Managing Health Conditions During your PhD

As research students, our work in libraries and laboratories is intellectually difficult whatever your subject. Having a medical condition or disability can make completing researching even more challenging. However, support and guidance are readily available at Warwick. Giles Penman explains how the University has helped him survive and thrive as a PhD student with medical conditions and where you can find similar support services.

I have a physical disability and experience seizures. The physical discomfort resulting from conditions have made it difficult to make extended journeys to libraries and archives for research and have interrupted my research at the most inconvenient times. However, help came from several sources at Warwick. Registering with Disability Services was one of the first things I did when I came to Warwick, and they have been very helpful. The staff listened to my explanation of my conditions intently and provided reassurance that my conditions wouldn’t be a barrier to academic and personal success at Warwick. Disability Services helped me to access suitable on-campus accommodation so that my mobility difficulties would not impact my studies. They also worked with my department to ensure that I had the appropriate examination arrangements and reasonable adjustments due to my disability. They even provided equipment to ensure that I was safe on campus. I have always felt that Disability Services were in my corner and were on-hand to advise and help when required. Disability Services provide a variety of other services such as assistance with Mitigating Circumstances, Accommodation Requirements and Accessible Transportation.

Other assistance was more academic in nature. The Library and PG Hub provide vital support for those with disabilities and medical conditions. The Document Supply service at the Library located both digital and physical copies of books for me upon request. This has minimized the otherwise great distances I have needed to travel to find resources, and greatly reduced the impact of study on my physical health. And, since I am registered with Disability Services at University, 3-day Short loan books are extended to 7 day loans. This sound like a small adjustment, but having just that little bit longer to review them has really helped me to process research materials and advance my ideas considerable.

Another excellent resource are the Assistive Technology Rooms at the Library and the PG Hub.  The rooms have computers loaded with programs such as Dragon NaturallySpeaking and Audio Notetaker to support study and essay writing. They are also quiet spaces to study and reflect, away from the hustle and bustle of the main university study areas. I have used these rooms throughout my time at Warwick, and found them invaluable, particularly when I need to complete assignments in peace. If you have a medical condition or disability, please consider using the Library’s facilities during your studies.

Also, my supervisors have been a source of much-needed support. Whatever my struggles, whether with medication or physical symptoms, my supervisors have been there for me. They have reassured me that my conditions would not prevent me from achieving at the highest level, and they have supported me throughout my academic journey at Warwick. For example, when I have been compelled to interrupt my studies because of my health, they supported short breaks for me to recover and gain additional medical treatment. I have always returned to my research from such interruptions healthier and more confident with the assistance of my supervisors. If you have any health concerns, no matter how big or small, please inform your supervisors to ensure you get all the help and support you need.

Additionally, Wellbeing Support Services at Warwick is a valuable point of contact for any student in need. They helped me through some tough times with my mental health at the beginning of my research by providing constructive and sympathetic email and in-person therapy. Wellbeing Support Services provides other support such as online self-help tools and group therapy, and excellent Masterclasses to improve your wellbeing.

In short, I have never felt that any of my medical conditions have been an obstacle to academic success at Warwick. The services available at the University have supported me to achieve my potential and I can’t recommend them highly enough. And so, if you are a research student with a medical condition, don’t hesitate to reach out because support services at Warwick are here to help. 

Do you have a medical condition or disability? What have your experiences of being a research student at Warwick been? How has the University supported you? Tweet us at @ResearchEx, email us at, or leave a comment below.

Giles Penman is a PhD researcher supervised by the Classics and History Departments at the University of Warwick. His research concerns the roles and audiences of ancient imagery on British civic cultural artefacts of the Great War. He has a background in Classics, Archaeology and Numismatics

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