “because human nature is not self-sufficient for the purposes of contemplation, the body must be healthy, and food and other amenities must be available.”[35] In other words, in order to even speak of the acquisition of virtue or flourishing, people need their basic material needs met. Survival, therefore, is a necessary prerequisite for flourishing. Even with one’s basic needs met, Aristotle still believes that “it is difficult if not impossible to do fine deeds without any resources.”[36] Although there is a chauvinist aspect to this position, which suggests that the wealthy Greek elite are the only people capable of virtue, Aristotle’s point is still valid in that people require a basic standard of living to even be capable of moving from survival to flourishing. Any increase in resources beyond subsistence can then contribute to the furthering of virtue.

Aristotle’s point is especially relevant in the context of the concerns of graduate students and postdocs. If financial matters and future employment are some of their greatest concerns, and the uncertainty of being able to survive after graduation or the end of a contract is causing mental distress to the levels being reported, then academic institutions are not providing enough financial support to graduate students or postdocs. The acquisition of virtue is difficult enough in light of mental health concerns. Adding pressure about basic needs into the mix means that it might not be possible for graduate students or postdocs to even consider the cultivation of the virtues. These concerns will remain a part of the discussion as attention is given to issues of contingent faculty.

Employment: Contingent Faculty

According to the 2015–2016 Annual Report on the Economic Status of the Profession from the American Association of University Professors, there has been a seismic shift in higher education hiring over the past forty years. Since 1975, the percentage of full-time tenured and tenure track professors has fallen significantly while the percentage of part-time faculty has almost doubled. Full-time tenured faculty made up 29.03% of all faculty in 1975, bottomed out at 16.82% of faculty in 2011, and rose to 21.45% of faculty in 2014. Part-time faculty, on the other hand were 24% of all faculty in 1975, reached their highest percentage in 2011 at 41.45%, and only dropped slightly to 40.93% in 2014. While the percentage of tenured professors has only dropped approximately 8% over the past 40 years, the percentage of full-time tenure-track professors has dropped from 16.12% in 1975 to 8.05% in 2014.[37] The rise in part-time faculty has led to major concerns. While many of those concerns affect part-time faculty primarily or exclusively, they are also relevant to higher education in general. Part-time faculty are paid less for their labor, usually without any kind of employee benefits. With adjuncts often being hired on a quarterly basis, these positions provide neither stability nor the chance to plan ahead more than a few months at a time. But there are concerns for higher education that go beyond those that part-time faculty experience themselves.

A 2017 literature survey by Kimmel and Fairchild examines how part-time faculty are affecting higher education. Although part-time faculty “tend to be dedicated teachers, and presumably, without scholarship or service expectations, can devote all their efforts to student learning,” the reality is that many part-time faculty have a higher teaching load than those who are tenure-track. This load is often spread across multiple schools, limiting the time faculty can give to any particular student body.[38] Grade inflation is also a significant issue. This has been a problem for years, but it turns out that, ceteris paribus, part-time faculty give higher grades than full-time faculty. This could be in part because they want to minimize criticism from students that could lead to unemployment.[39] (Student course evaluations are virtually the only way that part-time faculty are evaluated.)[40]

Looking at part-time employment in academia makes it clear that some of the issues affecting the mental health of graduate students do not end with graduation. If part-time faculty have higher teaching loads than tenure-track faculty, then it becomes even harder to establish a healthy work/life balance. If contingent faculty do not know whether they will have a job in three months, there is not a healthy or supportive relationship with the department, school, or institution. Finally, if future job prospects are a top indicator of mental health, part-time faculty have little to look forward to in light of the hiring trends in the AAUP report. Putting together a teaching load to pay the bills can prohibit a part-time faculty member from doing other things, such as writing, publishing, and presenting at conferences, to build their resume.

As stated previously, there are serious consequences for not having adequate financial support; one cannot begin to think about flourishing is one is fighting for survival. This is not to say that all Ph.D. graduates are owed a job in academia, but those that are employed by academic institutions should be compensated properly for their labor. The move to contingent faculty has certainly saved institutions money, but college tuition increases continue to outstrip inflation, so the money saved is not going to make education more affordable. It seems to be largely going to upgraded facilities with additional amenities to entice students, as well as to administrative staff, who make more than contingent faculty.

