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PROPS Project


Postgraduate Researchers' Online Psycho-education and Support

Background

The University of the West of England (UWE) is home to over 590 Postgraduate Research (PGR) students doing PhD, DPhil, MPhil, and Professional Doctorates. Research can be stressful, with important deadlines, pressure to publish, financial pressures and pressure from funders. All this, together with the challenges of combining academic, family and employment commitments may negatively impact PGRs’ mental health and wellbeing.

Summary

This project aims to address PGRs mental health related issues through the extension and customisation of the SAM (Self-Help Anxiety Management) app, UWE’s successful app for anxiety management, which has over 1M downloads on the app stores.

The new version of the app will incorporate a range of self-help activities for PGRs. The app also will provide access to online spaces where PGR students can interact with one another to provide a peer support network. In addition, it will provide tools to connect PGRs with academic and wellbeing support services for monitoring and to enable earlier intervention in cases of concern. The development of the app will be informed by clinical research and a user-centred design process.

The project aims are to :

  1. Customise and extend the current version of the SAM app through the co-design and development of modules specifically for PGRs, including but not limited to: managing work-life balance; managing competing priorities; emotional regulation; personal problem solving; time and workload management;
  2. Provide an institution-specific registration and “walled garden” version of the app’s Social Cloud;
  3. Enable the internationalisation of the app’s interface to better support international students and enable them to interact in their own language;
  4. Embed monitoring in the app through the application of periodic survey instruments based on clinical best practice;
  5. Design and develop an opt-in analytics portal for support services to help identification of PGRs at-risk and to facilitate one-to-one communication with users;
  6. Develop and test guidelines for usage and for the development of digitally-enabled peer/mentor/counsellor support structures.

The project team is an interdisciplinary one from the Department of Psychology and the Department of Computer Science and Creative Technologies working with MyOxygen, a Bristol-based application developer. The team will be working closely together to:

  1. Collect qualitative data to better understand the PGRs issues and to also engage with UWE’s support services and representative academic supervisors.
  2. Develop the self-help structure and components of the app in consultation with therapeutic practitioners, support services and the students themselves.
  3. Implement best practices in user-centred design and usability evaluation. The process will involve PGR students throughout the design and development process and it is iterative.

The project team members

Fatma Layas, Research Fellow.
Fatma.layas@uwe.ac.uk

Paul Matthews, Senior Lecturer in Information Science
Paul2.Matthews@uwe.ac.uk

Phil Topham, Visiting Research Fellow in Counselling Psychology
Phil.Topham@uwe.ac.uk

Praminda Caleb-Solly, Associate Professor in Assisted Living
Praminda.Caleb-solly@uwe.ac.uk

In partnership with the University’s Graduate School, Wellbeing Service, the PGR student body, DocSoc, Student Union and selected PhD supervisors across the university. These groups will all be involved in co-designing and evaluating the app throughout the development lifecycle.

This project is part of the Catalyst programme of OfS/Research England (formerly HEFCE) on improving the mental health of PGRs, with a matched contribution from UWE.