uea(su) were mandated by Union Council Policy 2268 to explore PGR student levels of engagement with union democracy. You can view the report of this research by clicking here. Please note there is currently an ongoing democracy review at uea(su) which will take into account this research.
Professional Boundaries and Student Staff Sexual Misconduct
uea(su) launched a survey in 2019 in order to better understand the issue of professional boundaries between staff and students. The University does not have any policy on this issue, so we surveyed students on their experiences in this area. We are still working on the findings of this research.
Masters Dissertation Experience Survey
After an increase in students raising concerns regarding the support they received during their dissertation period, or writing of their final project, we launched an investigation into the dissertation experience of PGT students at UEA. Between the 24th July and the 9th October 2017 we received 128 responses from students at UEA across 19 different schools. The report that we subsequently produced revealed huge variation across the university in student experience, including the following factors:
- The final submssion dates for dissertations, the timeframe provided to complete a dissertation.
- The number of hours of support students received from their supervisor.
- The level of research training provided by the university.
The full report can be accessed HERE
The Experience of PhD Students as Associate Tutors
In 2018, through consultation with the Postgraduate Committee and the Graduate Assembly, we were made aware of PhD students' concerns around their employment rights as associate tutors at UEA. The concerns they raised matched those of PhD associate tutors in the years before them, indicating that not enough progress had been made by the university, and prompting the Student's Union to conduct a full investigation and report. From the anecdotal accounts forwarded to us, there seemed to be a lack of consistency in how associate tutors are recruited, trained, paid, and supported across schools and Faculties.
Given the harsh reality that every PhD student wishing to progress into an academic career will require teaching experience, associate tutors may be more willing to 'accept' poor working conditions than risk having no work at all.
Regulation and support of teaching opportunities for PhD students can have subsequent negative impact in the following areas, making it a serious concern:
- The mental health of PhD students
- The educational experience of undergraduate students
- The number of BME PhD students progressing into academic careers.
You can can read the full report here.
If you are concerned about your experience as an Associate Tutor, the University's policy on Postgraduate Research Employment can be found here. We continue to work alongside the Academic Director of Research Programmes to implement our recommendations. All PhD Associate Tutors at UEA should be provided with guidance on what they can reasonably expect as a member of staff at the university before they start teaching.
The Honesty Project
For a number of years there has been a growing concern that postgraduate research students disproportionally suffer from mental ill health. There has been some speculation as to the causes in the media, with much of it focusing on the increasingly resilience required to complete a PhD or doctoral-level qualification. Convention wisdom, as to be found in the likes of PhD Comics, is that when it comes to the impact on wellbeing, it really is “tough to complete a PhD”. These allusions to the issues surrounding PGR mental health were brought to national attention in the summer of 2015 when research carried out by Exeter Guild of Students revealed that some 85% of the 165 respondents stated that their work had caused them stress but, much more alarmingly, 40% believed that their physical and mental health had worsened as a result of studying at a doctoral-level.
Following on from these findings, uea(su) conducted our own research into the mental health and wellbeing of postgraduate researches at the UEA. In Autumn 2015 we developed a programme intended to raise the profile of PGR mental health under the banner of The Honesty Project – named to reflect the focus on our aim to get students and academics talking and being honest about PGR mental health. The beginning of this was the issuing of a survey with the aim to gauge the scope of the perceived problem at UEA. The results of this survey are laid out in the link below. The Union of UEA Students is under no illusion that this report is exhaustive and, if anything, it has served to make clear that this is an area of work which will require continued and probing work over the next few years – something which we hope will be tackled by the collaborative project spawning from it, the Courage Project.
You can read the findings of the survey and resulting report here.