Exploring wellbeing and mental health and associated support services for postgraduate researchers

Metcalfe J, Wilson S, Levecque K |   | Research England | May 2018

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This report presents the findings of research conducted by researchers from Vitae, IES and the University of Ghent into the wellbeing and mental health of postgraduate researchers (PGRs) in the UK. The research, funded by Research England (formerly the Higher Education Funding Council for England), also considered institutional support and explored the policies and provision relating to the mental wellbeing of PGRs at ten UK higher education institutions (HEIs).

The research was driven by a lack of understanding around provision of mental health support for PGRs in comparison to their undergraduate peers, and involved interviews with key staff and PGRs at the ten HEIs, alongside a pilot survey which ran across six HEIs to establish a method to measure the extent of mental health problems experiences by PGRs.

With regards to ensuring the wellbeing  and mental health of PGRs, many of the HEIs recognised that the pressures facing PGRs and their experiences more widely can be very different to undergraduates. There is therefore a need for the provision of support to take into account these different challenges and experiences. Examples of possible causes of stress were difficulties in the supervisory relationship, or financial concerns.

The report also reveals particular cohorts of PGRs that might be at risk of developing poor mental health, such as those working in isolation, on fieldwork or remote campuses, and international PGRs who may struggle to adjust to a new culture, or face challenges with visas and finance.

The comprehensive nature of student support services is highlighted in the report, though awareness of these services was not as widespread amongst PGRs themselves. The report also offers analysis of the roles of supervision and graduate schools in supporting the wellbeing and mental health of PGRs, and offers recommendations, many of which focus around the culture of high achievement and high workloads associated with postgraduate study.