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Better Together: a wellbeing initiative for doctoral students

This project aims to identify risk factors and stressors that determine doctoral students’ well-being.

Doctoral students working together. Image: Kirsten Holst for UCL Digital Media

We are a student-staff led group exploring the wellbeing of doctoral students during their professional training. Our goal is to better understand doctoral students’ mental health and build awareness, resilience and practical skills that are useful when navigating life as independent professional researchers and/or practitioners. 

Given the numerous difficulties such as anxiety, depression and isolation that doctoral students struggle with during their professional training, promoting students’ wellbeing is core to this project.

The current COVID-19 global pandemic provides a unique opportunity to further understand the wellbeing and coping mechanisms of doctoral students during stressful times.

The data is collected as part of the large scale study COVID-19: Global social trust and mental health study.

The project is funded by UCL Change Makers.

Background

One in four people experience mental health issues each year in the UK. Anxiety and depression are six times higher especially among doctoral students compared to the general public.

There is evidence for the poor mental health of doctoral students in Higher Education settings. However, the information available on how Higher Education Institutes structure support systems to address and minimise these challenges is limited. 

Some of these challenges are at the macro level (institutions’ structures and policies) and others at the micro/meso level (individual difficulties, relationships with peers/friends/family). 

Aims

Besides our rapid response to understand how COVID-19 is impacting doctoral students’ wellbeing, our initial aim is to investigate what support systems are needed to support doctoral students during milestones of their academic life such as the upgrade, write-up stages or final exam viva, which might be stressful. 

Reflecting upon doctoral students’ feedback, we will design and deliver workshops that encourage students to engage in a healthy relationship between work environment and wellness.

To address challenges at the institutional level, we will pilot written guidelines to support students during key stages of their professional development and doctoral training.

The above will result in cultivating a sense of community between doctoral students and staff members that embraces diversity and multiculturalism at the Department of Psychology & Human Development and then extend it across the UCL community.

Our outcomes will also help inform policy makers and other academic communities.

Team

Principal Investigator 

Co-Investigators

Outputs
  • Dr Maria Kambouri was invited to speak on the Warwick PPE Society Podcast series on students' mental health during the pandemic: listen to Mental Health and COVID-19: Conversation with Dr Maria Kambouri on Soundcloud (or Spotify).
  • Brinkert, J., Kokosi, T., Sideropoulos, V. (2020). “COVID-19 has made a mess of things”: Experiencing the pandemic as a doctoral student. Developmental Psychology Forum 92, 15-17

Survey into the effects of COVID-19

The Better Together team along with experts in Psychology, Neuroscience and Education are running an online survey to gather people’s psychological experiences. Our online survey has gathered people's psychological experiences in April - July 2020, October - January 2021 and launched its final wave of data collection this April 2021.

If you are doing a PhD or a Professional Doctorate, we would like to hear from you. By taking part in the survey, you help us understand the impact of COVID-19 on your mental and physical health.

The survey is translated and available in seven languages: Greek, Italian, Spanish, French, German, Chinese (Traditional/Simplified) and English.

Take part in the survey