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The Researcher Toolkit: a preventative, peer-support approach to postgraduate research student mental health

Sophie R. Homer (School of Psychology, University of Plymouth, Plymouth, UK)
Linda Solbrig (School of Psychology, University of Plymouth, Plymouth, UK)
Despina Djama (School of Psychology, University of Plymouth, Plymouth, UK)
Anne Bentley (Student Wellbeing Services, University of Plymouth, Plymouth, UK)
Sarah Kearns (Doctoral College, University of Plymouth, Plymouth, UK)
Jon May (School of Psychology, University of Plymouth, Plymouth, UK)

Studies in Graduate and Postdoctoral Education

ISSN: 2398-4686

Article publication date: 3 February 2021

Issue publication date: 2 August 2021

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Abstract

Purpose

Rates of mental ill-health among postgraduate research students (PGRs) are alarmingly high. PGRs face unique challenges and stigma around accessing support. The purpose of this paper is to introduce The Researcher Toolkit: a novel, open-source, preventative approach to PGR mental health. The Toolkit empowers PGRs and promotes positive research culture. This paper describes and evaluates the Toolkit to encourage adoption across the sector.

Design/methodology/approach

Four workshops were designed by integrating researcher development, critical pedagogy and psychological knowledge of well-being. A diverse group of PGRs co-designed workshops and delivered them to their peers. Workshops engaged 26% of the PGR population (total 116 attendees). PGR Workshop Leaders and attendees submitted anonymous, online feedback after workshops (74 total responses). A mixed-method approach combined quantitative analysis of ratings and qualitative analysis of open-ended comments.

Findings

Feedback was overwhelmingly positive. Workshops were universally appealing, enjoyable and beneficial and the peer-support approach was highly valued, strongly supporting adoption of the programme in other universities. Findings are discussed alongside wider systemic factors and recommendations for policy.

Practical implications

The Toolkit translates readily to other UK institutions and can be adapted for use elsewhere. Recommendations for practice are provided.

Originality/value

The Researcher Toolkit is a novel PGR well-being initiative. Its originality is threefold: its approach is prevention rather than intervention; its content is new and bespoke, created through interdisciplinary collaboration between psychologists, researcher development professionals and PGR stakeholders; and support is peer-led and decentralised from student support services. Its evaluation adds to the limited literature on PGR well-being and peer-support.

Keywords

Acknowledgements

Development and evaluation of the Researcher Toolkit was supported by funding won in February 2018 from Research England and the Office for Students (then HEFCE), under the Catalyst call, “Supporting mental health and well-being for postgraduate research students”. This project is entirely the work of the authors. The funding body did not contribute to the Researcher Toolkit or its evaluation, including the design, conduct, reporting and submission of the work presented here, other than financially and by facilitating forums for informal feedback and support from other Catalyst grant holders and related bodies.

Citation

Homer, S.R., Solbrig, L., Djama, D., Bentley, A., Kearns, S. and May, J. (2021), "The Researcher Toolkit: a preventative, peer-support approach to postgraduate research student mental health", Studies in Graduate and Postdoctoral Education, Vol. 12 No. 1, pp. 7-25. https://doi.org/10.1108/SGPE-06-2020-0039

Publisher

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Emerald Publishing Limited

Copyright © 2021, Emerald Publishing Limited

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