Past Event details

Dimensions of well-being in postgraduate education

Wednesday, 24 September 2014

Higher education and research activity have come to the forefront of international debates about economic growth. There has been a growing consensus among policy-makers that post-industrial society and a knowledge-based economy require more highly-educated people with technical and professional skills. This human capital oriented perspective applies to all levels of education but doctoral education has become of paramount significance in world where knowledge becomes the new ‘fuel’, the higher the knowledge the more refined the fuel and also the ultimate renewable to supporting robust economic growth.  

This constitutes one dimension of well-being and the macro-level benefits might well trickle down to the individual level in terms of earning potential and career success.  There are other dimensions of wellbeing, for instance: less tangible degrees of happiness or satisfaction in life; but also more tangible measures, of personal health (often linked to relative poverty, such as during periods of study variously, but also in a lifecourse perspective), and of development of attitudes and values, related in turn to dispositions independently of earning to engage in socially worthwhile activities and practices.  Our keynote speakers address aspects of well-being in this context.  Charikleia Tzanakou reports on a study of personal benefits as outcomes of studying for a doctorate.  Elaine Walsh looks more closely into the process of doctoral study and how it interplays with indicators of wellbeing.

Dr Charikleia Tzanakou (ESRC Research Fellow, University of Warwick Institute for Employment Research)
The personal benefits of the PhD 

The individual’s investment in doctoral education is rather costly – in terms of paying fees, subsistence and foregone earnings – and lengthy.  Considering that individuals might yield fewer returns to doctoral investment compared to those from a Master's degree in some subjects, and considering the increasing criticism that the doctorate has received by the media, my study highlights benefits that the doctoral experience brings about beyond financial and career returns for the PhD graduates.  It is based on mixed methods research (online survey and follow up interviews) with Greek PhD graduates in natural sciences and engineering who undertook their PhD studies variously in UK and Greek universities 2-7 years ago. Data on the educational background, PhD experience, early career history and apparent benefits of studying for their PhD were collected through an online survey (N=244) and 26 semi-structured interviews with PhD graduates. The combination of qualitative and quantitative analysis of the data allowed in-depth accounts of the benefits, as well as a general picture, of the PhD to emerge.  The study showed differences in employment experiences between the UK educated and the Greek educated who were found working in Greece at the time of the online survey in terms of main sector of employment, job satisfaction, and their PhD being a formal requirement for their current employment.  In less tangible terms, PhD holders identified further benefits of doctoral education beyond acquiring the specialised knowledge which affected their career advancement, namely their social status and their skills and personal development overall.  Even in labour markets where investment in doctoral education might not be justified in terms of meeting individuals’ career aspirations, there are other reasons that prospective PhD candidates should be aware of in choosing to pursue this higher level of education. 

Elaine Walsh (Senior Lecturer and Head of Postgraduate Development, Imperial College London Graduate School)
Doctoral students' well-being: how to develop resilience

An on-line well-being assessment was developed for Imperial's PhD population, based upon a clinically approved methodology, and was administered in 2009 and then again in 2014.  My presentation will look at what the results tell us about doctoral students' well-being and report on some of the changes over the 5 year interval. I am interested in ways to help researchers develop the necessary resilience to thrive in spite of the inevitable challenges of doing research and will be keen to share ideas with seminar participants.  So this session will be partly research seminar but partly also participatory workshop to explore this issue.  

The afternoon will end with open discussion drawing from both speakers’ contributions and on the general question of well-being and the benefits of higher degree study. 

Network: Postgraduate Issues
Date(s): Wednesday, 24 September 2014
Times: 12.00-16.30
Location: SRHE, 73 Collier St, London N1 9BE
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