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Thursday, June 30, 2016

Do PhD students get the right support from universities? | Times Higher Education


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"Feelings of stress, self-doubt and isolation can affect even the brightest and most assured PhD student" summarizes Jack Grove, reporter covering teaching and learning, quality assurance, student affairs and access to higher education for Times Higher Education. 


Lean on me: some institutions have set up doctoral colleges to create a more supportive environment for PhD students.
Photo: Alamy
So are universities doing enough to support students on the long slog towards a doctorate? And do new PhD students get the same level of help as the 500,000 or so first-year undergraduates arriving on campus each autumn?

Those questions were recently asked by staff at the University of Nottingham, leading to a review of how the institution helps its doctoral students, particularly those in the early stages of their research.
Parmjit Dhugga, head of researcher development at the university’s graduate school, said that a renewed national focus on stress suffered by graduate students prompted Nottingham to assess the relevancy of its own pastoral support.

While just 15 per cent of 760 doctoral students who responded to Nottingham’s survey reported any significant difficulty making the transition into graduate study, the problems raised were often very different from those usually cited by undergraduates and required different interventions, said Mr Dhugga.

“Some spoke of a lack of progress in their research topic, awkward relationships with their supervisor and a sense of isolation, even when they were based in a research group,” he added.

Some PhD students also mentioned stress caused by long hours of study as aspiring scholars sought to outdo their older academic peers, Mr Dhugga said.

“They saw their colleagues working very hard and think they need to equal these long hours as that’s just part of academic life,” he explained.

Indeed, many doctoral students felt their problems were closer to those experienced by academic staff, rather than undergraduates or even taught postgraduates, said Mr Dhugga, who will explain how Nottingham is changing its doctoral support set-up in a talk at the UK Council for Graduate Education’s annual conference, which takes place in Liverpool from 4 to 5 July.

Identity indecision 
“Doctoral students often don’t see themselves as students, so they are not sure whether to turn to staff or student support,” he said.

Nottingham’s investigation is part of a wider push by the sector to develop new structures and services to support doctoral students, of whom about a quarter will not finish their studies, latest figures suggest.
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Source: Times Higher Education


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