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Research survival! Managing health and wellbeing on the PhD journey


PhD students from Brunel University London, the Open University and the University of Oxford have been sharing knowledge of how to manage their own health and wellbeing during the long slog to getting a doctorate.

While Research England published a report last week recommending ways to ensure postgraduate researchers' mental health and wellbeing flourishes, and saying that a top-down commitment to culture change is needed, the PhD students had already taken a bottom-up initiative and ran a student-led study day entitled 'Realising the potential of you and your PhD'.

"We ran this event to incorporate the health and wellbeing of students at Oxford, Brunel and the Open University," said Brunel PhD student Lucy van Hoorn, speaking of the three universities linked by the Grand Union Doctoral Training Partnership (GUDTP). Funded by the Economic & Social Research Council, the GUDTP provides scholarships which enable internship opportunities, institutional visits and research networking – including making this study day possible.

"The idea is to use creative research methods and discuss what we're doing in our PhD journey – and how we're doing it – to manage our own health and wellbeing, so we can look after ourselves," van Hoorn added, "which means that our research can be informed to help the health and wellbeing of the people who we're researching for."

The event, hosted by van Hoorn and her fellow Brunel PhD student Rahmanara Chowdhury, enabled the sharing of practice and experiences, concerns and desires, and included talks given by:

  • Professor Tess Kay (Dean of Research, Brunel University London) on doing research in a changing and challenging world
  • Will Allen (GUDTP PhD graduate from Oxford) on removing the fear of quantitative research
  • Dr Wendy Martin (Senior Lecturer in public health at Brunel) on the use of visual diaries to elicit insights into everyday life
  • Chowdhury on research for and with the 'real world'.

Dr Anne Turner, GP and PhD student at the Open University, welcomed the opportunities provided by the study day: "Today's event I found extremely inspiring, especially with regards to thinking about research in a more creative way. I feel that's something that's been squashed out of me professionally – and the idea that you can use creative methods to research has been really interesting."

Attendees also visualised aspects of their research using plasticine, which helped with creativity and with relaxation.

"I didn’t really think about visual methods until today," said Brunel PhD student Amy Prescott. "So that's given me some insight, and it can make my data a bit richer.

"This kind of event is something to look forward to with other researchers who are doing completely different things to me, so it's building my network within the university and beyond."

Reported by:

Joe Buchanunn, Media Relations
+44 (0)1895 268821