Another virtue to be brought into the conversation, then, is the virtue of justice. If justice is the disposition of giving people what they are due, it is questionable whether academic institutions are doing this with part-time or contingent faculty. They may not be doing research for schools the way that many tenure-track professors are, but they are not being compensated equally for the same kind of teaching work. Contingent faculty may not receive a research budget, travel accounts, or other research-related financial support, but they should receive benefits such as health care and receive at least a living wage for their work, if not wages that are commensurate with the teaching responsibilities of tenured faculty.

Academic Publishing

Academic institutions may not be giving contingent faculty what they are due, but at least they are providing some compensation. Academic journal publishers, on the other hand, often fail to provide any financial compensation to authors, regardless of whether they are tenured or not. The dissemination of research is thus another source of justice problems for the academy, both for those doing the research and those who depend on access to it.

There was once a variety of ways in which research was published. However, in the nineteenth century academic journals became the best way to spread results because they were faster and more convenient than other options. Their influence continued to grow, and eventually journals became the dominant method of publishing academic research, particularly in the sciences.[41] In the first half of the twentieth century, journals were operated by scientific societies, but following World War II, corporations began playing a larger role in the publishing of academic journals.[42] Since then publishing companies, and specifically the largest companies, have continued to increase their market share. In 1973 the five largest publishers, four of which are corporations, published 20% of all articles in the natural and medical sciences. By 1996, this figure had grown to 30%. By 2006, the top four corporate publishing companies and the American Chemical Society published half of all natural and medical science articles. This percentage remained stable until 2013, when it increased to 53%, with the three largest of the top five publishing over 47% of all articles.[43]

As these companies were able to minimize their competition, their profits increased greatly as well. For example, Reed-Elsevier’s “profits more than doubled” from 1991–97, growing “from 665M USD to 1,451M USD—profit margins also rose from 17% to 26%.”[44] Over the next six years profit margins dropped while profits remained steady, and then following 2003, with the exception of the economic downturn in 2008–09, profit margins and profits grew again, to over $2 billion in 2012 and 2013.[45] Profit margins never dropped below 30% after 2006 and grew to 38.9% in 2013.[46] These numbers are consistent with the other three companies in the top five.[47] Springer, John Wiley & Sons, and Taylor and Francis had profit margins of 35%, 28.3%, and 35.7%, respectively, in 2012 or 2013.[48] In order to give these margins some context, the Larivière study compares these companies to the most successful banks, drug companies, and car companies. The most profitable bank, the Industrial & Commercial Bank of China, had a profit margin of 29%; Pfizer, the top drug company, had a profit margin of 42%; and Hyundai Motors, the most profitable car company, had a profit margin of 10%.

The question could be asked how these publishing companies are able to generate such profit. The publishing world has a unique set of contributing factors. Larivière argues that

[u]nlike usual suppliers, authors provide their goods without financial compensation and consumers (i.e. readers) are isolated from the purchase. Because purchase and use are not directly linked, price fluctuations do not influence demand. Academic libraries, contributing 68% to 75% of journal publishing revenues, are atypical buyers because their purchases are mainly controlled by budgets. Regardless of their information needs, they have to manage with less as prices increase. Due to the publisher’s oligopoly, libraries are more or less helpless, for in scholarly publishing each product represents a unique value and cannot be replaced.[49]

The cost of physical journals includes “manuscript preparation, selection and reviewing as well as copy- editing and layout, writing of editorials, marketing, and salaries and rent.”[50] The two greatest of these costs are writing and reviewing, and these are free for the publishers. Authors are also forbidden from submitting a potential article to more than one publisher at a time, so publishers are not competing with each other for content; each publishing company offers a unique product. The rise in digital technology reduces post-publication costs as well. For each copy of an article accessed online or reproduced digitally after initial publication, there are virtually no costs, and “when the marginal cost of goods reaches 0, their cost becomes arbitrary and depends merely on how badly they are needed, as well as by the purchasing power of those who need them.”[51] If I did not have access to several academic libraries as part of my employment, I would have had to rent or purchase some of the articles I used in researching and writing this paper. Those costs are well above zero and all of the profits made from renting or purchasing papers go to the publisher, not to the authors of these texts.

