Write Smarter: Feel Better is a peer mentoring program for PhD students, where they can get productive writing done while also taking part in conversations that promote enhanced mental health and wellbeing.
Sessions are held monthly and include multiple (2 – 3) blocks of silent writing for 20 minutes where students can work on their own paper, thesis or document. You may be familiar with this method from thesis writing bootcamps or “Shut up and write” sessions.
Where Write Smarter: Feel Better differs is that between writing blocks students engage in facilitated discussions with their peers about the challenges of the PhD experience including topics like dealing with rejections of manuscripts by journals, balancing career goals and family needs, having difficult conversations with supervisors and staying motivated. These sessions are designed to build social support networks, provide opportunities for students to discuss their problems and seek solutions alongside their peers, and provide a means of encouraging students to be proactive about managing their mental health.
PhD students are twice as likely as other highly educated groups to develop mental health difficulties, with 1 in 2 reporting experiencing symptoms of psychological distress during their candidature (Lavecque et al 2017). While most universities provide counselling or support services for students, many PhD students delay seeking help until they are experiencing serious mental health problems or feel pressure to deal with issues alone.
An important aspect of the program is the destigmatisation of experiencing stress, anxiety or other mental health issues. The groups are led and facilitated by PhD students and the discussions which take place during the sessions are on topics identified by the students themselves. Our facilitators all receive mental health first aid training, program materials which were developed in consultation with a psychologist, training in facilitation and have regular contact with a member of staff at their host university.
Write Smarter: Feel Better in the media
‘Harness the power of groups to beat the PhD blues’, Nature, July 2018. Read more
‘The University of Melbourne launches Write Smarter: Feel Better, a proactive approach to graduate student mental health’, The University of Melbourne newsroom, April 2018. Read more
‘What colleges must do to promote mental health for graduate students’, The Conversation, August 2018. Read more
‘Connecting with others may improve postgraduate student mental wellbeing’, Edith Cowan University announcement of pilot program, August 2018. Read more
Write Smarter: Feel Better was developed by the Cooperative Research Centre (CRC) for Mental Health. Karra Harrington and Melanie Carew conceived of, and developed, the program and contributed to the uptake of the program by others. Edith Drajkopyl provided branding and marketing support and contributed to uptake of the program by others. Sabine Bird provided support and advice regarding inclusive design during the pilot phase. We wish to thank and acknowledge all PhD students involved in the CRC for Mental Health trial.
To start a Write Smarter: Feel Better session
For a facilitators pack and information on how to get started, contact firstname.lastname@example.org