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Friday, July 19, 2019

Use peer support to improve well-being and research outcomes | Careers -

Sarah Masefield, PhD Student, University of York says, PhD students’ knowledge can and should be harnessed to help others who are beginning their postgraduate journey. 

Photo: courtesy of Stuart Miles at

When I started my PhD in health sciences in 2016, I knew it was a risk. I had a history of depression, and I thought the programme might trigger a recurrence. What I hadn’t expected was the extreme anxiety that I experienced. Over the Christmas holidays of my second year, I woke up every day with my heart racing and feeling sick, knowing that to reach my next deadline I had to spend another day trying to make progress with my systematic-review chapter. My only full day off during that period was Christmas Day.

Instead of seeking help, I stopped communicating with my supervisors because I felt incompetent. I worried that talking to them would expose and shame me more. I was not willing to carry on at the further expense of my health, and of my relationship with my partner. I decided that if something didn’t change soon, I’d have to drop out.

Fortunately, I’d made friends with other PhD students in my department at the University of York, UK. We discussed our research projects and shared guidance from our supervisors and other students. Hearing about their anxieties and receiving their advice really helped...

What you should know Here’s what I want current and future PhD students, and universities, to take away from my experiences: 

• Students’ knowledge of the PhD process can and should be shared — and not just within their own departmental silo — with those who are starting their PhDs. University backing is needed to help get peer-support initiatives off the ground and keep them going.
• Students can go to their doctoral training and support services and ask them what support is available for mental health and well-being. They can ask for help developing peer-support workshops across the university (not only in a single department) and promoting activities to students.
• Universities should work with PhD students to provide environments that reduce the risk factors for mental ill health, that help students to recognize when their mental health is being adversely affected and that put them at ease about asking for help.