Previously, corporate publishers added value to the process with layout, printing, and distribution, but as their own profits increased, their added value did not grow at anywhere near a similar rate. Authors and reviewers currently provide the most value. Of course, suggesting there are ethical issues with publishing is nothing new, but when young scholars are facing a job market for tenure-track positions that is constantly shrinking, publications are needed to try to secure jobs, and if by chance a tenure-track position is secured, publishing is a requirement of these positions. Likewise, tenured professors need to continue to publish to maintain or increase their status and to ensure they still have access to future grant funding. The more prestigious the journal, the better for them—and all of the prestigious journals are controlled by the top five publishers.

The practices of academic journal publishers present the clearest argument thus far for the perpetuating of injustice. Publishers could argue that they are not doing anything unethical and that they are simply following market trends while providing authors with the proper compensation for their work: exposure. There are always people looking to publish, so there is no leverage on the part of academics to expect financial compensation for their work. However, just because it is legal does not mean it is ethical. Authors are not operating in a free market where they can solicit multiple publishers for their work; they must deal with one publisher at a time, granting each publisher a monopoly on what they produce. And given the financial success of these publishing companies, it is clear that there is a market for academic research, although this market is also not free. Because each publisher has a unique portfolio, they can choose to charge whatever they want and institutions cannot get access to that material from other sources. Scholars and students need access to research, so academic libraries are atypical buyers and placed in difficult spots. Nevertheless, in late February 2019, the University of California system cancelled its subscription contract with Elsevier. During the negotiations, administrators at UCLA urged their faculty not to review Elsevier articles in order to highlight concerns with its current business model.[52] Although the UC system is not the first institution to engage in these behaviors, it is one of the largest to do so and has brought additional attention to these important issues.


Although the practice of science has given us knowledge about life, the universe, and, if not everything, then many things, it is safe to say that science is not perfect. What I have tried to do here is to identify what lies in the shadows of the practice of science. Identifying concerns that affect both those who practice science as well as those being taught to practice science should be beneficial to the field. Though there is not time to delve deep into solutions, I want to share some first steps towards addressing these concerns.

For undergraduate students, Wyatt and Oswalt found that students were better able to tolerate stresses associated with the transition to college with “a strong social network, good physical health, and a sense of control over one’s personal life and academics.”[53] Including first-year programs that allow for the growth of these things would help students proactively. Another way to assist undergraduate students is to keep track of overall negative behaviors. Undergraduates are more likely to react to mental pressures in ways that are also unhealthy for them in general, such as smoking or drinking, and these decisions also have an effect on academic performance. By monitoring academic performance as well as “health risk behavior trends,” institutions are more likely to identify at-risk students sooner.[54] Having programming specifically designed to engage with the negative effects of poor health choices, such as the dangers of binge drinking and smoking, again particularly in the first year of school, can also inform students of the dangers and remind them of the available of existing health services.

For graduate students, there are several clear ways to help them deal with mental health pressures. The first of these answers involves improving advising. Almost all of the studies examined here state that a positive relationship with one’s PI makes a significant difference in the mental health of graduate students. It is also shown that this positive relationship can make students more likely to seek out and utilize campus counseling services.[55] The Berkeley report showed the importance of a strong social network, which can be more difficult for graduate students than undergraduates because they are often more separated from campus life. Another way to help graduate students, then, is to provide opportunities for them to be more engaged in the community, and not only in academic settings.[56]

Just offering graduate students opportunities to be more engaged on campus is not enough, however, particularly if students are already feeling stressed and do not feel they have the time or resources to participate in these activities. Financial concerns are paramount for graduate students. Ensuring graduate students are compensated fairly for the work they do is probably the single thing schools could do that would have the most impact, but also the thing that would likely cost them the most. However, though proper compensation in the present cannot alleviate fears about career prospects, it would greatly enhance graduate students’ experience.

