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Enhancing postgraduate researcher wellbeing through support groups

Fryni Panayidou (Queen Mary Academy, Queen Mary University of London, London, UK)
Benjamin Priest (Advice and Counselling Service, Queen Mary University of London, London, UK)

Studies in Graduate and Postdoctoral Education

ISSN: 2398-4686

Article publication date: 9 February 2021

Issue publication date: 2 August 2021




This paper aims to examine the effectiveness of PhD support groups as an intervention that improves mental well-being and increases confidence in timely PhD completion.


Participants of six PhD support groups, which we co-facilitated, completed a survey at the start of the intervention and at the end of the eight weeks of attendance. The survey measured subjective well-being and confidence in completion using the Warwick-Edinburgh Mental Well-being Scale and statements from the Postgraduate Research Experience Survey (2017 and 2019). The final survey also included open-ended questions to identify the helpful factors of the intervention.


Participants’ subjective well-being scores increased considerably over the eight weeks of group attendance and improved from initial score ranges associated with risk of depression or psychological distress. As a result of feeling understood and supported by other group members, participants felt less isolated and anxious, were more satisfied with their life and work-life balance, and felt more confident about completing their PhD within the institutional time frame. The results confirm previous findings on the positive effects of social support and the relationship between poor well-being and attrition.

Practical implications

Support groups could form an integral part of university support as they increase well-being and could improve retention.


Existing literature mainly highlights factors that affect postgraduate researchers’ well-being, with limited research on innovative interventions. This paper investigates the impact of social support in a facilitated peer group that focuses on the emotional and psychological aspects of the PhD experience, rather than peer group learning or support with specific research tasks.



Panayidou, F. and Priest, B. (2021), "Enhancing postgraduate researcher wellbeing through support groups", Studies in Graduate and Postdoctoral Education, Vol. 12 No. 1, pp. 42-57.



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