About The Wellbeing Thesis

The University of Derby, King’s College London and Student Minds have worked together, on this collaborative project. This website will provide information to improve the mental health of Post-graduate research students. This website provides a national, open access web-resource, hosted by Student Minds charity. It takes a prevention and early intervention approach and aims to support postgraduate research student mental well-being. The website provides a proactive resource to post graduate research students and considers the whole postgraduate research experience, and supporting positive cultural change towards good mental health. 

How did the Content of the Website Develop? 

The content and topics of the website were developed and shaped by several co-creational panels of PGR students and an extensive literature review. The PGR students’ co-creational panels provided main themes that would influence the structure and information within this website. The literature review informed further the topics and research behind the content of the website. Collectively forming a comprehensive research based informative website.    

The topics and themes throughout the website are based on PGR peer reviewed research and overall wellbeing peer reviewed research.  

Why is there a need for a Postgraduate Research Website?

Over recent years we have seen a proliferation of concern about the mental health and wellbeing of undergraduate students (Andrews & Wilding, 2004; Boyle et al., 2010; Neves & Hillman, 2017; Thorley, 2017). For instance, in the past five years, 94% of UK universities have seen a substantive increase in the number of students trying to access support (Thorley, 2017). Similarly, we’ve seen increases in reported levels of student distress (e.g., NUS, 2015; Smith, 2016; YouGov, 2017; YouthSight, 2014). While there has been much focus on undergraduate mental health, there has been less attention directed to postgraduate research students.

In the UK alone in 2016/17 100,085 doctorate students were enrolled. This has increased within five years from 95,805 (Mantle, 2018). We cannot assume that our understanding of undergraduate mental health can simply be applied to this growing postgraduate community. Postgraduate research study is very different from a taught undergraduate degree; it is independent, self-directed and self-informed (Gardner, 2008). It is thus important to understand the specific needs of postgraduate students.

There is an indication that the mental health of postgraduate research students urgently requires attention (Metcalfe, Wilson, & Levecque, 2018). Ill health and stress during the PhD have been found to be higher than the general population (Levecque, Anseel, De Beuckelaer, Van der Heyden, & Gisle, 2017), with high numbers of PGR students suffering from stress and mental fatigue (Appel & Dahlgren, 2003; Manuela Schmidt & Hansson, 2018). For instance, one university study found that 40% of PGR students were suffering ill health. Another found that 85% of PGR students reported that their work causes them stress (Else, 2015). Smith and Galen (2014), found that among a sample of 790 PGR students, 47% were on the threshold for depression and students on average scored 10 out of 30 on the 10 item shortened form of the Center for Epidemiologic Studies depression scale (CES-D). A survey of 5,700 doctoral students worldwide found that a quarter were concerned about their own mental health, and 12% had sought help for mental illness (Woolston, 2017). In this context, this review considers the aspects that influence PGR students’ wellbeing.

Mental health issues and low levels of wellbeing may be one of the biggest barriers to achieving a PhD (Turley, 2013). The dropout rate for PGR students in countries such as Australia, Canada, USA and Britain is high, with an attrition rate between 30 to 50 per cent (Lynn McAlpine & Norton, 2006). While there is no apparent single reason for students dropping out of the PhD, barriers to completion include time pressure, financial problems, not liking the course, lack of community or social network, a disappointing learning experience and poor quality of the supervisory relationship ( Lovitts, 2001). Dropping out or feeling like they want to drop out and factors that may cause an individual to drop out are a high concern as it can seriously affect an individual’s wellbeing (Smallwood, 2004).

The PGR experience has been defined as a multi-faceted and emotional journey to becoming a researcher. The progress involves a dual-task and dual-identity; students are both studying and taking their first steps into becoming a professional. Therefore, it is essential and necessary to consider both the personal and academic development of the individual (Golde, 2005). PGR courses can differ between disciplines, institutions and countries, with different structures and developmental processes (Janta, Lugosi, & Brown, 2014). 

Content written by Gareth Hughes, University of Derby and Ann Kirkman, University of Derby.

Website created by Matt Saunders, Charity Box

Videos filmed and edited by Joshua Timmins, University of Derby.