Chloe Casey is a first year PhD student from the Faculty of Health and Social Sciences who is researching the mental wellbeing of postgraduate researchers (PGRs). Research suggests that the prevalence of poor mental health is higher in PGRs than in other student populations or the highly educated general public, yet few researchers have implemented interventions to promote wellbeing in doctoral students. We follow Chloe as she attends her first academic conference in Brighton: The UK Council of Graduate Education’s first annual conference on the Mental Health and Wellbeing of Postgraduate Researchers, where she presented with her supervisor, Dr Steve Trenoweth.
En route to Brighton from Bournemouth on the earliest train I have ever boarded. I thought I would do some work to distract myself from worrying about the presentation, whether I’ve chosen the right outfit or if people will think I’m smart enough to be there!
I don’t know what I was panicking about, everyone from professors to other PGRs were really open and willing to learn from each other. Apart from my initial worry: ‘is everyone in the world researching the same topic as me?!’ I realised that although there were consistent themes we all seem to be approaching the issue using different methods.
A conference highlight for me was listening to John de Pury from Universities UK discuss their wellbeing strategies through the PGR lens. There was a real sense that the HEI sector and policy makers are starting to take note that PGRs aren’t the same as other students and need support tailored to their needs.
The break-away sessions were a great opportunity to network with other researchers and HEI professionals in smaller groups. As a PGR myself, my favourite session was ‘Fail again, fail better’, celebrating failure as a wellbeing intervention for doctoral students. Research is a rollercoaster, it’s exploratory, frustrating and rewarding. We should honestly share our ups and downs with others, not to normalize struggle, but engage with failure as a positive, learning process.
I loved the use of a life grid in a research project from the University of Lincoln; it visually showed the highs and lows of doctoral study and what we all experience as PGRs.
Our presentation of Steve’s study results was well received and I heard some really useful feedback about my research proposal. Dr Gill Houston from UKCGE chaired our session and said we should come back to present the results of my research in 2020. I’m so glad my supervisor provided me with the opportunity to practice presenting and to promote my own research. I’ve had the chance to exchange ideas and build relationships with some great contacts.
I’m so glad I took the time out of studying to attend the conference, the experience was invaluable. It’s reassuring to know as a researcher that you are working in an exciting, up-and-coming topic area, but also as a doctoral student to hear the collaborative efforts of the HEI sector, policy makers and researchers to promote wellbeing and encourage a positive postgraduate research experience.