EPDA April Town Hall – answers to questions

We are happy to provide feedback to the community in regards to the EPDA Town Hall  on “Well-being and Conflict Resolution” held on the 21st of April 2021 on Zoom with special guest prof. van der Goot (VP for Responsible Transformation).  Our aim was to raise awareness over the current state of well-being in our community and to find ways to address it. We also presented the results of our Survey on the topic of Wellbeing and Conflict resolution.

The feedback we’ve gathered from all of you during and after the session has been invaluable. As promised, the EPDA Management is providing a list of all questions asked during the Q&A with our answers.


We are still waiting for a comment from EPFL and we will publish it as soon as we recieve it.


  1. Question: “In Switzerland, Mittelbau/Corps-intermédiare associations have traditionally attained relatively high impact and legitimation. Therefore, forming two additional and distinct associations (PolyDoc + EPDA) may not be very effective. Do you foresee a re-fusion (& how) of the two associations in the near future instead simply ignoring the issues with ACIDE? [how do you plan to overcome the prevailing strategy at EPFL to ignore problems by adding and spending more and more resources, instead of facing and resolving them?]”
    1. We agree that the issues with ACIDE are an issue for our legal representation, but for any changes we need clear support from EPFL as there are legal issues which are beyond our means. We see it as EPFL’s responsibility to ensure a real representation of the corps-intermediare (including PhD students and postdocs) at EPFL.
    2. We are already collaborating with PolyDoc and we aim to strengthen our connections with them even further. Since the EPDA is a young organization we did not envisage further plans into this direction. We will work with PolyDoc, and other associations, whenever possible and if our needs and interests are aligned.
    3. Our priority is always finding solutions and not escalating conflicts (finding a win-win scenario), and if that means that we as the EPDA will organize wellbeing workshops and peer2peer counseling services, we will gladly do it as it helps all of us. Here we do depend on EPFL for funding.
    4. We agree on the accountability, and we plan to do that through our Policy working group and the activities of our Management. Our success depends a lot on your active support, so please support us and join our activities.
    5. As you heard from Vice-president Gisou van der Goot during the session, EPFL management is aware of this issue, but for now there is no plan of change.
  2. Question: “I agree with the necessity [of having a wellbeing initiative and a peer2peer counselling]. But isn’t this beyond the capacity of epda? Can this be sustainable and effective across generations of epda members? Postdocs’ mental illness seems to be solved only by publishing papers and getting a job.” 
    1. The EPDA is representing more than 1200 EPFL postdocs and we are facing a continuous growth of active members (you are all more than welcome to join). As volunteers we are motivated to invest a lot of time and energy into these projects as we are doing it due to a higher sense of purpose. This gives us the initiative and the abbility to kick-off large initiatives and projects like Wellbeing.
    2. To be more sustainable, we asked EPFL for financial support and Vice-president Gisou van der Goot has agreeed to support our Wellbeing activities with 5000 CHF from the side of the VPT.
    3. Our long termvision is to have the peer2peer counselling center become an independent entity with volunteers from all groups at EPFL. We consider the EPDA as a caretaker of the peer2peer counseling center supporting its establishment and growth.
    4. Finally, our goal is to raise awareness for wellbeing and to form a supportive culture at EPFL.
  1. Question: “In view of the result of this survey (together with many other studies in the subject, in Switzerland and abroad), It is undeniable that mental illness is directly related to research-related professions: it is in particular preponderant in PhD students and postdocs. Precisely this is the definition of a “Professional Illness” (In french: Maladie Professionelle). However, such illnesses like anxiety and depression are not officially recognized in the Swiss Law as such (even though they comply with the definition in the Swiss Federal Law on accident insurance, Article 9). Given the high costs of medical services in Switzerland, many people refrain from making appointments unless the situation is urgent, which makes the outcome of their illness much worse. What kind of initiatives are being considered to push for a change in this respect?”
    1. This is indeed a serious issue that we are facing in Switzerland. Unfortunately, it is not a topic we can solve on a EPFL level, but we are raising this point in discussions with EPFL administration to increase sensibility for people finding themselves in such situations.
    2. Additionally we are networking with postdoc (and PhD) representatives of other universities to strengthen our lobbing position.
  2. Question: “I believe that if you use psychological services within the LAMAL (obligatory healthcare), you will not have access to the complimentary insurance for a while.”
    1. We cannot give any legal advice on this topic, but best would be to contact your insurance and ask them about these concerns.
  3. Question: “Of the cohort of those who “know” what the conflict is or were involved in a conflict themselves or as a witness, how many know about the structures in place at EPFL addressing the conflicts? If I understood correctly, what you’ve shown before is an aggregated answer including those who declare to not have been involved in a conflict at EPFL.
    1. We did not observe a big difference in awareness of EPFL tools for conflict resolution between groups (among “participated in conflict” 65 % were unaware of EPFL tools, while among those who did not experience a conflict around 70% are unaware ). 
  4. Question: “How do the survey results compare to expected values? (f.i. such as the work-satisfaction of similarly educated and aged employees across Switzerland?)”
    1. It would be interesting for us to have this data, but we don’t. 
  5. Question: “Is peer-to-peer counselling a known and effective method according to the current scientific research in psychology?”
    1. Peer counselling is a helping process that involves one-on-one interaction or interaction between members of a group, who have several things in common. There are several studies showing its efficiency:
      1. At the community level, peer counseling, social engagement, and combination interventions were effective in improving depressive symptoms, psychological resilience, and social support. (PMID: 32236104)
