Year 1 Progress Report from Bethan Davies

I'm Bethan Davies and I am a PhD student at the University of Nottingham who has been awarded funding from Mental Health Research UK to fund my studies. My PhD is focusing on the mental health of university students and will involve developing and evaluating an online intervention for depression in this population.


Adapting to PhD life

I found it challenging to adapt to the change of pace associated with undertaking a PhD – it was different to having the set exams and essays that I was previously used to. However I have had great support from my supervisors and fellow students in helping me adapt to the new environment! As the field of university students’ mental health was a relatively new topic for me, I started my PhD by searching and reading the relevant literature. To help comprehend the vast amount of research, I wrote a piece of writing outlining the rates of depression in students, what problems they face due to their depression, and what services are in place to meet their mental health needs. Completing this writing provided me with an introduction to my research topic and helped me identify the key researchers and journals in the area.

During my first term I prepared an ethics application for an online survey and semi-structured interviews to explore undergraduate students’ needs for support for their emotional difficulties. The results of this first study will inform the development of the online intervention. I managed to complete and submit this application just before Christmas; however as expected the application was returned with a series of comments to be addressed. I edited my application to respond to their concerns, and I managed to resubmit this in March.

Current progress

Currently I am working on a systematic review to contribute to my needs assessment. This review is looking at the theoretical basis and content of previous online interventions conducted in undergraduate student populations. Completing this review has been somewhat comforting; it has helped ease my worries as I have a set framework to follow. I am confident in using online databases and in contacting researchers about their work. I have found the review process to be a great learning experience which has helped improve my understanding of what actually occurs in a review. In April I submitted an application to the university’s Cascade Grant Fund to request a small amount of funding. This funding will contribute towards the professional development of the online intervention. I have also submitted a project opportunity for the third year medical students here at the University Of Nottingham. This plan would involve the student conducting research into students’ opinions and evaluations of mental health websites, in order to contribute to the development of the online intervention. It will provide the student with some good experience of intervention planning and design, and will also provide myself with some supervisory experience. I will also be attending a Mental Health First Aid course in Sheffield to help increase my understanding of mental health and to aid me in interviewing students too.

Challenges

I found the ethics application to be a challenging process as I have had limited experience of completing such applications. I feel confident that permission will be granted, as I have had support and advice from my supervisors in responding to the ethics committee’s concerns.

Other opportunities

In February I attended the 8th Annual Midlands Health Psychology Network conference, held in Coventry. This was my first conference, and I also delivered a poster presentation about my Masters’ research project. I enjoyed talking and networking with other health psychologists and students, and it gave me an introductory conference experience. I was also fortunate in that my poster was awarded the best poster prize – and I am still surprised about this now! The conference also held a subsequent workshop presented by Professors Susan Michie and Marie Johnston. These two academics are strongly established and known for their research into identifying the components and techniques used in behaviour change interventions. This workshop provided delegates with activities to help identify behaviour change techniques in published intervention studies, and so will be useful in analysing the studies included in my systematic review. I have also been helping out with a new student-led volunteering project at the university which aims to raise awareness of mental health issues around the campus.

Outside of the PhD environment

Numerous individuals had told me that in completing a PhD, it is beneficial to have a hobby that is completely unrelated to your research topic. For me I have used my spare time to learn a new hobby – knitting! The university has its own knitting society – so I went along to one meeting and soon got hooked on it. I have found this knitting has done wonders for my well-being – I have enjoyed learning a new skill and it really helps me relax away from my studies.