Doctoral School

Understanding the mental health of doctoral researchers

Understanding the Mental Health of Doctoral Researchers: Research Outputs

The Office for Students funded U-DOC project at Sussex ran for almost two years, reporting on 31 January 2020. The project's overarching aim was to provide a sustainable best practice model for the sector to address the challenge of doctoral researcher mental health.

It focused on the aims of prevention and early intervention, and also on the development and implementation of new practice for supporting doctoral researchers, and enhanced staff and student training across the institution, in partnership with statutory health services. A literature review and a survey of almost 6,000 doctoral researchers and other professionals informed the outputs listed below. 

The team are collating the publications that stem from U-DOC on ResearchGate. Follow the project if you want to keep up to date with developments.

Learn more about the project, and the people involved, further down the page. Further outputs will be added to this page in the coming months.

Research Outputs

Guide for Setting Up a PhD Online Support Group
Written by ESW researcher Claire Durrant, based on her own experience of developing a support network within her School, this is particularly timely given the current lockdown. It is supported by regular webinars.
Guide to setting up a PhD Online support group

Suggested Self-Care Strategies Poster
Created by the U-DOC team and Chimney Design, this poster suggests some strategies for self-care which could help doctoral researchers to manage their own mental health and wellbeing. The poster is a starting point for discussions around potential barriers to self-care. 
Self-care strategies poster


Looking After Yourself During the PhD
Dr Sophie Valeix (U-DOC and SITUATE coordinator) designed this workshop in collaboration with the university's Counselling Service, to be delivered to doctoral researchers as part of their regular training programme at Sussex. It has since been tailored to the Covid-19 situation; those slides are shared here.
Looking After Yourself during the Covid-19 Pandemic Lockdown

Looking Out for One Another in the PhD Community
A sister workshop developed in partnership with the charity Student Minds, aimed at giving doctoral researchers the skills, confidence and experience to support fellow PGRs while also looking after their own wellbeing. Contact Student Minds for further information.

Supervisor training
Coming soon

 Researcher-Led Initiatives


Follow the U-DOC project on ResearchGate to keep up-to-date with developments.

Berry C, Valeix, S, Niven, JE, Chapman, L, Roberts, PE & Hazell, CM 2020, 'Hanging in the balance: Conceptualising doctoral researcher mental health as a dynamic balance across key tensions characterising the PhD experience', International Journal of Educational Research, vol. 102, published 3 June 2020.

- available to University of Sussex staff and students via the Library, view record on Library Search database

Hazell, CM, Chapman, L, Valeix, SF, Roberts, P, Niven, JE & Berry, C 2020, 'Understanding the mental health of doctoral researchers: a mixed methods systematic review with meta-analysis and meta-synthesis', Systematic Reviews, vol. 9, published 26 August 2020. 

Hazell, C 2020, 'The importance of balance and boundaries: A report for World Mental Health Day.', Cherish: Resources & Information for Supporting Students in Higher Education, published 5 October 2020.

Berry, C, Niven, J, & Hazell, C 2021, Personal, social and relational predictors of UK postgraduate researcher mental health problems, published online by Cambridge University Press: 15 November 2021

Hazell, C.M., Niven, J.E., Chapman, L. et al. Nationwide assessment of the mental health of UK Doctoral Researchers. Humanit Soc Sci Commun 8, 305 (2021). 

Understanding the Mental Health of Doctoral Researchers: Have your say
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The Office for Students funded project Understanding the Mental Health of Doctoral Researchers reported on 31 January 2020, and the survey has now closed. We will be updating this page with further research outputs in the coming months.

Project News

January 2020:

We now have a Self-Care Strategies poster based on U-DOC research, designed in collaboration with Louise Harvey of Chimney Design. It is available as a pdf if you wish to use it as a visual aid in your office or work space. Please download and share with friends and colleagues.

