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Student, academic and professional services staff perspectives of postgraduate researcher well-being and help-seeking: a mixed-methods co-designed investigation

Rebecca Crook (Division of Psychology and Mental Health, Faculty of Biology Medicine and Health, The University of Manchester, Manchester, UK)
Patricia Gooding (Division of Psychology and Mental Health, Faculty of Biology Medicine and Health, The University of Manchester, Manchester, UK)
Chloe Whittaker (Students' Union, The University of Manchester, Manchester, UK)
Dawn Edge (Division of Psychology and Mental Health, Faculty of Biology Medicine and Health, The University of Manchester Manchester, UK, and Greater Manchester Mental Health NHS Foundation Trust, Manchester, UK)
Claire Faichnie (Manchester Doctoral College, The University of Manchester, Manchester, UK)
Melissa Westwood (Manchester Doctoral College, The University of Manchester, Manchester, UK, and Division of Developmental Biology and Medicine, Faculty of Biology Medicine and Health, The University of Manchester, Manchester, UK)
Sarah Peters (Division of Psychology and Mental Health, Faculty of Biology Medicine and Health, The University of Manchester, Manchester, UK, and Manchester Centre for Health Psychology, The University of Manchester, Manchester, UK)

Studies in Graduate and Postdoctoral Education

ISSN: 2398-4686

Article publication date: 5 April 2021

Issue publication date: 2 August 2021

171

Abstract

Purpose

This study aimed to address three key gaps in existing knowledge about postgraduate researchers’ (PGRs) well-being. It investigated 1) the frequency and nature of depression, anxiety and well-being amongst PGRs, and relatedly, characteristics that convey vulnerability, 2) factors that impact PGR well-being, and 3) factors that influence help-seeking.

Design/methodology/approach

The mixed-methods design comprised quantitative and qualitative approaches. Using opportunity sampling, 585 PGRs registered at a large UK University completed an online survey. The perspectives of a purposive sample of academic and Professional Services staff (n = 61) involved in supporting PGRs were sought through in-depth focus groups and semi-structured interviews, which were audio-recorded, transcribed verbatim and analysed using inductive thematic analysis.

Findings

PGRs scored lower on measures of well-being and higher on measures of anxiety and depression than aged-matched groups in the general population. PGR well-being was positively affected by personal and professional relationships, and negatively affected by academic challenges and mental health problems. Academic supervisors were the primary source of support for students experiencing well-being difficulties. Thematic analysis revealed four domains that impact upon PGR well-being: postgraduate researcher identity; pressures and expectations of postgraduate research; complexity of the supervisor role; and pinch points in postgraduate research. Each domain had associations with help-seeking behaviours.

Originality/value

This study provides evidence that the PGR experience is perceived to be distinct from that of other students, and this helps understand sources of stress and barriers to help-seeking. It provides a steer as to how higher education institutions could better support the PGR learning experience.

Keywords

Acknowledgements

The research team would like to thank all postgraduate researchers and staff who took part in this study, and the PGR consultative forum for generously sharing their knowledge and experiences. The authors are grateful to postgraduate taught students (EC and LR) who assisted with qualitative data collection.

This work was funded by the Office for Students and Research England, with additional support from the University of Manchester.

Citation

Crook, R., Gooding, P., Whittaker, C., Edge, D., Faichnie, C., Westwood, M. and Peters, S. (2021), "Student, academic and professional services staff perspectives of postgraduate researcher well-being and help-seeking: a mixed-methods co-designed investigation", Studies in Graduate and Postdoctoral Education, Vol. 12 No. 1, pp. 113-130. https://doi.org/10.1108/SGPE-08-2020-0056

Publisher

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Emerald Publishing Limited

Copyright © 2021, Emerald Publishing Limited

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