Peer Wellbeing Ambassadors 2018

Studying towards a happy and healthy PhD

The Institute received £150,000 as part of a £1.5m national Research England and the Office for Students (formerly HEFCE) call to improve support for the mental health and wellbeing of postgraduate research students.


This project is a pilot in the Institute of Integrative Biology (Faculty of Health and Life Sciences) and is working in partnership with the Liverpool Doctoral College, Student Administration and Support Division; and The Leadership, Organisational, Staff and Academic Development Academy (The Academy).  From September 2019, the PGR wellbeing project will be elevated to an increased University wide level with elements of the project to be implemented into different discipline areas.  

The project aims through the development and piloting of a multi-layered training and development framework, to better prepare PGR students and the supervisors, pastoral and peer led-groups which support them for crisis management, reducing stressors and increasing resilience. 

The project is focusing specifically on the application and induction/early stages of the PhD for three reasons: 

  1. To ensure that applicants can make a more informed decision about entering into a highly pressured research environment;
  2. To ensure prior to acceptance of offer that applicants are fully aware of the support structures in place throughout their PhD;
  3. To ensure that healthy PGR/supervisor relationships are established from the outset.


The project focusses on four key cohorts and has been working on and will be working towards the following:

PGR Students

The project has:

  • Improved induction by sharing more information with new students about signposting, referral and disclosure information handouts and offering a number of wellbeing talks.
  • Surveyed the PGR student cohort using the Vitae 'Wellbeing of doctoral research' questionnaire.  This survey will be replicated in October 2019.
  • Increased 'take time out' activities to allow students to focus on own wellbeing and network with peers and staff. 
  • Completed targeted PGR dissemination of the newly developed campus wellbeing map.

Next steps:

  • Continue to work with internal partners to elevate the project strategy to other faculties
  • Provide consistency of support to Institute's PGR cohort
  • Increase presence in induction events both within the Institute and across the University.

Peer Ambassadors

The project has:

  • Recruited and trained five PGR Peer Wellbeing Ambassadors, who have led a safe peer network through the Institute with activities including:
    1. Weekly 1:1 support drop-in session and signposting
    2. Hosting fortnightly wellbeing walks through the national Walking for Health scheme
    3. Assisting with wellbeing activities such as taster sessions and Wellbeing Week.
  • Provided appropriate support to Ambassadors through regular meetings and the option for supervision through the University's Student Services
  • Provided continuous professional and personal development through training opportunities
  • Provided a £500 personal award

Next steps:

  • The PGR Peer Wellbeing Ambassador programme will run in four institutes /  schools including IIB for the academic year 2019/20, bringing together different PGR disciplines and creating a University-wide ambassador network.

Academic Supervisors

The project has:

  • Embedded mental health and wellbeing training into the required training (Postgraduate Certificate in Academic Practice - PGCAP) for new academic staff since October 2018
  • Completed focus groups with academics discussing their experiences supporting PGR wellbeing

Next steps:

  • Complete development of a tailored online e-learning module, toolkit and resource list to raise awareness and better equip supervisors to support PGR student mental health and wellbeing

Other student facing staff

The project has:

  • Completed a sector wide survey registering 735 responses from across 42 institutions working with the Science Council, Royal Society of Biology and Institute of Physics on the role technicians play in supporting PGR mental health and wellbeing.  Key findings:
    1. 51% of technicians had spoken with a PGR about a personal problem
    2. 22% provide personal support but only 1% confirmed formal part of their role
    3. 57% never or only sometimes feel equipped to support students and signpost them to further support
    4. 68% have not had training and 43% said that they did not know whether training was available for them
  • The Technician report has now been published 
  • Increased awareness and recognition of the role staff play in supporting PGR mental health and wellbeing through conference presentations and workshops
  • Replicared this survey for other professional services staff, which registered 201 responses. Analysis of this data is currently underway.

Next steps:

  • Introduce and help implement recommendations stated in the technician report to better prepare and support technicians helping with PGR wellbeing
  • Create a tailored online e-learning training module, toolkit, and resource list for all staff in a non-supervisory role to raise awareness and better equip supervisors to support student mental health and wellbeing 

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