The University of Melbourne has launched an innovative mental wellbeing and productivity program for graduate research students.
Write Smarter: Feel Better combines writing sessions with facilitated discussions about common student experiences, health and wellbeing.
University of Melbourne Manager of Student Engagement and Peer Programs Megan Dench said undertaking a graduate degree can be both rewarding and challenging.
“Developing connections with peers who are going through common experiences can be incredibly valuable,” Ms Dench said.
“During sessions, student facilitators help groups to build these social support networks, while attendees also get to work on their own writing.”
With increasing evidence that PhD students face significant mental health challenges, Write Smarter: Feel Better was developed and piloted by the Cooperative Research Centre (CRC) for Mental Health, with input from PhD students and a psychologist.
CRC for Mental Health Head of Education Melanie Carew said Write Smarter: Feel Better was developed after their PhD students recognised that many of their peers were feeling isolated during their candidature, despite having supportive supervisors.
“The program started as a way to connect our students in different states and gradually evolved into a model where graduate students can focus on wellbeing, sharing experiences and supporting each other,” Ms Carew said.
The program is peer-led, so students discuss issues of direct relevance to them.
Karra Harrington, co-developer of the program and a PhD student, said her involvement in a Write Smarter: Feel Better group has had lasting benefits.
“I always leave a session having made progress on my thesis or journal articles,” Ms Harrington said.
“More importantly, I get to share and hear from others about the ups and downs that come during any PhD. Our group has given advice and shared our perspectives on areas as diverse as data analysis, networking at conferences, dealing with parental leave and the additional challenges faced by international students.
“My involvement in Write Smarter: Feel Better has been one of the most rewarding aspects of my PhD experience.”
All volunteer graduate student facilitators in the program are given mental health first aid training and have regular contact with University staff.
The University of Melbourne has a strong commitment to ensuring that members of our University community who may be experiencing mental health difficulties receive timely and appropriate support.
Staff, students and affiliates can access free and confidential counselling and psychological services by contacting services.unimelb.edu.au/counsel