Researcher toolkit resources for UK Higher Education Institutions

Researcher toolkit web resources for workshop and webinar leaders

Postgraduate Research Students (PGRs) are particularly at-risk of experiencing mental ill-health. Mental health initiatives must recognise the unique experiences of this diverse group and the stigma around accessing support.

The Researcher Toolkit: An essential guide to PhD life is a proactive, positive, and preventative approach to PGR mental health. Designed and piloted at the University of Plymouth, it is a series of five Researcher Development workshops. Workshops were co-created by PGRs and mental health experts to repackage key research skills and tips for PGR study within overarching messages about wellbeing, work-life balance, good working practice, and self-care.

The Researcher Toolkit uses a peer-support approach: each workshop is delivered by PGR Workshop Leaders.

Each workshop has two formats: a classroom version and a webinar version.

How does it work?

At the University of Plymouth, we embedded the Researcher Toolkit into our Researcher Development Programme, meaning students could choose to attend any workshops, in any order. In this way, we reached more than 25% of our PGR population.

Although The Researcher Toolkit aims to improve PGR mental health and wellbeing, we do not advertise the sessions in these terms. Instead, we refer to them as Researcher Development sessions for two reasons: 1) this avoids any stigma around accessing mental health support 2) this best describes the sessions – each workshop really is about research skills and making progress in your PhD, it’s just that these messages are framed in ways that promote wellbeing, work-life balance, good working practice, and self-care. 

Following our pilot year, feedback from PGRs was so positive that we now run What next? Starting a project and maintaining momentum for all new PGRs on their induction day.

We recommend that institutions recruit at least two PGRs, in at least their second year of study, to become Workshop Leaders and deliver Toolkit workshops to their peers in groups of 5-10. Workshop Leaders should have an interest in helping others and should feel confident and happy about the responsibility and time commitment. At the University of Plymouth, our Workshop Leaders are paid £15-17p/h.

Workshop Leaders can be trained for their roles using the training materials provided. Training can be conducted by professional services staff at your institution using our materials. Alternatively, if you would like to explore outsourcing Workshop Leader recruitment and training, please contact Dr Sophie Homer.

The Researcher Toolkit is self-sustaining: each set of Workshop Leaders can train their successors. This means that once your first Workshop Leaders are trained, your PGR students can benefit from The Researcher Toolkit for years to come.

How can my institution use the Researcher Toolkit?

The Researcher Toolkit was designed to translate readily to other UK Higher Education Institutions. It is flexible and adaptable, and can be tailored as necessary.

All resources, including workshop, webinar, and Workshop Leader training materials, are available free and open-source under a Creative Commons licence. This means that you are free to use our materials as long as you credit us. You are free to adapt, edit, update and share our materials as long as it is clear that your changes did not come from us (and you do not need to tell us about the changes you are making, or ask for our permission). You may share our materials and / or your adaptations, but please credit us. You may not use our materials or your own adaptations commercially.

You do not have to tell us if you want to use The Researcher Toolkit, but we would love to know. 

If you have any questions or comments, please contact Dr Sophie Homer

I think all first year PhDs should do it

Workshop attendee


I always get a lot out of these sessions for my own personal development and overall sense of wellbeing. So glad I signed up. Thank you.

Workshop leader


 

Workshop one: what next?

Starting a project and maintaining momentum

'What next?' is the first workshop in the University of Plymouth Researcher Toolkit. Starting a project can be daunting, and maintaining momentum and enthusiasm over long-term projects is challenging. 

This workshop helps postgraduate researchers to:
  • identify and share their expectations and anxieties for their study (it is reassuring to learn that others have similar feelings)
  • set realistic, achievable goals to avoid unrealistically high self-standards 
  • consider what makes good working practice with a focus on work-life balance
  • reflect on their experiences and identify and act upon early warning signs that wellbeing is declining.

 

Workshop two: how to get the most out of your supervisor

Communication skills, building empathy and dealing with criticism

'How to get the most out of your supervisor' is the second workshop in the University of Plymouth Researcher Toolkit. The PhD supervisory relationship is unique and inherently asymmetrical. A challenging supervisory relationship can significantly impact the PGR experience. 

This workshop helps postgraduate researchers to:
  • set realistic expectations of their supervisor, and consider the sorts of reasonable expectations supervisors will have of them
  • build empathy with their supervisor
  • learn tips to manage their supervisory relationship(s), e.g. how to prepare for meetings
  • learn how to assertively communicate concerns 
  • learn how to recognise and manage constructive and non-constructive criticism.

Resources for workshop two

Researcher toolkit web resources for workshop and webinar leaders

 

Workshop three: how to maximise your productivity

Identifying and challenging negative thinking styles, self-care, work-life balance

'How to maximise your productivity' is the third workshop in the University of Plymouth Researcher Toolkit. This workshop focuses on challenging negative thoughts, feelings and behaviours to avoid negative spirals and foster positive ones. 

This workshop helps postgraduate researchers to:
  • understand the relationship between thoughts, feelings, and behaviours
  • challenge negative thoughts, and break a negative cycle of thoughts, feelings, and behaviours 
  • learn how to foster positive thoughts, feelings, and behaviours, and to prioritise self-care
  • apply these techniques to common PGR experiences

Workshop PowerPoint and webinar version

 

Workshop four: how to finish your PhD on time

Avoiding burnout, good working practice, work-life balance

'How to finish your PhD on time' is the fourth workshop in the University of Plymouth Researcher Toolkit. Effective time-management is essential in fostering good working practice and maintaining work-life balance. 

This workshop helps postgraduate researchers to:
  • identify and act upon important cues to take a break (e.g. hunger and tiredness)
  • gain control over their working habits by identifying when and how they work best
  • learn practical time-management tips, such as dealing with distractions and managing competing priorities
  • identify and work around perfectionist traits, which can hinder progress and increase stress 
  • reaffirm that wellbeing should be a priority, and learn strategies to improve and maintain it.

Workshop PowerPoint and webinar version

 

Workshop five: ten things all PhD students should know

General tips and experiences from workshop leaders, discussion with peers

'Ten things all PhD students should know?' is the fifth and final workshop in the University of Plymouth Researcher Toolkit.

This workshop was designed in response to PGR feedback requesting more time within the Toolkit for general discussion and to learn from the experiences of PGR Workshop Leaders. 

We sent out a survey to all research students at Plymouth, and asked them what they wish they had known, what they wish they had done differently, and their number one piece of advice. We collated the information to create our top tips, which form a basic guiding framework for general, open discussion between PGRs and Workshop Leaders.

Workshop PowerPoint

Resources for workshop five

Researcher toolkit web resources for workshop and webinar leaders

Researcher's toolkit training for workshop leaders

The key benefit of our workshops is that they are designed by PhD students, and are peer-delivered. We've developed resources to help train future workshop leaders.

Access training resources