AUTHORS: Dr Alyson Dodd, Dr Libby Orme and Dr Lisa Thomas

In this post, you’ll be able to ready a bit about the PhD programe we have advertised. We’ve included a brief video to introduce the project and the supervision team too

Several leading organisations in the UK Higher Education sector (Hughes & Spanner, 2019Thorley, 2017; Universities UK, 2020) advocate a ‘whole university approach’ that promotes student and staff mental health and well-being via facilitating healthy settings, learning approaches, and support provision.

The problem of the whole university approach 

Existing research has not captured well-being from a whole-university perspective. For example, our own research discusses how student well-being is typically measured by self-report questionnaires asking about subjective or psychological well-being completed by individuals. There is relatively scant research on the well-being of university staff (particularly in non-academic roles) compared to students, but a similar individual approach to conceptualising and measuring well-being is used in research on university staff well-being. 

Research has looked at student and staff well-being separately, often focusing on specific roles and factors underpinning well-being linked to these. While this is important, the sector also needs to develop an understanding of what ‘being well together’ means in universities. In addition, the notion of what community means in universities is not well-understood. For example, the National Student Survey asks students if they ‘feel part of a community of staff and students’, but this is not clearly defined. 

Understanding what community is to students and staff in universities can help shape an understanding of how to facilitate well-being in a university community.   

What is community well-being?

Community well-being is not the same as the sum of individual subjective or psychological well-being in a given community. In a conceptual review, What Works Well-being used the following working definition of community well-being as “the combination of social, economic, environmental, cultural, and political conditions identified by individuals and their communities as essential for them to flourish and fulfil their potential.”  

In order for universities to facilitate a sense of community well-being, first we have to understand what community means to students and staff in Higher Education. Then we can develop a framework for conceptualising and defining universitycommunity well-being, that will inform how we measure whole-university well-being from a whole-university perspective, and evaluate initiatives developed to improve this. 

What is the goal of the proposed PhD Project

In line with the What Works Well-being guidance for developing a framework of community well-being, this project aims to 

  1. develop a model of university community well-being, and
  2. develop an initial measure of university community well-being.  

We hope to do this through a combination of methods, such as qualitative interviews, Delphi surveys, psychometric research and online surveys

What skills and knowledge does the PhD candidate need?

We would love to work with someone who feels passionate about well-being in universities, and is keen to further our understanding.

You should possess a sound grounding in quantitative and qualitative research methods but have ambition to extend your skills into other research design methods

Applicants will normally have a track record of academic achievement in psychology or a related discipline, demonstrated by a first class or upper second undergraduate honours degree and/or a master’s degree (or equivalent)

About the supervisors

Alyson is an Associate Professor in the psychology department and is on the leadership team of the UKRI-funded network SMaRteN, which focuses on student mental health and well-being.  Alyson has led a published scoping review (see further reading), UK-wide stakeholder consultation, and a forthcoming SMaRteN report on measuring well-being in a student population. She chairs a Special Interest Group on this topic. Alyson is also a partner on the Office for Students Challenge Competition project Brighter, which is evaluating student well-being interventions. 

Libby is an Associate Professor of learning and teaching and the deputy head of the psychology department at Northumbria. She has a strong interest in student community and well-being, the transition to university, the use of technology in Higher Education and academic staff development. Libby works across disciplines on projects related to student well-being, what community means, and how these feed into university strategy.

Lisa is a Senior Lecturer in the psychology department, Associate Director of the Psychology and Communication Technology (PaCT) Research Group, chair of the Psychology Department’s Athena Swan team, and Fellow of the HEA. Prior to her lectureship appointment, she was a Senior Researcher for three successive multidisciplinary EPSRC projects- one in particular, ReelLives, explored the ways in which individuals could take ownership of their digital identity. Her research interests lie within Psychology and Human Computer Interaction (HCI)- the role of technologies in life transitions, student community and well-being, self-presentation online and authenticity.

More information and how to apply

If you’d like to discuss the opportunity, please contact the principal supervisor, Alyson Dodd (Alyson.dodd@northumbria.ac.uk). Details on how to submit an application are below. We’ve added some useful reading for prospective candidates at the end of the post

The advert for the post can be found here, this includes full eligibility requirements. As part of the application process you will need to submit a 1000 word proposal of how you would approach the project by 18th February 2022

Full details of the application process can be found here

Further Reading

Atkinson, S., Bagnall, A., Corcoran, R., & South, J. (2017). What is community well-being? Conceptual review.  

Dodd, A. L. (2021). Student mental health research: moving forwards with clear definitions. Journal of Mental Health, 30(3),273-275. 

Dodd, A. L., Priestley, M., Tyrrell, K., Cygan, S., Newell, C., & Byrom, N. C. (2021). University student well-being in the United Kingdom: a scoping review of its conceptualisation and measurement. Journal of Mental Health, 1-13.

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