 U-DOC Self-Care Strategies Poster [pdf, 72KB]

A list of suggested strategies for workplace and professional self-care, psychosocial and spiritual self-care, and physical self-care

November 2019:

We are so proud to share doctoral researcher Claire Durrant's implementation guide for setting up PhD online support groups. On the 25th of November, Claire presented her guide in a webinar, availble to all doctopral researchers. This webinar will be scheduled as part of the Researcher Development Programme and will now run regularly in 2020.

October 2019:

people at a table playing board gamespeople at a table playing board games

Successful first PhD Games Night on the Wednesday 30 Oct, a U-DOC funded researcher-led initiative. Register to the next Game Night here.







October 2019: Student Voice and the Co-creation of Interventions for Improving Post-Graduate Researcher Mental Health and Wellbeing

We are pleased to annouce our South-East dissemination event on: Student Voice and the Co-creation of Interventions for Improving Post-Graduate Researcher Mental Health and Wellbeing. It is a one day event taking place in Brighton on the Monday 9th December 2019. The event is co-organised by the University of Sussex, the University of Portsmouth and Vitae. South-East Universities and local organisations involved or interested in PGR mental health/wellbeing are welcome. Read more 

June 2019: A Sussexful Conference!

A few weeks ago, the University of Sussex co-organised the First International Conference on the Mental Health and Wellbeing of Postgraduate Researchers. We are delighted to report that the event brought together 195 delegates amongst whom were researchers, service providers and policy makers from 97 institutions in 11 countries! Across two days and 55 sessions, experts working at the interface of higher education and mental health and wellbeing discussed how to understand and improve postgraduate researcher’s experiences. Sussex Provost Professor Saul Becker highlighted the crucial need for universities to support their postgraduate researchers in any way possible. Professor Gordon Harold, Sussex deputy pro-vice chancellor (Research Excellence Framework) and leader of E-Nurture - one of the UKRI mental health networks, talked about the complexity of understanding the causes of mental ill-health. Dr Clio Berry and Dr Cassie Hazell, researchers on the U-DOC project, presented the preliminary research findings emerging from their rigorous systematic review of the literature, focus groups carried out at Sussex and a (still open!) national survey. Yasser Kosbar and Dr Sophie Valeix, also from the U-DOC project team, shared their personal experiences of wellbeing challenges during the PhD alongside two current doctoral researchers from the University of Portsmouth.

You can find out more on this event from the journals nature and research fortnight.

19th May 2019: Our first Researcher-led Mental Health and Wellbeing Initiative has been launched!

Evie Browne and Gemma Houdley from the School of Global Studies are holding a series of wellbeing workshops for Global Studies and IDS doctoral researchers in June and July 2019. Find out why this is important and more details on the events in Gemma's blog here.

29th April 2019: New podcast episode on Mental Health during the PhD as part of the project's recognition of University Mental Health Day 2019 (7th March) by Planet PhD (funded by the Doctoral School's Researcher-Led Initiative Fund): free to listen here!

In their first themed episode, Planet PhD chat to Sophie Valeix and Josh Hutton, both previous PhD students, about mental health and wellbeing during the doctorate. As well as sharing their personal experiences of mental health issues during their PhD, our guests talk to us about why they think doctoral students are particularly vulnerable to developing problems... Read more

28th January 2019: New opportunity for Sussex doctoral researchers to fund their own mental health/wellbeing initiatives

We are pleased to announce that our Researcher-led Mental Health and Wellbeing Initiatives scheme is now open for applications. The scheme is open to all Sussex doctoral researchers... Read more

21st November 2018: Submissions invited for 1st International Conference on the Mental Health and Wellbeing of Postgraduate Researchers

The Doctoral School is delighted to announce the 1st International Conference on the Mental Health and Wellbeing of Postgraduate Researchers which will be taking place in Brighton at the Jury's Inn Waterfront Hotel, 16-17 May 2019... Read more

7th September 2018: SMaRteN-ing up about student mental health: U-DOC invited to the research network pre-launch event

The 6th September marked the launch of SMaRteN - a new research network being led by the Institute of Psychiatry, Psychology and Neuroscience (IoPPN) in London which aims to improve our understandings of student mental health...Read more

About the project

The project's overarching aim is to provide a sustainable best practice model for the sector to address the challenge of doctoral researcher mental health. In particular it will focus on the aims of prevention and early intervention. Secondary aims include the development and implementation of new practice for supporting doctoral researchers; enhanced staff and student training across the institution, and working in partnership with statutory health services.

