Funded (UK/EU and international students)

Project code



School of Education, Languages and Linguistics

Start dates

October 2023

Application deadline

6 April 2023

Applications are invited for a fees-only PhD bursary to commence in October 2023. 

This PhD is motivated by concerns that there is a postgraduate research (PGR) mental health crisis, which has been exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic. Although a pressing issue for the wider doctoral community, part-time and distance learning students tend to struggle more with isolation, discrimination and balancing multiple responsibilities during their studies; all factors which have negative implications for individuals’ wellbeing. However, their experiences and strategies for support are under-researched.

The PhD will be based in the Faculty of Humanities and Social Sciences, and will be supervised by Dr Rosa Marvell, Professor Jane Creaton and Dr Charlotte Morris. The study builds on the collective expertise of the supervisory team who have an extensive track record in researching higher education inequalities, including those relating to student experience, student wellbeing and postgraduate education.

Candidates applying for this project may be eligible to compete for one of a small number of bursaries available. Successful applicants will receive a bursary to cover tuition fees at the UK/EU rate for three years (full time) or six years (part time) and a contribution of £2,000 towards conference, research project or training costs.

The work on this project would involve:

  • Conducting research on a key strategic priority for the University of Portsmouth and the higher education sector as a whole;
  • Leading impactful research which seeks to make clear recommendations for improving the health, wellbeing and experiences of part-time and distance learning doctoral researchers;
  • Designing and delivering an innovative, creative and participatory methodology that actively involves the community in the direction of the project;
  • Opportunities for external collaboration with key stakeholders, such as Vitae, the UK Council of Graduate Education and the EU funded Researcher Mental Health Observatory (REMO).

Although the doctoral mental health crisis is an issue that spans the postgraduate research community, contextual and situated factors may make the situation particularly acute for part-time and distance learning communities. This cohort may face particularly high levels of isolation and discrimination, as well as be juggling complex competing responsibilities. Despite making up a significant proportion of the community – and an even higher proportion of those from minoritised backgrounds – few studies have explored their experiences or considered what institutional or sectoral policies and practices may be most effective.

As part of this PhD, you will be focussing on both the experiences of part-time and distance learning PGRs students, and actions that may help better support them. As part of your doctorate, you are therefore likely to want to:

  1. Review the existing academic and policy literature related to part-time and distance learning doctoral wellbeing;
  2. Analyse individual and structural factors impacting the health and wellbeing of this population;
  3. Explore part-time and distance learning doctoral students’ sense of wellbeing;
  4. Identify and evaluation effective interventions or strategies; and
  5. Recommend strategies for improvement.

We anticipate that this project will employ a qualitative and participatory approach, engaging part-time and distance learning PGR students in elements of coproduction. The methodology will be developed in the early stages of study collaboratively with the successful candidate. However, it may involve semi-structured interviews, workshops, focus groups, asynchronous virtual platforms, and any other strategies that would enable the community to play a more active and influential role in the project and recommendations formed.


Entry requirements

You'll need a good first degree from an internationally recognised university (minimum upper second class or equivalent, depending on your chosen course) or a Master’s degree in an appropriate subject. In exceptional cases, we may consider equivalent professional experience and/or qualifications. English language proficiency at a minimum of IELTS band 6.5 with no component score below 6.0.

Experience of using qualitative research methods, including participatory approaches, is desirable.
Experience of working with students or researching student experiences is desirable.

How to apply

We’d encourage you to contact Dr Rosa Marvell ( to discuss your interest before you apply, quoting the project code EDSO7960423.

When you are ready to apply, you can use our online application form. Make sure you submit a personal statement, proof of your degrees and grades, details of two referees, proof of your English language proficiency and an up-to-date CV.  Our ‘How to Apply’ page offers further guidance on the PhD application process.

If you want to be considered for this funded PhD opportunity you must quote project code EDSO7960423 when applying.