We regularly work with our Campaign's and Policy team to conduct research, producting reports that feed back into university committees.
Masters Dissertation Experience Survey
After an increase in students raising concerns regardign the support they recieved during their dissertation period, or writing of thir final project, we decided to launch an investigation into the dissertaion experience of PGT students at UEA. Between the 24th July and the 9th October 2017 we recieved 128 responses from student 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 recieved from their supervisor.
- The level of research training provided by the university.
The report is due to go to the University's Student Experience Committee on the 23rd November, with a series of recommendations. We hope to work closely with UEA over the 2017-18 academic year to write policy which will set clearer standards around dissertations and the level of support students can expect to see. The full report can be accessed HERE
The Experience of PhD Students as Associate Tutors
Through consultation with the Postgraduate Committee, and January's 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 they gave, 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 acaemic 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 the recommendations of this report by September 2019. 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 a variety of mental health conditions. There has been some speculation as to the causes in the media, much 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 surround PGR mental health were brought to national attention in the summer of 2015 when research carried out by Exeter Guild of Students revealed some shocking statistics on the mental health of their members.1 In their research 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.
The key questions are likely to be: what are the issues that mean there is a PGR-specific problem (as opposed to UG/PGT), and why is this a problem now.
Students made clear to the Union of UEA Students that this was an issue they wished to explore at UEA and so in autumn 2015 the SU 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 a survey with the aim to gauge the scope of the perceived problem at UEA. The result of this survey are laid out in the following sections which aim to draw together themes identified by our Postgraduate research community. 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 – but what we want to do is to start a conversation that acknowledges this issue for the crisis that we believe it has become.
You can read the findings of the survey and resulting report here: /pageassets/postgraduate/thehonestyproject/Honesty-Project-Report.pdf