Postgraduate research can be an incredibly rewarding experience, but it’s not without its challenges. From navigating the demands of academia to managing your personal life, the pressures can take a toll on your mental health and wellbeing.
For this reason, the Doctoral Academy at the University of Dundee decided to create a comic strip about PGR wellbeing, to offer a novel platform for postgraduate researchers to share their lived experiences and offer advice on accessing support to others.
The need for this type of intervention is clear. While the majority of PGRs reported feeling supported in terms of their wellbeing in recent surveys, there were still many who felt their needs were not being met.
In 2022, health and wellbeing concerns were the top reasons PGRs considered leaving their programme. It’s clear that more needs to be done to address these issues in the postgraduate researcher community. Initiatives like the PGR wellbeing comic are a step in the right direction.
So, how did the Doctoral Academy go about creating the comic strip?
It all started in February 2022, with the recruitment of a PGR intern to act as a part-time Project Officer, who put out a call for volunteers to share their stories. Eleven PGRs were chosen, and their experiences were turned into anonymised transcripts, which were then converted into comic scripts.
University ethical guidelines were followed throughout as well as compliance with GDPR regulations and legislation. The comic artists then took over, working with the project team across various iterations to deliver the final product (see full overview of the steps taken and the artistic process below).
The first abridged version of the comic, Wellbeing: Postgraduate Researcher Narratives was published on the Discovery Portal in February 2023, and the full version is set to be completed in June of the same year.
The hope is that this comic will not only offer support to PGRs who may feel isolated or unsure of where to turn, but also offer supervisors greater insight into the challenges their students may be facing.
Ultimately, initiatives like the PGR wellbeing comic are about creating a more informed and supportive community for postgraduate researchers. By offering a platform for sharing experiences and accessing support, we can help to break down barriers and create a culture of openness and understanding.
If you’re a PGR struggling with your wellbeing, know that you’re not alone, and that there are people and resources available to help you.
An overview of steps taken
- Define the project goal and brief
- Engage with partners and assemble a team
- Interview participants
- Draft comic script from lived experiences
- Agree script with project team
- Discuss with comic artist and share preliminary thumbnails/layout sketches
- Refine script and get approved by everyone on the project team
- Producer sets out timeline for pencils and inks
- Colourist and lettering applied at final stage by artists
- Final draft shared and approved
- Producer creates print and web versions of the comic with final edits made/approved
- Launch – share printed versions and upload onto Discovery portal
The artistic process
With thanks to
- Lauren Christie, for her enthusiastic approach to the project and professionalism towards participating PGRs
- The collaborative group of PGRs, without whom this work would not have been possible
- Damon Herd for producing the comic and his artistic skills in lettering
- Tom Crielly, Faye Stacey and Megan Sinclair for their amazing comic artistic work
Dr Sandra Oza
Doctoral Academy Manager