Doctoral School

The research package


The overarching aim of the wider Office for Students funded project is to provide a sustainable best practice model for the sector to address the challenge of doctoral researcher (PhD student) mental health.

With limited existing research on the prevalence of mental health problems amongst doctoral researchers, the research package seeks to improve our understandings relating to two central questions:

  • What are the mental health needs of doctoral researchers studying in the UK?
  • What factors may influence and be influenced by doctoral researcher mental health?  

The research package is currently underway and is being conducted by University of Sussex researcher Dr Clio Berry (Research Fellow, School of Psychology) and Associate Researcher Dr Cassie Hazell.

The research package is a mixed methods exploration of doctoral researcher mental health and associated problems. It includes:

  • A systematic review of the existing research literature around doctoral researcher mental health
  • A short, anonymous online survey, Understanding the mental health of doctoral researchers (U-DOC), which any doctoral researcher studying at a UK university is eligible to complete.
  • Focus groups conducted with doctoral researchers at the University of Sussex.

What will we find out?

We aim to use our systematic review and U-DOC survey findings to increase knowledge about the prevalence of mental health problems amongst doctoral researchers in the UK. The U-DOC survey aims to explore the prevalence of mental health problems within a substantial sample of doctoral researchers, in comparison to a control group of educated, working professionals.

We will also use our systematic review and U-DOC survey to start to unpick associations between mental health problems and other factors. The U-DOC survey also asks about potentially associated factors including social relationships, beliefs about self and other people, and workplace culture. We have also taken a mixed methods approach to our survey- so not only do doctoral researchers complete questionnaires, but they are also invited to tell us in their own words about what they think impacts of their mental health and vice versa.

In addition, findings from our focus groups at Sussex should complement the quantitative and qualitative data collected through the U-DOC survey by providing us with a rich in-depth understanding of the lived experiences of doctoral researchers with respect to their mental health.  

What will we do with the findings?

At the University of Sussex, the outcomes of the research package will be used to develop a suite of preventative and targeted responsive interventions that support doctoral researcher mental health; feed into enhancing staff and student training across campus; and to enhance a communication campaign on doctoral researcher mental health.

We’ll also be disseminating our findings widely; not only will these help to advance knowledge and understandings about doctoral researcher mental health, these findings could be used to inform and improve the support services currently available to doctoral researchers studying at universities across the UK and beyond.

Get involved:

  • Doctoral researchers at any UK university can get involved by completing the U-DOC survey. We are keen to hear from both people who have had no personal experience of mental health problems as well as people who have experienced mental health problems and who currently do so. The survey is completely anonymous, and takes around 20 minutes to complete. If you take part in the study, you’ll also have the opportunity to enter a prize draw to win one of two iPad Mini 4’s.
  • To take part, visit
  • If you are associated with a UK University and would like to request flyers and posters to promote the survey at your institution, please contact Laura Chapman
  • You can also keep in touch by following us on Twitter @projectUDOC

Doctoral School