Mental Health and Wellbeing of Postgraduate Researchers: Reflections from Brighton (UKCGE)

From the 16th – 17th May, the Higher Education community and beyond descended on the Jury’s Inn Waterfront in Brighton, for the 1st International Conference on the Mental Health and Wellbeing of Postgraduate Researchers. The conference was organised by United Kingdom Council for Graduate Education (UKCGE), in partnership with nature research, the University of Portsmouth, and the University of Sussex.

Across the two days, presentations and roundtable discussions showcasing the latest research and best practice within PGR mental health were delivered (the conference programme can be viewed here). Such presentations also included updates from a selection of the Office for Students Funded Catalyst projects, including the PGR Wellbeing project (led by the University of Portsmouth, in partnership with Leeds Beckett University, and co-presented by Dr Wendy Sims-Schouten and I).

Reflections

A range of quantitative, qualitative and mixed methods projects across the UK and internationally are exploring how PGR mental health can be supported – ranging from individual interventions, through to environment/cultural change at an Institutional level. Topics were wide-ranging and included use of pastoral tutors to support PGR mental health, exploring PGR perspectives of their study, how we can build communities, and on creating evidence-based wellbeing programmes.

A particularly poignant session from Day One (16th May) included the PGR panel in the morning, with Danielle Hayter and Mahmoud Elmarzouky from the University of Portsmouth, as well as Yasser Kosbar, and Dr Sophie Valeix from the University of Sussex, discussing their experiences of PGR study and what they felt needed to change. The discussion hit close to home for me, and for many within the room; reminding us all (if ever we needed it), what the focus should be on and why we were there.

There was agreement that best practice, particularly from the Catalyst projects, needs timely sharing across the sector; that work should also focus on solutions to the problems identified (i.e. what can we take back to our Institutions now); that there needs to be a cultural/environmental shift in Higher Education, and that PGRs should be involved in decision making (co-production).

With the recent announcement of further funded projects supporting a step change in mental health for all students (OfS Challenge Competition), student mental health more widely remains firmly in the public eye.

To read the conference updates and further learning, see #MHWBrighton on Twitter. The conference programme can be viewed here. The 2nd International Conference on the Mental Health and Wellbeing of Postgraduate Researchers will take place in November 2020, with conference location to be confirmed.

PGR Wellbeing team representatives (left to right): Dr Jane Creaton (PI), Mahmoud Elmarzouky (PGR), Danielle Hayter (PGR), Dr Rachel Moss (RA), Dr Wendy Sims-Schouten (Co-Investigator).

Blog post written by Dr Rachel Moss, Research Associate for the Office for Students funded PGR Wellbeing project, based within the School of Education and Sociology (EDSOC) at the University of Portsmouth.


PGR Wellbeing Mid-Project Update

The mental health and wellbeing of postgraduate researchers (PGRs) (e.g., PhD, ProfDoc etc.) and the student population generally is in the public focus. Reports of the mental health difficulties of students (e.g., The Independent, BBC News) continue to make for concerning reading. In August 2018, I introduced the PGR Wellbeing project in a blog post for the MICE Hub – a project that aims to improve the mental health and wellbeing of PGRs by improving mental health literacy and social support. We are now at the midway point for the project, which is due to be completed in January 2020. Our current project-related activities are as follows:

Pre-intervention survey
  • The pre-intervention survey was completed between October – November 2018 (n = 241), with further recruitment from Leeds Beckett University planned for February 2019.
  • Data analysis is ongoing, but the data suggests that the majority of researchers were experiencing mild-severe non-specific psychological distress, and that focusing on improving wellbeing generally may help to reduce this (e.g., improving individual knowledge of mental health conditions may be beneficial).
Interventions

 

 

 

 

 

Image – PGRs attending the co-production workshop in December 2018

  • We ran an initial co-production interventions workshop with PGRs December 2018, and sought feedback from PGRs for the proposed project-related interventions.
  • PGRs were interested in developing interventions, being PGR mental health ‘champions’ and representing PGRs at the University of Portsmouth at the UKCGE conference in May.

Online resources

  • An online development team at the University of Portsmouth have been seconded to develop online mental health and wellbeing resources with PGRs, ready to go live in October.

Mentoring circles

  • After the initial consultation with PGRs in December, mentoring circles will be developed and piloted with PGRs, the Graduate School and the Wellbeing Service, ready to go live in October.

Supervisor training session(s)

  • We delivered an initial supervisory training workshop in November 2018, which covered a wide range of topics included the role of the supervisor, pedagogies, and identification of mental health problems, guidance, and referral, amongst others.
  • A further workshop is planned for 12th February 2019 in the Graduate School.
Next steps for the project

We will be developing our project-related interventions (e.g., online resources, mentoring circles, supervisor training) with PGRs, ready to go live in October 2019. Our project partner, Leeds Beckett University, will be evaluating the tools and guidance that we develop at the University of Portsmouth from October 2019 onwards.

Conference

In partnership with UKCGE, Nature Research and the University of Sussex, we will be co-delivering/presenting an International Conference on the Mental Health and Wellbeing of Postgraduate Researchers from 16th-17th May 2019, at the Jury’s Inn Waterfront, Brighton.

The purpose of the event is to discuss and update delegates on sector policy developments (nationally and internationally), institutional strategies, research, and good practice in the field of PGR mental health and wellbeing. The conference is aimed at researchers, as well as practitioners, within Higher Education.

How can I keep updated on the progress of the project?

Project-related updates will be posted periodically on the MICE hub website and Twitter. General information about the project is available on the project-relate website. Details are as follows:

Email: pgrwellbeing@port.ac.uk

Twitter: @Pgrwellbeing

Project-related website

I would like to get involved/I know someone who may be interested

If you are a PGR (or know someone) at the University of Portsmouth who would like to get involved with helping us develop our interventions, please get in touch –  pgrwellbeing@port.ac.uk.

Blog post written by Dr Rachel Moss (Twitter: @DrRMoss), Research Associated on the PGR Wellbeing project at the University of Portsmouth (School of Education and Sociology). 

Wellbeing Workshop – Health and Wellbeing Theme, University of Portsmouth

The University of Portsmouth’s Health and Wellbeing Theme recently hosted their first Wellbeing Workshop:

Dr Wendy Sims-Schouten attended the University of Portsmouth’s Wellbeing Workshop on Tuesday 24th April at which she presented The MICE Hub to an audience of approximately fifty University of Portsmouth staff from across faculties and chaired a breakout session around wellbeing in childhood and education.

Increasing outreach for the MICE Hub:

Dr Sims-Schouten explained the purpose of the Mental Health in Education Hub and invited all attendees to book a place for the MICE Hub’s second Mental Health Awareness Event to take place on Thursday 17th May. A plethora of research is taking place across the University linked to the MICE Hub including projects specifically linked to wellbeing in childhood and education.

Reaching an interested audience:

The MICE Hub was well received and generated interest for the breakout session which included discussions around the support of autism in higher education and how technology could be used to improve this which linked to ideas around inclusivity and assessment and how to ensure assessment is for learning rather than of learning.

Potential for future collaboration and projects:

The ideas generated during this workshop will be considered for their potential to develop in to project proposals with the aim of generating external funding linked to the health and wellbeing theme so that impactful research linking to wellbeing in childhood and education can take place. This will be facilitated by follow-up sessions to be organised by the Health and Wellbeing Theme Director, Professor Gordon Blunn.