From enrolment to completion: An exploration of psychological wellbeing in doctoral students during the PhD journey

Sisson, Kelly and Jackman, Patricia (2019) From enrolment to completion: An exploration of psychological wellbeing in doctoral students during the PhD journey. In: International Conference on the Mental Health & Wellbeing of Postgraduate Researchers, May 16/17 2019, Brighton, UK.

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From enrolment to completion: An exploration of psychological wellbeing in doctoral students during the PhD journey
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Abstract

Recent research in Europe (Levecque et al, 2017) and Australia (Barry et al, 2018) has drawn significant attention to the increased prevalence of psychological distress in PhD students. Psychological wellbeing in doctoral students can be adversely affected by a variety of factors, including the supervisory relationship, university processes, role conflict, isolation, feelings of inadequacy, and career uncertainty (e.g., Mackie & Bates, 2018; Waight & Giordano, 2018). Doctoral students who report lower psychological wellbeing are more likely to consider withdrawing from their studies (Hunter & Devine, 2016), thus highlighting the importance of developing understanding of the factors that contribute to psychological wellbeing in this population.

The challenges that PhD students face have been captured in a typology, first proposed by Pyhalto et al (2012) and extended by Barry et al. (2018). This typology highlights six problem areas: (1) supervisory problems; (2) resource issues; (3) domain-specific knowledge; (4) general work processes; (5) external or personal challenges; and (6) project-related challenges. Although this work is useful in identifying sources of stress, it tells us little about: when these stressors occur in the PhD journey; how they change over the course of the PhD journey; or how students adapt and cope (or not) with them.

This presentation will explore preliminary findings from a retrospective study using a novel combination of semi-structured interviews and an adapted life grid method (LGM). We will outline how psychological wellbeing fluctuates across the timespan of the PhD; the correlates of good and poor psychological wellbeing; key ‘pinch points’; and the self-help strategies that students in our study have used as coping mechanisms. The presentation will conclude with a critical review of the applicability of the above typology to a UK population, our plans for extending the research, and developing a preventative approach to promoting psychological wellbeing in Doctoral students.

Keywords:Wellbeing
Subjects:X Education > X990 Education not elsewhere classified
X Education > X342 Academic studies in Higher Education
C Biological Sciences > C800 Psychology
C Biological Sciences > C890 Psychology not elsewhere classified
B Subjects allied to Medicine > B920 Occupational Health
L Social studies > L510 Health & Welfare
C Biological Sciences > C841 Health Psychology
X Education > X142 Training Teachers - Higher Education
X Education > X900 Others in Education
C Biological Sciences > C812 Educational Psychology
Divisions:College of Social Science
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ID Code:36313
Deposited On:03 Jul 2019 10:43

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