Ideally, postgraduate students and PDRAs would enjoy a buoyant phase of their scientific careers while they are free to explore science without many of the additional professional commitments that more senior academics acquire. However, as these posts are usually short term contracts and often require relocation to new cities or even countries which means creating new working and social relationships, the PhD and PDRA career phase can be extremely stressful. Financial insecurity, social isolation and uncertainty over the future can also add to the pressure of performing well but it is absolutely critical that students take care of their physical and emotional health – looking after them will ensure students 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 where academic and pastoral support is available through the principal supervisor and/or through other members of the supervisory team who should have a good understanding of your project, its status and challenges.
While supervisory team members will have been appointed primarily because of their academic expertise, they have usually undertaken a doctoral supervision training course at your university. Supervisors regularly attend refresher courses 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 is 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 meet 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 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.
Useful Links for each university
- 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.
- For wellbeing, counselling, mental health support, please click here
- Mental health support outside the university
- Urgent support for wellbeing / mental health
- Postgraduate Wellbeing Project
- The Student Wellbeing Service offers wellbeing advice, mental health advice and counselling. Students can register online for support.
- 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. These run every Wednesday from 4-5:30pm at Cafe CoCo next to the student union
- SilverCloud provides secure immediate access to four tailored online modules for tackling stress, anxiety, low mood or body image issues.
- There is a range of services is available online on the main university site.
- 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.
- Click here for support.
- 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.
- Two useful external organisations in Southampton are Steps to Wellbeing for NHS psychological care, as well as Solent Mind.
- 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
- Click here to access wellbeing resources and information but there are more options on the intranet site as well.
- 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 provides advice directly, particularly pastoral care and counselling but can also recommend other professional services.
- 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.
- See also Doctoral School help, resources for mental health, and a link to an on-going project on mental health of doctoral researchers.