Ideally, postgraduate students and PDRAs would enjoy a buoyant phase of their scientific careers while they are free to explore science with fewer of the additional professional commitments that more senior academics acquire. However, with PhD students and PDRAs usually having only short term contracts, often having to relocate to new cities or countries, and frequently having to establish new working and social relationships, the PhD and PDRA career phase can be quite stressful, exacerbated by financial insecurity, social isolation and greater uncertainty over the future. Your physical and emotional health are important, and looking after them will ensure you get the most out of university life. SEPnet has assembled a number of resources that you or your student colleagues may find useful.
Normally all PhD students have a supervision team of two or three academics, so academic and pastoral support is available through your principal supervisor and/or through other members of the supervisory team who should have a good understanding of your project, its status and challenges, and should know something of your personal circumstances. While supervisory team members will have been appointed primarily because of their academic expertise, they will almost certainly have undertaken a doctoral supervision training course at your university. Supervisors attend refresher courses every few years and are taught about potential welfare and mental-health issues and where to get support for their students. Besides being expected to meet with you regularly to provide academic guidance, they will look out for warning signs of mental health or other issues, but they are physicists, not mind readers or mental-health counsellors, so you may have to raise any concerns of your own volition. PDRAs can find themselves having fewer formal contacts, sometimes only the research grant holder or another senior researcher, so having other people to turn to can be important. The following ideas and links might be helpful.
What to do if you need help and support:
- Consult your supervisors or group leader, fellow students/PDRAs or the PGR Student Handbook for guidance on the services available at your institution.
- Explore University websites which typically provide advice on managing anxiety, stress and other mental health problems as well as links to useful external resources such as the IOP Resilience Toolkit, wellbeing workshops and courses.
- Raise any concerns you may have with your student or PDRA/ECR (early career researcher) representative. Some research groups and departments have a student and PDRA representative who meets regularly with the research management team to highlight student updates, concerns and wishes to the faculty, and vice-versa. These meetings help ensure that students’ and PDRA’s voices are heard and can help shape wider-ranging support including assistance for students with disabilities, learning difficulties, and health conditions.
Where to go:
All SEPnet member departments have at least a postgraduate training tutor or third party mentor who can be an alternative first point of contact in the department, for both PhD students and PDRAs.
If you do not feel comfortable raising mental-health concerns with a member of your department, you may instead approach your university’s student-support unit, student health-and-wellbeing unit or other similar service (some may be within the doctoral college) that offer a confidential service to students who have evidence of a mental-health condition. PDRAs should be able to access staff services of a similar nature.
Mental-health advisors may be able to assess your study support requirements, liaise with academic and support staff regarding support recommendations, provide advice and assistance with applying for disabled students’ allowances (DSA) if relevant and implementing the recommendations.
This could include allocating a mentor or support worker, if necessary liaising with GPs, Counsellors, or a Health Care Team and liaising with residential services over accommodation support needs.
(Please let our web manager know if any of these resource listings need updating, or if you can add others that may benefit other students.)
Besides speaking to your supervisory team or the PGR Tutor, you may wish to speak to one of the Equality and Wellbeing Champions within the department, who are named in the PAM Wiki section entitled Staff Health and Wellbeing. You can also access University wellbeing support and follow the links for counselling and mental health.
If you are Hertfordshire PGR with a teaching contract, you can also access the staff Employee Assistance Programme, a confidential counselling and information service providing assistance with personal or work related problems that may be affecting your health, wellbeing or performance.
You may wish to access University wellbeing and student support resources. Through the latter link, Kent students also have access to the Big White Wall, a supportive, moderated online community for discussion of mental health and wellbeing worries.
A Third-Party Monitor provides an opportunity to raise any worries or concerns informally. School Listeners, six individuals including a postgraduate student, all trained in mental health awareness, provide an informal service to listen non-judgmentally and point people to help and advice. Details of School Listeners can be found on the School of Physical Sciences intranet and on laminated sheets in kitchens and the coffee area.
In the wider University, the two main routes to mental health support for PGR students are the Employee Assistance Programme (EAP), a confidential 24-hour phone service that can provide immediate advice and rapid access to face-to-face counselling sessions, and the Big White Wall, which is a supportive, moderated online community for discussion of mental health and wellbeing worries.
The University has two trained mental health advisors, who do not provide direct support for postgraduate students, but are able to advise tutors and supervisors working with students who have mental health difficulties.
The Student Wellbeing Service offers wellbeing advice, mental health advice and counselling. Students can register online;
Whatsup? is a wellbeing phone app offering 24/7 safeguarding, wellbeing and emotional health support;
The Wellbeing Café, a friendly weekly meeting place with a rolling programme of informal talks and activities, offering an opportunity to learn and be with others who are interested in supporting wellbeing. These run every Wednesday from 4-5:30pm at Cafe CoCo next to the student union;
SilverCloud, with secure immediate access to four tailored online modules for tackling stress, anxiety, low mood or body image issues.
A range of services is available.
Royal Holloway recognises that mental health problems and more common among students than the general population and the stresses of student life can trigger a range of mental health issues. Support is available.
Help is available during all working hours on Highfield campus. Outside core hours, Student Services, in conjunction with University Security, provide an Out of Hours help service. Online links are provided for wellbeing and mental health.
We provide advice on the evidence-based actions ‘Five Ways to Wellbeing’.
The Doctoral College offers a range of services and resources for both students and staff.
The Wellbeing Centre is available for all PhD students
The intranet site links to wellbeing resources and information
The Departmental Wellbeing Champion can be used as a first point of contact for help and information
The mySurrey hive website and drop in is our campus “one stop shop” for student needs.
Beyond their supervisory team, students at Sussex P&A experiencing difficulties have recourse to:
- the Student Life Centre which will provide advice directly – particularly pastoral care and counselling – and/or signpost you to other professional services, on all student matters)
- Director of Doctoral Studies, who has oversight of the PGR remit in your School of Study
- PGR student representatives, who can also signpost them, or raise a problem with the Director of Doctoral Studies in anonymised form
- any other trusted academic