CWTS researchers Inge van der Weijden and Josephine Bergmans explored informal caregiving responsibilities among doctoral candidates and examined how being an informal caregiver influenced doctoral candidates’ mental health, doctoral progress, and intentions to quit. Using both survey and interview data from doctoral candidates at universities in the Netherlands from 2019, we found that almost one out of three doctoral candidates has given informal care on a regular basis within the past year. Important activities included taking care of the household, doing organisational and administrative tasks, and giving emotional support to care recipients. To combine informal care activities with a doctoral study, flexibility regarding time (working hours) and place (working outside laboratory or office) was most valued as a working strategy. Supervisors were often unaware of the informal care responsibilities of their doctoral candidates. Informed supervisors were sometimes lacking empathy regarding the impact that informal caregiving had on the daily life of their doctoral candidates.
Our survey study showed that informal care responsibilities have a negative impact on the mental health of doctoral candidates. Informal care contributed to feelings of constant strain, inability to overcome difficulties, and frequently resulted in sleeping problems. The interviews showed that the combination of informal care responsibilities, doing a doctoral study and having a private and family life at the same time could result in mental health problems. Finally, our study showed that informal care responsibilities caused some delay in the doctoral trajectory. Interviewees reported that the emotional impact of informal care resulted in limited focus on and distraction away from the doctoral study. However, informal care responsibilities did not affect intentions to quit with the doctoral study.