Staying Well

Health and wellbeing for graduate research students

The independent and self-directed nature of graduate research creates unique challenges for students’ health and wellbeing. The aim of this webpage is to support you to stay well during your research journey by providing information, tips and strategies to nurture your mental, physical and social wellbeing, as well as plenty of external resources and information about UCD student supports.

Mental wellbeing

The pressures of a long research degree can take a mental toll, and it’s important that you have strategies in place to protect and promote your mental wellbeing.

In this section, you’ll find tips to overcome some of the common challenges faced by graduate researchers, such as managing your workload, dealing with setbacks and overcoming imposter syndrome. You will also find strategies for when things aren’t going so well, such as mindfulness techniques, signs you might need some mental health support and what to do if you’ve lost interest in your research. 


The demands and pressures of a PhD programme can be stressful and overwhelming for students. And while some short-term stress can inspire and motivate us, focus our energy and enhance our performance, prolonged stress that is not properly managed can take a heavy toll on our bodies and lead to burnout. Recognising signs of distress and seeking support in its early stages can stop mental health difficulties or tough life situations from developing into something bigger.

Common signs and symptoms of mental health difficulties

  • Loss of interest in things that you would normally enjoy
  • Loss or increase in appetite
  • Changes in sleeping patterns
  • Crying frequently (you may not always know why)
  • Being easily irritated by things that would not normally bother you
  • Negative feelings about yourself or your relationships
  • Finding it difficult to perform at work or in your programme like you used to
  • Overreliance on alcohol or being involved in risky behaviour that you would usually avoid, such as taking drugs
  • Brain fog or difficulty concentrating or remembering things

If you identify with the symptoms listed above, it is important to reach out to someone – whether that be a trusted friend or family member; University supports such as the Student Counselling Service or your dedicated Postgraduate Research Student Adviser; or an external support service like Samaritans.

Speaking to someone about your mental health can be a way to identify what might be causing these feelings and allow you to create a plan to work through them.

Sources and further reading

5 signs that you may need mental health support – spunout

What are mental health difficulties and when to seek help – headspace

Advice and services to help support your mental health – spunout

Signs you may be struggling to cope – Samaritans

Supports and resources – Mental Health Ireland

One of the challenges of being a graduate research student is the lack of imposed structure. It is often up to you when and how you work. For some students, the self-directed nature of graduate research might mean they struggle to motivate themselves to get anything done at all. On the other end of the spectrum, some students may find it tempting to go into the lab, office or field early and stay until they are so tired that they just can’t work anymore, which can easily lead to burnout.

For this reason, it can be helpful to implement your own planned daily structure. Some students find it beneficial to maintain ‘regular office hours’; others may find they work best first thing in the morning or late into the evening. Different routines work for different people, and different structures and approaches might work better for different tasks. Experiment to find what works best for you. You may find it useful to track how you approach work each day in a journal, making note of which approach seems to be the most productive or best for your wellbeing.

You might find it helpful to begin your day with tasks that warm up your brain (such as reading, listening to a podcast or music, or exercising). You might also end your work day with wind down activities, such as reviewing what you have achieved during the day or making a to-do list for tomorrow. This will encourage you to take a proper break in the evening.

Regardless of the hours you keep, it is important to schedule in regular breaks and opportunities to step outside and speak to others. Implementing planned time off each week will ensure that your brain and body have an opportunity to rest and recuperate. Stepping away from your research will also mean that when you return to it, you will be able to judge where you are more clearly and will be in a better position to problem-solve and work productively.

Sources and further reading

The importance of planned structure – The Wellbeing Thesis

Challenges of freedom and responsibility – The Wellbeing Thesis

Using the structure of your research degree to help you – The Wellbeing Thesis

Predictable time off – The Wellbeing Thesis

Free templates and guides for PhD students – iThinkWell

While it is advisable to have a clear project plan in place for your research to help you stay on track, it is important to keep in mind that the process of completing your research will likely not conform to your plan. Things will inevitably go wrong or turn out differently than you expected. Your initial hypothesis will evolve as your research progresses. You will spend time on activities that ultimately do not produce reportable results.

