Predicting stress and mental wellbeing among doctoral researchers

Nicola Byrom, Larisa Dinu, Ann Kirkman, Gareth J. Hughes

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Abstract

Background
Although mental health in Higher Education is increasingly recognised as a public health issue, postgraduate research students are often overlooked. Recent studies indicate a high prevalence of mental distress in this population.
Aims
This study assesses the experience of doctoral researchers and identifies factors influencing mental wellbeing and perceived stress.
Methods
A cross-sectional study examined how key demographic, individual and contextual factors relate to stress and mental wellbeing in a sample of 431 doctoral researchers in the United Kingdom.
Results
Respondents gave positive reports about their supervisory relationship and identified feeling confidently prepared for their work. Family support, good general health, sleep and low levels of self-depreciation predicted stronger mental wellbeing and lower levels of stress. Students who were confident about their future career and felt well prepared for their studies were less stressed and those who were achievement orientated had better mental wellbeing.
Conclusions
Focused attention on exploring career options and building confidence may help reduce stress among doctoral researchers. Taking steps to tackle the imposter phenomenon may help further. These could include addressing fear of failure, improving confidence in research ability and clarifying the role of doctoral researchers within the wider academic community.
Original languageEnglish
JournalJournal of Mental Health
Publication statusAccepted/In press - 4 Aug 2020

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