Did you know that three of the major challenges postgraduate students are facing were cited as “fear of being judged”, “stress”, and “loneliness”? Starting a Masters or PhD can be a very isolating experience on a long and difficult journey. David Richardson offers an insight into Postgrad Realities, a set of online modules loaded with practical tips and strategies to tackle the twists and turns of your postgraduate journey…
So you’ve breezed your way through undergraduate study, you’ve been accepted onto a postgraduate degree placement at Warwick, you’ve learned everything about campus and your department at Welcome Week – and now the hard work begins. Whether you’re starting a Masters or PhD, you’re at the start of a long and difficult journey.
And while you know a fair bit of what to expect – after all, you’ve been at university before and achieved high grades – the set of challenges you’ll encounter as a postgraduate are going to be quite different. That’s why in 2016, the Postgraduate Community Engagement Team joined forces with Wellbeing Support Services to create Postgrad Realities, a set of online modules to both introduce students to the problems and obstacles that crop up during postgraduate study, and practical ways to approach and overcome them.
The new reality
A 2015 NUS survey showed that 8 out of 10 students experience mental health issues. According to Student Minds, three of the major challenges to students’ mental health were cited as “fear of being judged”, “stress”, and “loneliness” – and unfortunately, these can be even more prominent as a postgraduate student.
As a PhD student, your work will be scrutinised and criticised – whether it’s in print as your chapter, article or thesis, or delivered as a conference paper. Critical analysis of your work means you will always be told ways of how it could be improved – and that can be disheartening. Furthermore, your stress levels in dealing with the high workload of your postgraduate studies can be exacerbated by a whole host of other demands on your time. You may have a job outside of your study, such as teaching commitments in your department or an employer who is sponsoring or funding your postgraduate study, and at some point in your hectic schedule; you’ll need to find time for friends, family and life. This is even more important when you consider how isolating postgraduate study can be. Independent study is a big part of being an undergraduate, but then you would on the same degree programme with many other students, and that peer support network is important. As a Masters student, that peer support base narrows, and as a PhD student, it’s often just you and your subject.
But while you may feel isolated as a postgraduate, it’s important to remember that you are not alone in facing these challenges. And that’s where Postgrad Realities comes in – to introduce you to some of the obstacles that you will encounter as a postgraduate and to equip you with the right set of strategies and practical tips to help support you throughout your postgrad journey. By working through Postgrad Realities, you will hopefully develop the resilience needed to tackle the challenges of a Masters or PhD, and feel encouraged to discuss wellbeing challenges in the knowledge that they are common amongst the postgraduate community.
Postgrad Realities consists of five self-paced, interactive online modules – these are always there when you need them, and you can dip in and out of the modules at any time. Each module provides you with information, including video and audio from postgraduates giving their own experiences and reflections, and gives you the space to reflect on your own values and personality and how they relate to your studies.
But importantly, it’s not just all theory – the modules give you practical tips and strategies to utilise, and activities to try in your own time to help. Take Module B for example, designed to help you gain an insight into your own personality style and utilise your strengths – for dealing with moments of social isolation by building new connections, the module gives you activities to work on such as improving your active listening, and taking 10 minutes out of your day to speak to someone new and reflect on your experience. The activities also teach you how to practise mindfulness, how to deal with negative thoughts like worry, guilt and self-doubt, and how to successfully plan and schedule your workload through methods such as post-it planning and WOOP goals.
The modules cover a broad range of issues and obstacles – such as the very common “impostor syndrome”, the (undoubtedly false) perception where you fear that you’ve got to where you are through luck and that you will be “found out” and exposed as a fraud. By teaching you how to cope when self-doubt creeps in; when motivation disappears and procrastination increases, when perfectionism takes hold and when it feels like you’re on your own in the great long battle with your PhD, Postgrad Realities can help you prevent your postgraduate study getting the better of you.
And don’t forget that the Postgrad Community Engagement Team, through our social and cultural events and our wellbeing events, is here to help make sure that you feel like a part of a postgraduate community and to promote a healthy approach to your postgraduate studies!
What kind of challenges have you been facing to since you started your postgraduate study? Do you often feel overwhelmed or isolated? How have you been tackling these issues? Tweet us at @ResearchEx, email us at firstname.lastname@example.org, or leave a comment below.
David Richardson works in the Warwick Library as a Community Engagement Officer. He finished his PhD in 2014, on British pressure groups and movements campaigning on European integration from the 1940s to the 1980s. Outside of work he enjoys music, architecture, photography and bike polo (it’s a real thing – google it!).