This is not because there was anything wrong with your plan or your approach but rather because the research process is inherently unpredictable. It rarely, if ever, occurs in a straightforward linear fashion. Knowing and accepting this before you embark on your research will help you to bounce back from perceived setbacks and, ultimately, to produce better research.

If you find, for example, that you have spent time on an activity that has not produced reportable results, try not to see this as time wasted. Focus on what you can learn from this experience and apply that to how you approach the rest of your research. As frustrating as these experiences can be, don’t be too hard on yourself. Things going wrong in research doesn’t mean you are a bad researcher; it just means you’re engaged in research. 

Accept that the reality of research is messy and unpredictable and embrace the opportunities this brings. Take the opportunity to revisit and redraft your initial plan as you go along in response to the progress you are making and any setbacks you face.

When things do go wrong, you may like to support yourself by practising some of the mindfulness techniques listed on this webpage. Below are a few more strategies to help you cope with setbacks and the negative emotions that can come with them.

  • Take time out: You are more likely to make mistakes in a heightened state of stress. Step away from what you’re working on and give yourself some time to calm down before trying to come up with a new approach.
  • Talk to someone about what has happened: Talking about negative events can help you to move past them. You may want to speak with a trusted friend who can provide you some comfort, or you may like to speak to your supervisor or someone else within the University to help you to manage whatever has happened and give you some extra support.
  • Spend some time in nature: Take time to notice your surroundings. This has been shown to improve one’s mood and reduce stress.
  • Do something to help someone else: Helping others can boost your sense of self-worth and confidence, empowering you to better handle your setback. Moreover, when you shift your focus to helping someone else, it can put your own setbacks into a broader perspective and make them seem less overwhelming.
  • Listen to music: Music can have a quick and powerful impact on your mood. Listening to music you like for just 15 minutes each day can increase your overall levels of happiness.
  • Do something creative: Activities like singing, painting, knitting or creative writing not only benefit your wellbeing but can also enhance your problem-solving skills. Taking a break to indulge in a creative pursuit you enjoy can make it easier to reassess your situation and discover a path forward.

Sources and further reading

Research doesn't happen in a straight line – The Wellbeing Thesis

Supporting yourself when things go wrong – The Wellbeing Thesis

Academic Pressures – The University of Galway

When you are in the midst of a long postgraduate degree programme, it can be hard to see the finish line and easy to focus on everything that is yet to be done. Over time, this feeling can create anxiety and affect your self-belief.

One way to overcome these feelings and re-establish a sense of control is to explicitly mark your progress and celebrate what you have achieved so far.

You may find it helpful to set yourself regular and planned times to sit and write down what you have achieved so far or to mark off the stages of your project plan that you have already completed. Seeing the evidence of what you have already managed can give you a greater sense of control and confidence and boost your belief that you can get work done and make it all the way through to thesis submission.

It can also help to share your achievements with others. If you have a paper published or make a breakthrough with your research, make a point of telling someone else and sharing that moment.

You may also find it beneficial to identify the skills and knowledge you have developed since beginning your programme. Ask yourself:

  • What do you know or understand better now than you did then?
  • What are you better at doing now than when you started?
  • What could you teach someone now that you couldn’t have taught before?

Completing a postgraduate research degree is a challenging and time-consuming process, and setbacks are inevitable. Celebrating wins, no matter how small, can serve as a reminder of your capabilities and help you to stay motivated.

Sources and further reading

Marking Your Progress – Celebrate Your Wins – The Wellbeing Thesis

How to change your thought patterns – spunout

The term 'imposter syndrome' was coined in 1978 by researchers Pauline Clance and Suzanne Imes to describe a phenomenon in which people who are seen by others as successful and competent feel themselves to be frauds, undeserving of their success and in danger at any moment of being found out. The specific emotional and intellectual challenges faced by PhD students make them particularly prone to feelings of intellectual inferiority and imposter syndrome.

