Tasha Kitano, Language and Learning Educator, Graduate Research Education & Development team (GRE+D), Queensland University of Technology (QUT)
Aleksandra Olechnowicz, Online Module Coordinator, eGrad School, Graduate Research Education & Development team (GRE+D), Queensland University of Technology (QUT)
Providing opportunities for higher degree research students (HDRs) to make connections throughout their candidature can bring many positive outcomes to their research experience. Connecting with peers can help HDRs normalise various aspects of the HDR experience.
QUT’s Graduate Research Education + Development (GRE+D) team in line with Connections – the QUT Strategy 2023-2027 strive to provide opportunities for HDRs to connect with other future researchers and Early Career Researchers (ECRs).
Many who work in this space know that HDRs are at particular risk of depression and mental health problems (Levecque et al., 2017) because they conduct much of their heavy work load in isolation (Ciampa & Wolfe, 2020). It is important for universities to provide HDRs with relevant spaces, tools and strategies to help them maintain work-life balance, create better interpersonal relationships, and deal with anxieties (Milicev et al., 2021).
In this post, we discuss the tailored digital learning platform and online collaboration strategies the GRE+D team have developed and deployed to provide HDRs opportunities to connect and thrive.
How do we facilitate connections?
The GRE+D team have created digital platforms which offer accessible learning and networking environments. These platforms also provide flexibility which fit perfectly with HDRs’ busy daily schedules.
eGrad School connects HDRs
e-Grad School is a digital learning platform where HDRs can connect with each other and develop their skills in various modules. This online learning platform allows HDRs to consider, critique and contextualise their research in the company of their peers. These courses address many skills gaps, and because they are flexible and easy to access, they provide opportunities for HDRs to build new valuable networks, collaborate with peers and exchange current research practices. HDRs not only learn new skills like project management, coding, transdisciplinarity, and leadership, or prepare for industry internships, but they also develop a better understanding of themselves, build research resilience and understand their relevance to industry, innovation and academia.
This video shows how two HDRs connected in an eGrad school module, and despite coming from different faculties and backgrounds, have been able to support each other:
One of the modules, Mental wellbeing for researchers, moderated by a clinical psychologist, looks at mental wellbeing in the ‘real world’. The course explains the mental health landscape for HDRs and strategies for coping with stress. In this module, they participate in online discussions, conduct individual self-reflection and connect with their peers in live online Zoom sessions. One of the practical goals in this module is the opportunity to develop a self-care plan to help them maintain their mental wellbeing. Moreover, HDRs find a sense of belonging through collaborations, self-reflections, guided discussions where they can share their candidature experience in a safe space, and compare wins and hardships. Promoting mentally healthy lives and wellbeing for HDRs is also in alignment with the United Nations 3rd Sustainable Development Goal and the ACGR Good Practice Guidelines.
HDRs who participate in our digital platform area able to connect with other researchers from universities all over Australia, South Pacific Island universities and South African universities. They have opportunities to build future research networks even before completing their candidature.
A writer’s Lounge brings HDRs together
A synchronous online wellbeing Lounge for HDRs is another initiative by the GRE+D team to support and connect this unique cohort of students. The HDR Writer’s Wellbeing Lounge is an online space for HDRs to gather together to do focused writing, reflect on their academic writing style, and importantly connect with other HDRs to discuss research matters. The creation of this weekly HDR Lounge has connected many HDRs all over Australia at different stages of their research journey. Despite the physical distance between the students, there is a real sense of togetherness. The Lounge has shown that peers can be a great source of emotional, social and intellectual support (Dowling & Mantai, 2015) and can positively impact their HDR journey.
Two regular HDR Lounge attendees talk about their experiences in the Lounge in this video and describe their experiences of connecting with other students.
Providing opportunities for HDRs to make connections is key for their success
The success of the online modules offered by eGrad school and the HDR Writer’s Wellbeing Lounge have really stressed the importance of providing HDRs opportunities to connect with each other. If higher education institutions are able to facilitate these connections, the HDR student’s journey could be all the more rewarding and enriching.
Ciampa, K., & Wolfe, Z. M. (2020). From isolation to collaboration: creating an intentional community of practice within the doctoral dissertation proposal writing process. Teaching in Higher Education, 1-17.
Dowling, R., & Mantai, L. (2015). Supporting the PhD journey: insights from acknowledgements. International Journal for Researcher Development, 6(2), 106-121. https://doi.org/10.1108/IJRD-03-2015-0007
Levecque, K., Anseel, F., De Beuckelaer, A., Van der Heyden, J., & Gisle, L. (2017). Work organization and mental health problems in PhD students. Research Policy, 46(4), 868-879.
Milicev, J., McCann, M., Simpson, S. A., Biello, S. M., & Gardani, M. (2021). Evaluating mental health and wellbeing of postgraduate researchers: prevalence and contributing factors. Current Psychology, 1-14.