People of CSE

Xinyue Gao

Xinyue is a PhD student from the School of Chemistry. Her love and enthusiasm for chemistry is huge; it is not only her career, but it is also what helped her to keep going during the more difficult times in her life. Xinyue’s story shows us that it is okay if we feel in a bad place sometimes; we are not alone. She encourages others to find comfort in what they do daily, in their hobbies, and importantly, to seek help when it is needed.  

Difficult times

I’m sure everyone’s had some bad experiences during Covid-19. For me, they were truly the worst days of my life. In 2020, I wasn’t a student at the University of Edinburgh yet, I was in another country, doing the final year of my master's degree at another university. My professor at the time was an extremely smart guy, he was stringent about academic performance and hard work, but he was also someone who didn’t know how to care for his students. A year earlier, I experienced some family issues and serious work stress. It affected my mental health severely and led me to be physically sick, and I had to spend a month in the hospital. When I got better and returned to the university, my professor called me into his office. I remember going in there and seeing no expression on his face. The first thing that he said to me was: “You are very behind on your work”. My professor didn’t seem to think that mental health issues were real, his attitude was that I was using it as an excuse to being lazy. I told someone who I thought was my best friend at the time about this incident, but she shared it around with others as if it was a joke. At the time, I lost the confidence to trust people, even myself. It was so hard to see a future or to feel that there was any value in doing anything. However, I never stopped loving the science that I was doing. I still loved doing experiments in the chemistry labs, research itself was probably the only thing that was driving me forward at the time. However, I was very afraid to continue to a PhD there. I felt I needed to escape, to somewhere that I could heal and recover.  

Coming to Edinburgh

I arrived in Edinburgh in August 2021. The first thing that I felt when I started at the University, was that my supervisor was unbelievably helpful. She respected me, my privacy, and my independence— that’s the first impression I got, and it was probably the most important thing to me at the time. My supervisor recognised what my experience meant to me, and she never talked lightly about it. When I told one of my colleagues my story, she didn’t tell anyone else, instead, she quietly sent me a list of support services that I could use. My vulnerabilities were no longer jokes to people, so I have become willing to talk to others.  

Asking for help

Although my mental issues had been handled unprofessionally by people before, I’ve never been ashamed of seeking help. I’ve called the University’s helplines a couple of times, and the people on the calls have all been very professional. One time, I was out getting groceries while walking the dog, I tied the leash onto a pole so I could put all the food into a shopping bag. I don’t know what happened, but the dog suddenly got very excited, broke free, and ran off onto the road. I immediately ran after her, into the busy road and tried to stop the cars. With the help of some passers-by, I finally got her back safely and I was so glad, however, my body wouldn’t stop shaking from the shock. Everyone was checking on the dog, “Is the dog okay?” they said, but no one checked on me. In the evening, I called the University’s helpline and told them about the incident. The first thing that they said to me was: “Are you okay?” That single sentence seemed to heal half of me immediately. That is why I think we should never be afraid to seek help; everyone struggles sometimes, and we may never know how much it helps until we try it. Something as small as one little sentence is all it takes sometimes. I’ve had people say very unhelpful things to me, but I never gave up. No matter how well you believe you can handle things on your own, don’t think that you have to deal with them alone. With help, I’ve been sleeping better lately, and I’ve enjoyed exploring everything that is waiting for me out there— hiking, cycling, rock climbing, Zumba dancing, yoga, reading, and photography.  

Looking forward

Some people may suggest that you should try to make friends and go out to social events when you’re at your lowest, but they probably don’t understand how difficult that is for someone who’s struggling. You should definitely seek professional help, but don’t rush into making friends in the hope that they can help you heal when you’re not ready. Personally, I think we should all learn about how to find relief in doing things independently first. For me, studying chemistry is what helps me. I love going to the labs, doing my experiments, teaching, and chatting with my colleagues. When you are doing something you love, time passes quickly, and it heals you in a way that you don’t even realise is happening. If you are down and you are not feeling very sociable, try to do or find a hobby, or even very simple things; because through these, it’ll be more likely that you’ll meet people who have similar interests to you. I’ve been trying to create opportunities like this in the classes that I teach, especially for international students who have just arrived and feel unsure about approaching people from different cultures. Sometimes, all it takes is a little bit of courage at first, after that, you’ll be able to experience this life fully. For my future, I simply hope to carry out more excellent research and to continue growing into that strong and unique person that is me.  


Related links

Student Health and Wellbeing

Staff Health and Wellbeing Hub