Postgraduate Researchers Mental Health and Well-Being

Investigating the experiences of postgraduate researchers and the effects of those experiences on their mental health and well-being.  

PhD student at a desk


Research background

Although the mental health and well-being of undergraduate populations is increasingly well interrogated and understood, the same does not apply to Postgraduate Researchers (PGRs) who are working towards Doctoral qualifications.  This study aimed to address this gap in knowledge by collecting primary data from PGRs at Birmingham City University.

Research aims 

The aim of the research was to find out if the everyday experiences of PGRs in space and time affected their mental health and well-being and if so, how this was manifesting itself at different levels, especially in relation to the British Psychological Society’s ‘Power, Threat, Meaning’ framework which identifies holistic responses to different stimuluses and moves away from the medical model which dominated mental health policy and decision making during the 20th century.   

Research methods

Following a comprehensive review of the literature relating to students’ mental health and well-being a mixed-method mode was employed deploying the theoretical framework of Lefebvre’s work on space, time and its intersection with everyday life.  In the first stage a questionnaire was distributed to PGRs via Online Surveys which provided background, demographic and quantitative data on PGR experiences.  The second stage involved two sets of three focus groups with students, using data collection methods such as world cafés and eliciting responses to a vlog detailing a PhD student’s experience of her doctorate.  The third stage relayed the findings back to supervisors to gauge their own experience in relation to PGR students.  Two written reports were produced from the project,   with the first at its mid-point and the second at the conclusion.  These were disseminated to stakeholders including student groups, mental health professionals and senior management.

Projected outcomes 

The results of the research have been disseminated to our PGR community through a keynote address at RESFEST 2020.  It is expected that many of the recommendations made in the report will be implemented by the Vice Chancellor’s Office.  These include providing a dedicated, inalienable space for our PGR students, specific support from Student Services which is responsive to the particular needs of the PGR community and the elevation of PGRs to a status which reflects their importance to the University and wider society. 

Dissemination to the wider pedagogical and research communities was undertaken at UK Council for Graduate Education Conference at Brighton in May 2019 and the Social Research in Higher Education Conference in December 2019.  Subsequent journal articles are being prepared.