Supporting mental health and wellbeing for postgraduate research students (PGR)

The PGR Wellbeing project is supported by the Office for Students Catalyst Fund and Research England.

Recent reports have highlighted the mental health issues of people who study in higher education. There has been increasing attention paid to a growing mental health crisis in undergraduate students, but recent research in Belgium found that more than half of 3,659 PhD students surveyed experienced symptoms of psychological distress and 32 per cent were found to be at risk of developing a psychiatric disorder. The reasons include: social isolation and the lack of an established support network and reliance on a supervisor for pastoral and academic support.

About the project

Funded until January 2020, the project aims to improve knowledge of mental health issues in postgraduate researchers and their supervisors, so that researchers are more likely to seek help that they need. The project will also use group mentoring to increase social interactions and online resources to enhance induction and training for researchers and relevant staff. By embedding mental health resources, training and mentoring in PGR programmes, the project aims reduce stigmatisation and provide the opportunity for all PGRs to access and appropriate support for mental health and wellbeing.

“This project provides the opportunity to make a real difference to the mental health and well being of PGR students. This funding will enable us to support individual students but also to tackle some aspects of institutional culture which are detrimental to students undertaking PhDs and other research degrees.”

(Dr Jane Creaton (Principal Investigator), Associate Dean (Academic) and Reader in Higher Education at the University of Portsmouth)

How will we conduct our research?

We will distribute an online postgraduate research student mental health and wellbeing survey to PGRs (pre and post-intervention), as well as develop interventions which will focus on the development of online mental health resources, supervisor training, and the mentoring circles.

Project team members

  • Dr Jane Creaton (Principal Investigator), Associate Dean (Academic) and Reader in Higher Education, University of Portsmouth
  • Professor Karen Heard-Laureote, Professor of Education and Society, University of Portsmouth
  • Dr Wendy Sims-Schouten, Associate Head (Research and Innovation) and Reader in Childhood Studies
  • Dr Paul Gorczynski, Senior Lecturer, University of Portsmouth
  • Dr Rachel Moss, Research Associate, University of Portsmouth
  • Dr Heather Mackenzie, Researcher Development Coordinator, University of Portsmouth
  • Dr Darren van Laar, Researcher in Applied Psychology/Director of the University of Portsmouth Graduate School, University of Portsmouth
  • Dr Denise Meyer, Head of Wellbeing, Counselling and Mental Health, University of Portsmouth
  • Professor Jonathan Glazzard, Carnegie School of Education, Leeds Beckett University
  • Dr Anthea Rose, Research Fellow, Leeds Beckett University
  • Dr Divine Charura, Course Director, Leeds Beckett University

Project evaluators

  • Office for Students
  • Research England
  • Vitae

Current activities

The project officially launched in October 2018 with an online pre-intervention survey, available to all PGRs at the University of Portsmouth and Leeds Beckett University. The survey was completed in November 2018, and data analysis is ongoing. Interventions are currently being developed, in partnership with PGRs, ready to go live in the next academic year (2019/2020), with a further post-intervention survey, and final evaluation of project-related activities.

Project dissemination (2018 - )

  • Staff Wellbeing in Higher Education Conference (London Metropolitan University) - presentation titled “Improving postgraduate research student wellbeing: the role of mental health literacy and social support”
  • Annual UKCGE Conference (Bristol) - presentation titled “Improving postgraduate research student wellbeing: the role of mental health literacy and social support”
  • Vitae Researcher International Development Conference (Birmingham)- poster titled “Improving postgraduate research student wellbeing: the role of mental health literacy and social support”
  • Critical Perspectives on Transitions Into, Through, and Beyond Higher Education (University of Sussex, Brighton) - presentation titled ‘The role of transitions in the mental health and wellbeing of PGR students’ 

Keep up to date with the project

  • Project-related blog posts/updates appear periodically on the Mental Health in Childhood and Education (MICE) Hub website.
  • Follow us on Twitter - @PgrWellbeing and @MICE_Hub

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