Biochemistry graduate student advocates for mental health in STEM fields

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Lin Fay

BMSB PhD student Xiaofei “Fay” Lin is gaining attention for her efforts to raise mental health awareness in Science Technology Engineering and Math (STEM). 

Having struggled with depression herself, Fay started advocating for mental health awareness in STEM after seeing the appalling effects of mental health stigma first-hand.  

“For the longest time, I was afraid to talk about my depression in academia, where rampant stigma often equates mental health struggle to ‘being weak’ or ‘being unfit for science.’ I saw fellow students shame each other for missing class due to health issues, and mentors who actively disregarded the physical and emotional wellbeing of mentees,” Fay said. “It was shocking to me that no one spoke out about this behavior.”

In March 2019, Fay created her Twitter platform (@xiaofei_lin) focusing on mental health awareness, mentorship, and inclusivity in STEM. In a little over a year, Fay has reached over 10,000 followers composed of academics from around the world.

Fay’s success on Twitter has led her to be featured as a moderator for discussing graduate student mental health in the #COVIDisruption Twitter chat series for Chemical & Engineering News (C&EN) alongside Dr. Jen Heemstra, Associate Professor of Chemistry at Emory University, and Dr. Maria Gallardo-Williams, Distinguished Undergraduate Professor at North Carolina State University. On April 6th, Fay was quoted in a C&EN article about the impact of COVID 19 on graduate students, and gave tips for managing depression while social distancing. On April 21st, Fay did an in-depth YouTube chat with mental health advocate Dr. Susanna Harris, founder and CEO of PhD Balance, about isolation as a graduate student.  

“I love science but systemic issues in academia, such as mental health stigma, often drive people out of the field. The success of my outreach on social media has shown me that academics WANT more open dialogue about mental health, but don’t have spaces for these discussions. My goal is to address that gap.” Fay said. 

Fay is a 4th year PhD student in the UCLA Biochemistry, Molecular and Structural Biology (BMSB) Program. She received a B.A. degree in biology from New York University, and is now working towards her Ph.D. in the laboratory of Prof. Alexander Hoffmann (UCLA Microbiology, Immunology and Molecular Genetics) as a Cellular and Molecular Biology Trainee. In 2019, Fay won the Audience Choice Award at the 5th Annual Grad Slam Final Competition and in 2018, she received national recognition as a NSF Graduate Research Fellowship Program (GRFP) Honorable Mention recipient.  

Fay offered some additional resources for those interested in mental health in STEM:

Mental Health during Your PhD

Dr. Zoë Ayres, an analytical R&D scientist and mental health advocator, has created a series of posters which can be found on her Twitter page to raise awareness of issues people face in academia.  

PhD Balance

An online platform for graduate students to share mental health stories.

Fay’s COVID Twitter threads:

Alternative phrasing for academics during COVID 

Zoom tips

Info about other moderators of #COVIDisruption Twitter chat:

Heemstra lab website 
Jen Heemstra’s Twitter: @jenheemstra

The Department of Chemistry & Biochemistry and our student groups are also working to bring awareness to mental health issues. In early March of this year, the Biochemistry Student Association (gBSA) partnered with the Organization for Cultural Diversity in Science (OCDS), Queers in STEM (QSTEM), Advancing Women in Science and Engineering (AWISE), and the Cellular and Molecular Biology (CMB) Training Program to co-host a “Navigating Grad School: Mental Health and Wellness” workshop for our students, postdocs, and faculty. The purpose of the event was to build a more collaborative community throughout the department in a safe, welcoming environment in order to begin the important conversation of mental health in the scientific fields. The workshop was led by UCLA’s Counseling and Psychological Services (CAPS) and included resources available to our students and faculty and small group scenario workshops to help identify potential problems one can experience in the lab and how to handle these situations.

Penny Jennings, UCLA Department of Chemistry & Biochemistry,