      2. Research has shown that peer-run self-help groups yield improvement in psychiatric symptoms resulting in decreased hospitalisation, larger social support networks and enhanced self-esteem and social functioning. (mentalhealth.org.uk)
      3. There are three relevant advantages of utilizing a peer mentoring approach: cost, availability of a relatively larger number of potential mentors, and increased likelihood of mentees following mentors’ advice due to sharing a common perspective. (https://doi.org/10.1080/13611261003678879)
  6. Question: “Have you assessed any (self-)selection bias among those who answered the questionnaire?”
    1. Current survey was addressed on a voluntary basis and voluntary survey implies self-selection bias, so we could not asses it. 
  7. Question: “Do you have any insights into the variation of the well-being between different labs? Maybe one would be able to estimate the “well-being” score per lab/institute?”
    1. We did not ask participants about their lab identity (it was driven by consideration of privacy). However, we asked about their school. Unfortunately, the variability of participants number between the schools doesn’t allow us to make any conclusion for this grouping criteria. Therefore, we did not report this data in order to avoid conclusions driven by unreliable statistics.
  8. Question: “Did this questionnaire address mental health status from the clinical standpoint (as e.g. the “recent” PhD survey)? Could I suggest that you send such questionnaires to the recent Alumni of EPFL, in particular to PhD graduates? I wish to have been able to participate in such study.”
    1. This questionnaire addresses different conflict resolution strategies that participants use when trying to resolve problems within their day-to-day work environment. We believe that being able to resolve one’s problems is an important way to achieve better personal well-being.
    2. Since we are the EPFL postdoc association and we closely collaborate with the PhD association, our main target audience is the current postdoc and PhD community at EPFL. Of course we would love to widen our audience, but with our limited resources we unfortunately cannot.
  9. Question: “How did PhDs compare to Postdocs in terms of wellbeing?”
    1. In general, we saw a higher percentage of PhDs who indicated dissatisfaction with work, poor work-life balance, biased perception and conflict experience than PostDocs. You can check more in our summary
  10.  Question: Regarding sexism issues, who can we talk to during a conflict / discomfort without opening a complaint? Also I always have the impression that if I speak to someone, the person will not necessarily be informed on the subject (and assume ordinary sexism = normal)”
    1. The Peer2Peer counselling team is one of the different entry points at EPFL. Our volunteering counsellors are trained to actively listen to any and all cases without any preconceived opinions or prejudice. They are also under continuus education to support their coaching and mentoring skills. They are chosen based on empathy and showing compassion. Most importantly, they are trained to have utmost respect and practice confidentiality with all cases.
  11.  Question: We should also talk about “progress” in the surveys performed in the past and as well as present. Definitely the new steps are taken, but how do we know if it has improved the situation over time..we need a system to track such progress IMO.”
    1. We completely agree on the importance of tracking progress over time. For this reason, we plan to send out follow-up surveys every 4 months to the EPFL community to assess the situation. This will not only give us insight on the progression, but also whether the taken measurements and the implemented ideas are actually helpful or not. It will help us re-direct our efforts towards more efficient plans.
  1. Question: “What are EPFL conflict resolution tools?
  2. Question: “How serious is EPFL taking this [the wellbeing and conflict resolution]? And what is the plan of EPFL to tackle these issues?
  3. Question: “The Postdoc fit project sounds great! Have you also considered the impact of chair quality on physical status?
    1. In Switzerland, companies are obliged to take care of their employee’s physical health. For that reason you can ask the ergonomic unit to check your workplace.
    2. Additionally this applies as well to the home office. Unfortunately the information is only available in french, italian or german.
  4. Question: “Great initiative for sports! I am wondering if it’s not EPFL’s responsibility to create an accessible, attractive and affordable sports offer. Couldn’t EPFL offer free access to the sports center for all staff?
    1. We will try to complement the offer of the Sports Center with our activities and we are happy for any further suggestions.
    2. Making the Sports Center free of charge for everyone is within EPFLs decision and we asked Vice-president Gisou van der Goot to share all questions and requests with the responsible persons.
  5. Question: “By proposing the peer2peer, isn’t shifting the weight and responsibility away from the EPFL? How will you ensure that this solution, although helpful, will not allow EPFL to go hands off on this issue?”
    1. All deficiencies and shortcomings we identified have been or will raised in meetings with the EPFL administration. Ultimately, our goal is that EPFL acknowledges the situation and works with us on a solution.
    2. In the meantime, we are offering these services to our community to reduce the amount of stress everyone is facing right now.
  6. Question “Should there not be a much stronger focus on PIs (who have the most control over work satisfaction and work-life balance)? Is EPDA lobbying for more and compulsory training for PIs?”
    1. We are lobbying for more PI training and commitment on all levels as we believe that good leadership and management skills are necesary for a good work atmosphere and also for high performance work. This needs to be based on promoting values of respect for all teammembers and followed up with supporting their personal development.
    2. Compulsory training for PIs is hard to achieve and our approach is to motivate EPFL and PIs to recognise the benefits of undegooing continuus training and to commit to change.
  7. Question: “How come 1h sessions are so difficult to pay for for employees in need in ‘normal’ times, but EPFL was readily able to pay for two full hours of chatting with a mediator for every employee during 2020 (the pandemic)?”
  8. Question: Will the Respect unit join these efforts of Peer to Peer counseling?”
  9. Question directly to prof. van der Goot: “Do you think there is a need to also put in place a task force for well-being and mental health?”
  10.  Question:  Is EPFL tracking their improvement, and how? E.g. yearly survey for postdocs, phds and students?”