American Study Suggests That Poor Student-Supervisor Relationships Worsening Postgraduate Mental Health Crises in the US

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Editor’s Note: A previous version of this article had a featured image of the University, which led to the unintentional implication that the American study cited in this article applied to postgraduates at Southampton. We at Wessex Scene would like to apologise for any miscommunication that arisen as a result of using that image, and would like to assert that this wasn’t done with any kind of intention or agenda to mislead our readership. We have changed the cover photo and made the headline more clear to reflect that the study does not correlate with postgraduates and their experiences at the University. If anybody has any further concerns, please email editor@wessexscene.co.uk.

Research has found that there is a link between poor mental health in postgraduate students and an unhealthy student-supervisor work dynamic. 

Professor of Pharmacology at the University of Texas Health Science Center at San Antonio Teresa M Evans Ph.D. and her colleagues last year discovered that whilst postgraduate students were six times more likely to experience mental health difficulties than the general population, 41% had moderate to severe anxiety.

But whilst Evans’ study concluded that there is a link between a positive student-supervisor relations with regard to, ‘mentorship, academic and professional support, emotional and mental well-being, and the perception of feeling valued‘ and more stable mental health, new research by Nicholas E Rowe at the University of Lapland suggests that her findings overlook an apposite correlation between poor mental health and a failing student-supervisor relationship.

Dr Rowe’s findings argue that ‘main cause of adverse mental health lies directly within the student-supervisor relationship‘ among the postgraduate population, going so far as to say that, ‘supervisors themselves may be causative of the anxiety and depression‘. Rowe argues that student withdrawals from research study are rarely investigated, and voices ‘are not heard‘ in what can become a ‘toxic‘ educational environment. 

Professor Rowe does stress, however, that supervisors are ‘not necessarily at fault‘, citing overwork and stress as factors for collapsing working and personal relationships with students. Pressure on lecturers has been at the forefront of student media in recent years, particularly after the 2018 suicide of Cardiff University’s Dr Malcolm Anderson, whose stress was heightened by a workload which included dealing with over 600 students and marking 418 exam papers, all whilst repeatedly being denied annual leave. BBC Wales surveys have recently found that ‘a third of staff said they must work unreasonable hours to fulfil their job requirements‘.

Professor Rowe has said that he hopes his research will prompt action into how, ‘we can change academic and supervisory culture to stop the damage being done‘ to student mental health, and encourages prospective participants in his studies to email him at nrowe@ulapland.fi.

 

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