The project is led by Dr Jeremy Niven, and is arranged into five work packages:

  1. A research package led by Dr Cassie Hazell and Dr Clio Berry
  2. A supervisor training package led by Dr Jeremy Niven
  3. A researcher development package led by the Doctoral School, comprising
    • Accessible training and guidance to enhance doctoral researchers' awareness of mental health and the support on offer
    • Development of a specific training module for staff in the professional services who directly support doctoral researchers
    • Support for specific doctoral researcher-led interventions
  4. Liaison with local statutory NHS services, led by Dr Jeremy Niven
  5. Evaluation and dissemination, led by Dr Jeremy Niven

The project will run from 1 April 2018 until 31 January 2020.

Administrative support for the project is provided by the Doctoral School. Please contact Paul Roberts, Assistant Director of the Doctoral School if you would like to find out more about the project.

You can also read the Sussex news story which was released following the award.


Key contacts

Dr Jeremy Niven, Director of Doctoral Studies (Life Sciences)

After completing a PhD in locust limb control at the Department of Zoology, University of Cambridge, UK, I stayed in Cambridge to work as a post-doc on fly photoreceptors. In 2005, I moved to the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute in Panama to work as a Research Fellow in the Laboratory of Evolutionary Behaviour and Neuroscience before returning to Cambridge to take-up a Royal Society University Research Fellowship. In 2011, I moved my laboratory to the School of Life Sciences at the University of Sussex. View Jeremy's web profile.

Dr Sophie Valeix, Project Co-ordinator 

I have first studied veterinary medicine and epidemiology in low and middle income countries in France. I then came to Sussex in 2012 to undertake a Masters’ degree in Science and Technology Policy, followed by an interdisciplinary PhD in Development Studies, working on collaboration between public health professionals in Ghana (2013 to 2018). I am now pursuing research interests around the mental health of young researchers while working 2.5 days per week on this project at the Doctoral School. View Sophie's web profile.

Miles Willey, Head of the Doctoral School

photo of Miles WilleyView Miles's profile

Doctoral Researcher Representatives

Justin Crow (School of Engineering and Informatics)

Justin completed a Batchelors degree in Computer Science at Sussex, and also holds a degree in Fine Art from the University of the Arts London. He is a doctoral researcher in the department of Informatics, working within the Text Analytics Group and his PhD is focused upon event detection and situational awareness in social (text) data.  View Justin's web profile.

Josh Hutton (Science Policy Research Unit)

Starting with a Bachelors in Biomedical Sciences, Josh's career at Sussex has spanned seven years. After obtaining a BSc he entered a 1+3 programme funded by the ESRC at SPRU. He obtained an MSc in Science and Technology Policy with a thesis entitled "Funding Biodefense: Gaps in the fence?" which focussed on fiscal gaps in biodefence funding in the US for the first decade of the 21st Century and developed a historical narrative partially explaining the path dependencies in biodefence funding in the US. His current focus as a doctoral researcher is on the processes by which so-called "Lessons Learned" reports are produced in the aftermath of the Ebola Crisis of 2014.  View Josh's web profile.

Yasser Kosbar (School of Education and Social Work)

Yasser is a doctoral researcher in the Centre for Higher Education and Equity Research (CHEER), with a background in international development policies and work experience in gender equality in public life. He has worked with the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), the Economist Intelligence Unit and the German Parliament (der Bundestag) Yasser’s research interests lie in the area of gender inclusive leadership with specific scope on the Middle East and North Africa and his PhD explores the complexity of constructing personal development relationships (i.e. mentoring, peer relationships, coaching, action-learning and structured networks) and its effects on the success and retention of early career female researchers.  View Yasser's web profile.

