Welcome to my research journey, which started during my master’s and now continues as I enter the third year of my PhD at the University of Hertfordshire. My working title is ‘Training and Temperament: A Study on Their Combined Impact on Student Mental Health Support in Higher Education.’ This project aims to fill a gap in our understanding of how to adequately prepare university staff—those on the frontline of the student mental health “epidemic”—to offer the effective support needed.
The Why: A Dual Motivation
My journey into this subject matter is twofold. During my master’s, I conducted a mixed-methods study using focus groups and surveys to gauge how confident higher education academics were in supporting student mental health. One thing became glaringly obvious: training, or rather the lack thereof, was a significant concern. Staff members often found themselves expected to act as personal tutors or pastoral support for struggling students, roles for which many felt ill-prepared. The need for effective training became a recurring theme in the study.
Secondly, I have a personal stake in this research. My own experience of poor mental health during my undergraduate years—shared by many of my friends and housemates—was neither recognised nor adequately supported. You can read more about my personal experience here. This fuels my passion to make a meaningful change and ensure that students do not have to navigate their mental health struggles alone.
The What: Unfolding the Research Question
In today’s higher education landscape, the mental well-being of students has become a critical issue, often described as an “epidemic.” University staff are ideally placed to offer crucial support, yet many feel unprepared for this role. Training interventions are highly requested but sorely under-researched, leaving a gaping hole in our understanding. My research questions whether mental health training can effectively improve staff confidence and capability in supporting students. Moreover, I aim to explore how personality traits may influence the efficacy of such training and overall support. Would you reach out for support to someone based on their training, or based on how warm and kind they seem?
The How: Methodology
Though still in the planning stages, my methodology will involve a mixed-methods approach. I intend to conduct personality profiles on university staff across various roles—both academic and support. Following this, I’ll design a training programme for staff and conduct pre and post-intervention interviews. This will allow me to explore how these training interventions impact both staff capability and confidence in supporting student mental health.
While it’s too early for conclusive findings, my initial hypothesis suggests that personality may play a vital role in effective pastoral support. Much like how personality profiles are used in recruitment, there could be enormous benefits to employing these assessments when appointing staff to pastoral positions. In many universities, personal tutors are assigned without an application process, which may not serve the best interests of either staff or students.
Conclusion and Next Steps
I am excited to dive into data collection and am immensely grateful for the support of my colleagues. If you find this topic as intriguing as I do, please don’t hesitate to reach out. Your questions and insights could provide invaluable perspectives for my research.