PhD studies are demanding at best of times. A 2017 research study into PhD student wellbeing found that 50% of PhD students experiences psychological distress. The same study also found that a third of students are at risk of a common psychiatric disorders. Covid has made things worse for PhD students. The pressure of having to complete a PhD in a fixed period means every week and month count. Disruption in access to labs and libraries due to Covid, as well as a complete shift in working patterns and interactions, has left many students incredibly anxious and adrift. To make matters worse, where before the pandemic PhD graduates could expect a vibrant job market, current employment prospects appear far less certain.
Cutting-edge PhD training through Centers for Doctoral Training
In the UK, as part of a national research strategy, the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC) funds Centers for Doctoral Training (CDT). CDTs bring together different areas of expertise from universities and industry and train a new generation of scientists and engineers to solve emerging challenges. CDT students have a 4-year contract and find themselves working in a cutting-edge, fast-paced and incredibly ambitious environment with many challenges. Tailored support is therefore vital to safeguard their personal and professional effectiveness.
Grid training: a critical link between technical training and transferable skills
Before the pandemic, I was invited to share the Grid approach with a group of PhD students at Imperial College London’s Materials Engineering department. One of my students in the class, came from a CDT and was in the final stages of writing up her PhD work. She found the course very helpful and recommended it to the CDT leaders for consideration.
While Covid-19 made an in-person delivery impossible, the CDT team was open to the idea of online training. This took a great deal of effort to develop but we quickly rose to the challenge – and I’m glad we did. The result is a quite extraordinary Grid Developmental Programme. Why is it extraordinary? Because our students loved it and found it very, very enriching.
The pilot is now completed. Below, we share a few highlights from this initiative, as it evidences the unique value that Grid brings to PhD training and high-performance research environments.
What PhD students often struggle with
Here are some of the key challenges our students shared that made them want to sign up to our Grid programme:
- Not knowing how to grapple with organisation and having things run away from them.
- Difficulty staying motivated, be the task having to read research papers, do experiments, write up work or finish.
- Feeling aimless without having a specific deadline or task to achieve under the uncertainty of the pandemic.
- Wanting to be more productive and knowing they can be!
- Wishing to improve how they use their time but not being quite sure how.
- Knowing how to handle stress from having too many objectives, too much freedom, or struggling with self-belief.
- Wanting to be better at self-motivation.
- Lacking experience on how to set goals and manage deadlines as well as organizing time efficiently.
- Avoiding spiraling down into an unproductive and unhappy way of being with a project they were so excited about starting.
- Learning how to switch off at the end of the day.
- Being better at controlling worries and feelings of inadequacy or overwhelm.
Three major shifts in just 3 months
- Calmer, happier and more productive students who now have embedded new productive and healthy work habits
- Positive outlook and marked shift in reported stress levels from moderate-to-high at the start, to low-to-moderate now
- A whopping 50% shift in the satisfactory rating of student-supervisor relationships
And there’s more!
Our students are looking and feeling more wholesome.
They have discovered a way to balance their demanding work with an equally rich personal life, strengthen their personal and professional relationships, grow in real confidence from what they have achieved with us on the journey, and learnt to seek help when needed.
These are some critical self-agency skills of a healthy adult and a well functioning future professional. Our graduates will take these skills with them wherever they go. While we’ve become very fond of our students, we believe that’s a worthwhile investment in their future as well as in their research CDT environment.
Grid programme impact
The bottom line
Our PhD Grid™ training course offers a practical set of aids and up-skills students to achieve results on healthier terms. Having completed the journey with us, our students get to be Grid masters! They have had to evidence their work to earn our Grid Completion Certificate. Along the way, they have also had to document all the other learning that underpins their new ways of being and working.
Interested in learning more?
Please get in touch with us to explore how we can help you or your CDT, institute or department take a positive and highly practical step towards safeguarding student’s health and wellbeing whilst boosting their productivity and satisfaction. We’d love to help!