Overview of the project
Recent research in Europe and Australia has drawn significant attention to the increased prevalence of psychological distress (a commonly used indicator for mental health) in PhD students. Evidence shows that PhD students experience higher levels of stress compared with undergraduate students and the general population. This leads to increased withdrawal rates, longer completion times and the risk of longer term effects on mental health and wellbeing. Whilst the types of challenges that PhD students face have been identified, very little is known about how these vary across the student journey and this makes it difficult to design appropriate interventions.
Our research and preliminary findings
Using a retrospective study design we have developed a lifegrid tool to help us explore how psychological wellbeing changes over the course of the PhD. The combination of participant created visual images and semi-structured interview data has enabled us to identify five phases of PhD process that are relatively consistent across our small sample. These are the initial high, the first dip, the midway lift, the final dip and the final high. They are characteristic of the anecdotal descriptions of the PhD rollercoaster that we have all seen discussed but have not previously been evidenced.
We are at an early stage with the full analysis, but initial findings suggest that the PhD experience evokes a myriad of different emotions at different stages. Key threats to psychological wellbeing seem to stem from periods of uncertainty, stagnation and isolation.
Call for collaboration
We are looking to expand and extend our research by replicating this methodology at new study sites in order to create a larger data set from which we may be able to develop a conceptual model of the PhD student experience for use across the sector.
If you are working with PhD students in a university setting and would like to collaborate with us please contact either Kelly Sisson (firstname.lastname@example.org) or Trish Jackman (email@example.com). We would also like to hear from anyone who has experience with visual data collection and analysis who would be interested in working with us to create the project outputs.
Kelly Sisson - firstname.lastname@example.org
Trish Jackman - email@example.com
University of Lincoln
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