Doctoral School

How do psycho-social factors affect the wellbeing and progress of PhD students?

About the project

There is a developing interest in the factors that affect the wellbeing of doctoral researchers.

This study, conducted by doctoral researchers in the School of Psychology aims to identify how psycho-social factors such as the presence of social groups, one's relationships with their supervisor, and the availability of social support can have a positive or negative effect on student's health and how they can affect a student's PhD progress. 


There has been increased interest in the wellbeing and mental health of postgraduate students in light of the recent portrayal of the academic career as overworked and isolated. Research points to PhD students as being particularly at risk, yet the factors that contribute to PhD students’ compromised wellbeing are unclear. In this study (N = 392), we combine the social cure approach in social psychology with advances in organizational psychology to investigate potential predictors of work-related wellbeing and organisational citizenship behaviour (OCB) among PhD students in the UK. In particular, we explore the relationships between social support, willingness to support others, clarity of role, group belonging, engagement, and burnout using structural equation modelling (SEM). Our results point to the importance of support provided by both the supervisor and faculty members in helping to avoid burnout and enhance engagement among students. We also found that students’ identification with supervisors and faculty members together with clarity of role are positively associated with students’ work-related well-being. Moreover, although particular processes differ for early vs. late stage PhD students, our findings suggest that support from faculty members is a key predictor of intentions to perform OCB. Thus, received support is positively related to performing OCB both directly and indirectly via a sense of identification with faculty members. We discuss the implications of our findings in relation to policies aiming at improving the well-being of PhD students.

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Key contacts

Evangelos Ntontis

Evangelos Ntontis is a PhD student at the School of Psychology, University of Sussex, under the supervision of Dr John Drury, Dr Richard Amlôt, Dr James Rubin, and Prof Richard Williams. His PhD research focuses on the social psychology of community responses in disasters and is funded by a Public Health England PhD Scholarship. Other interests concern the discourses of social movements and political mobilization, as well as the effects of psychosocial factors including social support and social groups on mental health. Evangelos is a member of the Crowds and Identities Group led by Dr John Drury.

Patricio Javier Saavedra Morales

Photo of Liam Berriman

Patricio Saavedra is a PhD Student at the School of Psychology of the University of Sussex. His research is focused on how people’ perceptions of the political context can lead the support for the use of violence during protests. For this, he has conducted a series of studies in the UK and Chile using mixed methods. Other research interests are the psychological factors that can affect students’ well-being and how the support provided by university staff and colleagues can help to improve students’ experience.

Arabella Kyprianides

Matthew Day Reps Photo
Arabella Kyprianides is a PhD student at the School of Psychology, University of Sussex. She is funded by an ESRC PhD scholarship and is supervised by Dr Matthew Easterbrook and Prof Rupert Brown. Arabella’s research focuses on how group belonging can positively affect wellbeing, as well as why sometimes it does not. She investigates socially isolated groups like prisoners, and socially rejected groups like ex-prisoners.

Doctoral School