• Dr Catriona Ryan

The Importance of Personal Support for the Wellbeing of PhD Researchers

Having an encouraging personal support system can have a positive impact on a PhD researcher.  But sometimes the PhD journey can cause friction with family, partners etc. A fascinating paper was published on this topic in 2019 by the International Journal of Doctoral Studies which states that ‘most doctoral students experienced positive family support, but for those who did not, two major themes emerged as problematic: a reduction in the amount of time spent with family and family not understanding the value of earning a doctoral degree.’ I hear stories like this from PhD researchers who attend my workshops. This conflict can be a source of significant stress for doctoral candidates. This paper entitled, ‘The Influence of Family on Doctoral Student Success’ recommends that doctoral programmes could run orientation workshops for families of PhDs to understand the value of undertaking a PhD.  I think this is worth considering as it is also providing another layer of support for the PhD researcher.


I was lucky to have support from my mother and wife in this regard, but it was a difficult road. After I completed an MPhil in African American literature in 1997 at Cork University, I started looking for a PhD supervisor.  At that time my mother, who had survived stage four cancer for more than five years, had a relapse as the cancer had returned.  I just wanted to go home and look after her as I knew her survival time was very limited.  My mother was always a great source of encouragement and wanted me to pursue my dreams. I looked after her for two years.  It was a very difficult period of my life.  The day before she died some of the last words she uttered was ‘Catriona, do your PhD.’ After her death I needed some time to recover and build myself up again. When the opportunity came to start my PhD journey, I knew in my heart this is what I always wanted, and my mother’s support gave me the courage to take that leap of faith.  In the second year of my doctorate, I met my future wife who also had a PhD, so she understood the stresses involved. Her support had a powerful impact on my confidence levels.  The value and comfort derived from having a positive personal support system should never be underestimated.

Link to the cited paper:

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