The mental health of UK postgraduate research students following the COVID-19 pandemic

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The mental health of postgraduate research students (PGRs) is a growing area of interest to Higher Education Institutions (HEIs) and researchers and has important implications for PGR wellbeing, success, and attrition. This study aimed to explore PGR experiences of mental health during the pandemic, the supervisory relationship, and seeking support. Semi-structured interviews were conducted with 20 PGRs from across the UK. Questions invited PGRs to share their experience of supervision, the impact of supervision on their mental health, and any experience of discussing mental health with their supervisor(s). The experiences of supervision varied, as did the university responses to the pandemic and levels of supervisory support. A number of PGRs felt that their supervision experiences had negatively impacted their wellbeing and reported stigma and discriminatory practices. Themes identified included discourses, supervisory knowledge, university resources, and the research culture as key factors that impacted the mental health of PGRs. Supervisors often upheld perceptions of PhD life as being isolating, with negative impacts on wellbeing to be expected, setting expectations of overworking, anxiety, and stress. The move from pandemic to post-pandemic life posed both challenges and benefits. Issues of training on mental health awareness, university processes, and accessibility of services should be considered by HEIs.

Original languageEnglish
Article number1106
JournalEducation Sciences
Issue number11
Publication statusPublished - 2 Nov 2023


  • doctoral student
  • doctoral study
  • PhD student
  • postgraduate research student
  • researcher mental health
  • student mental health

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