Employment issues are far more complex because they do not involve individual institutions where administrators can make specific changes. Rather, these concerns involve systemic change across not only the United States but the entire world. Graduate institutions need to be transparent throughout the entire graduate education process, including about how they benefit from having students and about the realities of the job market. Prospective students need to be informed about the vastly reduced opportunities to pursue an academic career before they decide to invest time and money in a graduate program. Schools can also work on assisting students in job placement when nearing graduation and afterward.

The other thing graduate institutions can do is to reverse past hiring trends. With ample evidence of the problems contingent faculty create for both students and the faculty themselves, schools need to invest more money in properly compensating teachers. Instead of replacing a retiring professor with multiple adjuncts to save money, schools need to provide additional opportunities for people looking for jobs. Institutions continue to flood the market with graduates in order to sustain their own finances, but they do so at the expense of their own students.

Finally, academic publishing could also be changed to reduce the existing injustice in the system. My first suggestion is that the government should stipulate that any research done using government funds needs to be accessible to those who helped fund it. If taxpayer money is spent on research, then citizens have a right to access the published results of that research with little or no charge. Additionally, both the business model of the journals and copyright practices should changes. Authors should not have to give up the rights to their work in order to get it published, and because they provide content to journals, they should be compensated, both upfront and with royalties from secondary sales of issues/article reprints. Doing so would also raise the level of content for journals, because people would be more invested in publishing high-level work if they were compensated properly. Peer review is another practice requiring compensation. People do not routinely go to their lawyer or doctor and ask for free services, so why should journal publishers be able to get away with it? Again, compensation for this work will also increase quality, because peer reviewers will be more invested in the process and will give the review more time than they might otherwise. These forms of compensation would help graduate students and contingent faculty even if schools are unwilling to reform.

I have tried to identify a number of ways in which the academic study of science perpetuates injustice. Almost everyone involved, from undergraduates to tenured faculty, is affected by these issues—if not through teaching or advising, then through the problems associated with academic publishing. These problems do not have simple solutions. I have only tried to point in the direction of some steps that could be taken to address these concerns. It is my hope that through continued study, and through individuals and institutions that act as exemplars, the academy can begin to move from stifling the acquisition of virtue to cultivating and promoting virtue.

BRADEN MOLHOEK received a Ph.D. in Ethics and Social Theory from the Graduate Theological Union in 2016. He currently works at the Center for Theology and the Natural Sciences at the GTU, and teaches at the Graduate Theological Union and Santa Clara University. His research interests include bioethics, virtue ethics, theology and science, theological anthropology, and technology and ethics.


  • AAUP. “Higher Education at a Crossroads: The Annual Report On the Economic Status of the Profession, 2015–16.” Academe (March-April 2016): 9–23.
  • Aristotle. The Nicomachean Ethics. Edited and translated by J.A.K. Thomson. London: Penguin, 2004.
  • Evans, Teresa M., Lindsay Bira, Jazmin Beltran Gastelum, L. Todd Weiss, and Nathan L. Vanderford. “Evidence for a Mental Health Crisis in Graduate ducation.” Nature Biotechnology 36.3 (2018): 282–84.
  • Gloria, C.T., and Mary Steinhardt. “Flourishing, Languishing, and Depressed Postdoctoral Fellows: Differences in Stress, Anxiety, and Depressive Symptoms.” Journal of Postdoctoral Affairs 3.1 (January 2013): 1–8.
  • Kimmel, Krista M., and Jennifer L. Fairchild. “The Journal of Effective Teaching.” A Full-Time Dilemma: Examining the Experiences of Part-time Faculty 17.1 (March 2017): 52–65.
  • Larivière, Vincent, Stefanie Haustein, and Philippe Mongeon. “The Oligopoly of Academic Publishers in the Digital Era.” PLOS ONE 10.6 (June): e0127502. http://dx.doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0127502.
  • Levecque, Katia, Frederik Anseel, Alain De Beuckelaer, Johan Van der Heyden, and Lydia Gisle. “Work Organization and Mental Health Problems in PhD Students.” Research Policy 46.4 (March 2017): 868–79.
  • Panger, Galen, Janell Tryon, and Andrew Smith, for The Graduate Assembly. “Graduate Student Happiness.” 2014. http://ga.berkeley.edu/wp-content/uploads/2015/04/wellbeingreport_2014.pdf.
  • Wyatt, Tammy, and Sara B. Oswalt. “Comparing Mental Health Issues Among Undergraduate and Graduate Students.” American Journal of Health Education 44.2 (March 2013): 96–107.

