‘It’s (not) all in the mind’: PhD students’ experiences, well-being, and mindfulness

Kaczan, Robert (2015) ‘It’s (not) all in the mind’: PhD students’ experiences, well-being, and mindfulness. PhD thesis, Victoria University.


Although undertaking a PhD provides great opportunities for intellectual challenges and benefits, students also experience high levels of stress and attrition within the degree. It is therefore important to better understand the needs of students and how to support them in order to improve their experience, increase well-being, and support better academic outcomes. This research conducted two studies: the first explores what supports and hinders the well-being and academic functioning of PhD students at one Victorian university; and the second—because stress is a large feature of PhD students’ lives—examines the potential of a brief mindfulness-based intervention (brief MBI) to provide benefits to students. This intervention is a modified and substantially shorter version of the mindfulness-based stress reduction (MBSR) program which was shortened from 8 weeks (27 hours) to 4 weeks (6 hours). This research used constructivist grounded theory as the strategy of inquiry and in-depth semi-structured interviews to achieve the aim of exploring subjective experiences, with participants interviewed at both one and four months post-intervention. Overall, Study 1 found that the needs of PhD students are best understood through an ecological perspective, that is, that the areas important to their well-being and academic functioning fall within and across individual, interpersonal, institutional, and structural, material, and social levels. Included in these areas are the needs for personal and academic growth, personal and academic competence, rest and rejuvenation, social and intellectual integration, and material and cohort specific supports. Further, achieving a balance across these areas of well-being and academic functioning represents an ideal student experience which promotes higher levels of satisfaction. Study 2 found that the brief MBI provided some benefits to these students including stress reduction, increased positive affect, and improved academic functioning at the one month interview. However, at four months, many of these benefits were not sustained and only a few participants continued to practise techniques from the program. A brief MBI, therefore, has some value in supporting students but requires further modifications to sustain benefits and be of greater help to this population.

Item type Thesis (PhD thesis)
URI https://vuir.vu.edu.au/id/eprint/33056
Subjects Historical > FOR Classification > 1701 Psychology
Historical > Faculty/School/Research Centre/Department > College of Arts
Keywords postgraduate study, doctoral students, MBI, wellbeing, academic functioning, motivation, health, focus, self-management, programs, attrition, Victoria
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