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High levels of anxiety found among postgraduate researchers

Image: Tero Vesalainen, via Shutterstock

AdvanceHE survey reveals high anxiety matched by high levels of satisfaction in research experience

Postgraduate researchers are far more anxious than the general population but still report high levels of satisfaction with their research, a survey has revealed.

Just 14 per cent of more than 50,000 postgraduate researchers surveyed by AdvanceHE reported low levels of anxiety, compared to 41 per cent of the general population. It means that most postgraduate researchers reported some level of anxiety.

Postgraduate researchers were slightly more anxious than undergraduate students at 16 per cent, which AdvanceHE said could be down to postgraduates becoming increasingly less confident that they will compete their courses on time.

Around 23 per cent of those who took part in AdvanceHE’s Postgraduate Research Experience Survey said they were very happy with life, compared to 35 per cent of the UK population who said the same, while 23 per cent reported feeling satisfied compared to 31 per cent of the population.

However, 81 per cent of postgraduate researchers said they are satisfied with their university experience. While the figure is slightly higher than 2018’s 80 per cent satisfaction rate, it has not bounced back to the 86 per cent seen in 2011.

Research culture scores the lowest among postgraduates, with 63 per cent reporting satisfaction with their university’s research environment. In general, students said that universities’ learning support, programme design and working culture could all be improved.

In a similar score to undergraduates, more than a quarter of postgraduate researchers had considered quitting their studies with 26 per cent reporting that they had thought about leaving.

Jonathan Neves, head of business intelligence and surveys at AdvanceHE, said it was “very encouraging” that postgraduate researchers are mostly positive about their experiences.

“The figure has been flat-lining at around 80-82 per cent since the peak of 2010-11 when it was closer to 86 per cent, and this year’s analysis offers good pointers as to where postgraduate researchers think improvements could be made,” he said.

Neves added: “The levels of anxiety postgraduate researchers report is a concern and we are exploring the data further so that the sector has solid evidence to support its enhancement initiatives.”