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Fostering Wellbeing And Positive Mental Health Conversations

Young Professionals 2

A Collaboration Between the Young Professionals Advisory Committee and Dragonfly Mental Health

The IEEE Young Professionals community is one of the largest groups within the IEEE that welcomes members and volunteers within 15 years post their first degree. This includes graduate students, post-docs, researchers, and early career professionals, who make up roughly 35% of the IEEE Photonics Society membership body. The challenges encountered by this community are rather unique. Much of the community members are early in their careers, sharing workspaces with experienced and established researchers and staff around the world. It is often difficult for some young professionals to transition into the workforce after graduation, develop reciprocal communication strategies to advocate for themselves, and carve out their own paths. It can make an already high-stress environment even more stressful. While these challenges can be individually diverse across the globe, the need for mental health awareness is a common thread.

The conversation about mental health has recently seen a great boost during the pandemic with a proliferation of open access resources, blog posts, and podcasts; however, we strongly believe that this is only the start to addressing an immense and entrenched problem.

Faced with daunting goals and targets set by industry and academia alike, we all in the scientific community have sacrificed health at some point or another in chasing career aspirations. While being an active proponent of this zeal to achieve, we cannot let our personal well-being fall by the wayside.

“I hope that someday, we will have as open a conversation about mental health as we do about a fever or a broken bone.”
—Akhil Kallepalli

With this intention of fostering wellbeing and positive mental health conversations, the IEEE Photonics Society Young Professional Advisory Committee (YPAC) has teamed up with Dragonfly Mental Health (DMH), a non-profit organization dedicated to cultivating excellent mental health among academics worldwide. Led by Wendy Marie Ingram, PhD (Co-Founder, CEO) and Jelena Brasanac (Co-Founder,COO), DMH has a global presence with over 150 volunteers from 25+ countries that contribute to independent research, cultivate culture change, and develop and deploy evidence-based programming in service of their mission. DMH shares many values with YPAC, especially the goal to make a global, positive, and inclusive impact.

Dragonfly Mental Health (DMH) is a volunteer-based non-profit that conducts independent research on mental health initiatives targeting academics as well as the associated cultural stigma and institutional barriers. Its leaders provide guidance, coaching, templates, and best practices t o institutions worldwide. One of DMH’s long-term aims is to conduct periodic evaluations, rank institutions on their efforts and objective outcomes, and publish these rankings for the consideration of academics when making education and career choices. Presently, the largest impact is through the delivery of personalized evidence-based interventions, training, workshops, and anti-stigma campaigns to institutions and community partners in need.

The collaboration between IEEE and DMH will include a series of discrete online sessions designed specifically to serve IEEE Photonics Society members’ needs and those of young professionals. We plan to deliver 4–6 programs that begin with the following topical events and associated newsletter column articles.

• Mental Health Literacy: Session designed to raise awareness and initiate a healthy conversation around the stigmas of mental health and its recognition, management, and prevention in the community.

• Breaking the Stigma from Within: Discussions and journey spotlights of prominent members within our Society to break down conversational barriers and to hear personal
accounts and experiences on mental health.

• Overcoming Imposter Syndrome: An important and widely under-addressed issue that impacts many young professionals in every domain. All too often, personal feelings
of inadequacy get in the way of professional growth. The intent of this topic is to introduce attendees to tools with which to feel better placed and more confident in their
roles and abilities.

• Intersectionality and Mental Health: Widely recognized as a key topic of the IEEE Photonics Society, the interconnected nature of identity and individuality will be discussed.
We will cover how to effectively serve as an ally and respect the voice of marginalized members and those most isolated in the scientific environment.

• Mentorship as a Two-Way Street: Session to discuss the concept of “Mentoring Up” and reciprocal communication approaches to better facilitate mentor-mentee relationships. Mentorship can increase self-confidence and improve mental health, particularly when mentees feel supported in their decisions and career path.

Though these topics have been targeted toward young professionals, all are welcome to participate in the series. The collaboration is in alignment with DMH’s motivation to provide open access to resources and knowledge. The events will be recorded and made available on demand.

This collaboration was championed by the IEEE UK and Ireland Photonics Chapter, with a talk from Dr. Wendy Ingram about “Mental Health for Scientists: Challenges in Isolation.” The session shed light on the complex and vital topic of mental health. Attendees will learn about evidence-based approaches on how to address their own challenges as well as be empathetic to others. We all need compassion and care, even more so during the ongoing pandemic.

Through the course of the events, anonymous pre-and post-session surveys will help the partners respond to the expectations of the audience and optimize the presentation of future topics. The advantage of this is intended to be two-fold: we gain an understanding of the needs and expectations of our specific community while being able to contribute to scientific discussion about mental health through the empirical data we receive.

Ask Not Who Is Responsible for Making Change. Ask Who Can Make a Difference.
Together, we hope to make a systemic, positive, and progressive impact within our communities—a motivation that both the YPAC and DMH share.