Lina Skora (School of Psychology)

Lina completed a BSc in Psychology (St Mary’s University) and an MSc in Social Cognition with Neuroscience (University College London), followed by a Research Assistant position at Warwick University's Mind and Action Research Group. She has a background in cognitive psychology and emotion theory, with a particular interest in their integration. At Sussex, Lina is researching the influence of interoceptive signals on unconscious and conscious associative learning, under the supervision of Dr Ryan Scott, Dr Daniel Campbell-Meiklejohn, and Prof Anil Seth. Lina is also interested in Bayesian approaches to perception and cognition, adaptive behaviour, and brain-body interaction in emotion and self. View Lina's web profile.

Rebecca Teague (School of Life Sciences)

Rebecca is a first year doctoral researcher at the Genome Damage and Stability Centre at Sussex. She is researching the role of PrimPol, a primase/polymerase enzyme with a role in DNA damage tolerance, under the supervision of Professor Aidan Doherty. Rebecca completed an MSci degree at the University of Birmingham in Human Biology; her Master’s thesis investigated CatSper activation in human spermatozoa. During her degree, she undertook a placement year at the University of Sheffield in collaboration with the Centre for Stem Cell Research. View Rebecca's web profile.

Marie Tuley (School of Law, Politics and Sociology)

Marie is a doctoral researcher in gender studies/sociology. She was awarded a 3-year PhD scholarship from the ESRC (SeNSS) in 2017. Her research is about the gendered impact of migrant integration policies and practices. Marie is interested in (gendered) identities at the (trans-) local and (trans-) national level. She has a background in anthropology and development studies, as well as languages and literature. Prior to joining the University of Sussex, she worked at the Institute for European Studies at the Vrije Universiteit Brussel, where she has presented research papers in international peer-reviewed conferences. View Marie's web profile.

Research package contacts

Dr Cassie Hazell, Visiting Research Fellow (Psychology)

Cassie is a Visiting Research Fellow with the University of Sussex, having previously worked for BSMS, the University of Sussex, and Sussex Partnership NHS Foundation Trust. Cassie now works in the Department of Psychiatry at the University of Oxford. In 2017, Cassie worked with Prof Sam Cartwright-Hatton on a review of the mental health support available to students at Sussex, and it became evident that little is known about the mental health needs of PhD students. In collaboration with Dr Clio Berry Cassie began exploring the prevalence of mental health problems for PhD students, and the barriers to providing and accessing support for these. View Cassie's web profile.

Dr Clio Berry, Research Fellow (Psychology)

I'm a Research Fellow working with Professor David Fowler as the Trial Manager for the NIHR HTA funded PRODIGY Trial - 'Prevention of long-term social disability amongst young people with emerging psychological difficulties'. I have worked with Sussex Partnership NHS Foundation Trust since 2007, supporting the delivery of research projects and mental health trials focused on understandings of and interventions in youth mental health, psychosis and voice-hearing. I am really excited to be working with colleagues on our HEFCE-funded project to increase understandings of PhD student mental health more broadly and explore preventative and early intervention strategies. View Clio's web profile.

Professional services contacts

Katherine Hegarty, Acting Head of Counselling

Katherine Hegarty is Acting Head of Counselling at the University Counselling Service. She is also a qualified counsellor/psychotherapist who is registered with the UK Council for Psychotherapy and is an accredited member of the British Association for Counselling and Psychotherapy. View Katherine's web profile.

Paul Roberts, Assistant Director of the Doctoral School

My career has focused on the higher education sector in the UK and USA. My work has included student development activities, project management and research and enterprise roles. I currently lead a team of professional staff who support the implementation of all elements of the University of Sussex’s research strategy relating to undergraduate research, doctoral research and postdoctoral research provision. View Paul's web profile.

Miles Willey, Head Of Research Student Administration Office

Miles is the Head Of Research Student Administration Office at Sussex.

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