  1. Tammy Wyatt and Sara B. Oswalt, “Comparing Mental Health Issues Among Undergraduate and Graduate Students,” American Journal of Health Education 44.2 (March 2013): 97.
  2. Ibid.
  3. Ibid., 98.
  4. Ibid., 100.
  5. Ibid., 102.
  6. Ibid., 104.
  7. Ibid., 105.
  8. Ibid., 102.
  9. Katia Levecque, et al., “Work Organization and Mental Health Problems in PhD Students,” Research Policy 46.4 (March 2017): 868.
  10. Ibid., 873.
  11. Ibid, 874.
  12. Ibid., 875.
  13. Ibid.
  14. Teresa M. Evans, et al., “Evidence for a Mental Health Crisis in Graduate Education,” Nature Biotechnology 36.3 (2018): 282.
  15. Ibid.
  16. Ibid.
  17. Ibid.
  18. Ibid., 283.
  19. Galen Panger, Janell Tryon, and Andrew Smith for The Graduate Assembly, “Graduate Student Happiness” (2014), http://ga.berkeley.edu/wp-content/uploads/2015/04/wellbeingreport_2014.pdf.
  20. Ibid., 2.
  21. Ibid., 17.
  22. Ibid., 6.
  23. Ibid., 2.
  24. Ibid., 13.
  25. Ibid., 2–5.
  26. Ibid.
  27. C.T. Gloria and Mary Steinhardt, “Flourishing, Languishing, and Depressed Postdoctoral Fellows: Differences in Stress, Anxiety, and Depressive Symptoms,” Journal of Postdoctoral Affairs 3.1 (January 2013): 2.
  28. Ibid., 3.
  29. Ibid.
  30. Ibid., 5.
  31. Ibid.
  32. Ibid., 4.
  33. Ibid., 6.
  34. Ibid.
  35. Aristotle, The Nicomachean Ethics, edited and translated by J.A.K. Thomson (London: Penguin, 2004), 275.
  36. Ibid., 20.
  37. AAUP, “Higher Education at a Crossroads: The Annual Report On the Economic Status of the Profession, 2015–16” (March-April 2016), https://www.aaup.org/sites/default/files/2015-16EconomicStatusReport.pdf, 14.
  38. Krista M. Kimmel and Jennifer L. Fairchild, “A Full-Time Dilemma: Examining the Experiences of Part-time Faculty,” The Journal of Effective Teaching 17.1 (March 2017): 53.
  39. Ibid., 54–55.
  40. Ibid., 55.
  41. Vincent Larivière, Stefanie Haustein, and Philippe Mongeon, “The Oligopoly of Academic Publishers in the Digital Era,” PLOS ONE 10.6 (June 2015): e0127502, http://dx.doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0127502, 2.
  42. Ibid.
  43. Ibid., 3.
  44. Ibid., 10.
  45. Ibid.
  46. Ibid.
  47. Ibid., 3.
  48. Ibid., 10.
  49. Ibid., 11.
  50. Ibid.
  51. Ibid., 12.
  52. Lindsay Ellis, “U. Of California System Cancels Elsevier Subscriptions, Calling Move a Win for Open Access,” The Chronicle of Higher Education, February 28, 2019, https://www.chronicle.com/article/U-of-California-System/245798.
  53. Wyatt and Oswalt, “Comparing Mental Health Issues Among Undergraduate and Graduate Students,” 102.
  54. Ibid., 103.
  55. Ibid., 104.
  56. Ibid.

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