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Enthusiastic feedback on INN University’s PhD Day

Enthusiastic feedback on INN University’s PhD Day

Tomas Willebrand, INN University's Pro-Rector for Research welcomed the participants to the institutional annual PhD Day. (Photo: Noorit Larsen/INN University)

An increased focus on well-being was at the heart of INN University’s PhD Day held in Hamar.

INN University’s PhD Day was held in Hamar on January 7th, with the goal of orienting both PhD candidates and supervisors regarding information, available services, and methods for increasing well-being. The ongoing aim is to ensure that candidates make the most of the course of their PhD, not only in terms of academic excellence, but also on a personal level, recognizing the fact that the two are inseparable.

The morning featured several talks encompassing various aspects of PhD studies and well-being (see text box to the right).

The second half of the day featured two parallel workshops, one with Professor in mental health and PhD supervisor Rob Boongart from the University of South-Eastern Norway, and the other with developmental trainer Melanie Jones of Liverpool John Moores University. Boongart’s workshop was aimed at PhD supervisors, and focused on how supervisors can support the psychosocial well-being of PhD candidates. Jones’ workshop targeted PhD candidates and was titled “We are what we think about all day long: confidence, control and the power of navel-gazing.” During Jones’ workshops the students were encouraged to reflect on their self-perception, thinking patterns, strengths and weaknesses and their ability to drive self-change.

“This is my fourth time in Hamar, and I love it here,” said Jones, who hopes to return to INN University and visit the other campuses, as well.

New focus on mental well-being

A recent editorial in the scientific journal Nature speaks of the worsening in mental health of postgraduate researches, with a significant increase in instances of anxiety and depression. A call for immediate attention and “systemic change to research cultures” is voiced in the article.

“My hope has been that the seminar will improve the understanding of the difficulties many PhD candidates face, as early career researchers,” said senior advisor Johanne Servoll who organized the PhD Day. “This day should help increase awareness to how these difficulties can be managed by the PhD candidates, their supervisors, and INN University as a workplace.”

Strength in community

One of the biggest takeaways from the day seems to be the notion that struggling during the course of one’s PhD isn’t an outlier experience, as individuals may tend to think.

The competitive nature of the academia and the constant pressure to excel are ubiquitous to those opting for an academic career, which may lead to a sense of isolation in times of struggle.

Addressing things as a community has the dual effect of realizing that similar difficulties are encountered by many, as well as the opportunity for reaching out to others in order to seek and implement solutions together.

During the concluding discussion of the day, one PhD student voiced her perspective on the subject: “It’s so helpful to put the worries into words, and sort things out. I feel like I acquired tools today that I can use later on and throughout the PhD process.”

“There’s no resilience without reflection,” added PhD candidate Sabrina Ionata Granheim. “I realize now that I need to set aside the time and use the tools I’ve been given. It’s something that we have to prioritize.”

“I think this is the beginning of a beautiful friendship – in many senses,” said Servoll at the conclusion of the day. “My impression is that we have achieved the initiation of an important conversation today, as an institution, as colleagues, and as individuals. I will propose to the PhD candidates to meet again in a few weeks, and when spring comes we could perhaps launch Walk and Talks, as a form of informal discussion, at all the campuses. I also hope we can have similar workshops again next year. The topic for the PhD Day next year has yet to be set, but we might return to career development, which was the topic last year.”