If you are experiencing these kinds of thoughts and emotions regularly, you may find that they are negatively impacting your development as a researcher. Below we have listed some helpful techniques to manage imposter feelings.

Recognise that imposter feelings are normal: These feelings are very common among graduate researchers. It’s important to note that there is no correlation between imposter syndrome and actual ability – in fact it is often highly capable people who feel the most fraudulent

Separate thoughts from reality: It's crucial to understand that your perceived inadequacy doesn't accurately reflect your abilities. Understand that your acceptance into a postgraduate research program is based on merit. Academics choose candidates they believe have the potential for impactful research, so remind yourself that you deserve to be here.

Set realistic expectations: Developing your identity as a confident researcher is a complex task that takes time. Try to set yourself achievable goals that recognise that developing your skills will be a gradual process – don’t expect yourself to be an experienced researcher from day one! You may find it helpful to write down what would count as success before embarking on a new project or task.

Document achievements regularly: Imposter syndrome can make our abilities invisible to us – we dismiss the things we’re good at as things everyone knows or can do. One way to combat this is by regularly documenting your achievements, what you have learnt and where you have improved. Notice whether you deny, dismiss or discount your achievements. If someone congratulates you, don’t say it was nothing or it was good luck; say thank you! Taking time to applaud yourself when you reach a milestone, have a breakthrough or publish a paper can help you internalise your success.

Teach and help others: Sharing your knowledge or skills with others can help to boost your confidence. Teaching or assisting peers not only reinforces your understanding but also enhances your sense of mastery and competence

Visualise success: Practising visualisation can help to overcome moments of self-doubt. Close your eyes, breathe deeply and imagine yourself succeeding in various scenarios, from making valuable connections to earning your degree. This positive imagery can reinforce your belief in your capabilities.

Get used to your imposter feelings: As you learn to work through your imposter feelings, they will probably interfere less with your wellbeing. However, that doesn’t mean they won't resurface. They commonly arise when you are faced with new experiences or enter into a new role. With time and practise, however, it will get easier to overcome your self-doubt and remember that feelings are not facts.

Sources and further reading

Feel like a fraud? You might have imposter syndrome – Hugh Kearns, The Conversation

How to overcome impostor phenomenon – American Psychological Association

Building your Identity as a Researcher: Overcoming Imposter Syndrome – The Wellbeing Thesis

Finding a balance even under pressure – The Wellbeing Thesis

Self-esteem – The University of Galway

Graduate research can be demanding, and you are likely to experience stressful periods during your degree programme. It is therefore useful to have strategies that you can draw on to help you to manage and reduce the stress you experience.

One such strategy is mindfulness: the practice of observing what is happening in the body (your thoughts, emotions, memories and sensations) and outside the body (your social and physical environment) in a nonjudgmental way. It helps us to focus our attention on the present moment rather than worrying about the past, future or any other issue that we can’t actually change at this moment, and in this way it can help to prevent and reduce anxiety and stress.

Below we have listed some mindfulness tips to help you manage stress – you will find further stress management tips in the Physical and Social Wellbeing sections of this webpage. Experiment and find the way that works for you.

Body scan

The body scan is a simple but effective mindfulness technique. It involves bringing your awareness, without judgement, to the sensations of the body, beginning in the toes of both feet and slowly moving up your body, checking in as you go, until you reach the top of your head. As you go, you might find your attention beginning to wander. Don’t be discouraged if this happens; it is totally normal. If you find your attention has shifted, gently redirect it to the last place you had reached in your body scan.

Breath awareness

This technique involves using the breath to anchor our awareness to the present moment. While following the breath into and out of the body, it’s hard to focus on anything else. The added benefit of this technique is that as we focus on the breath, it naturally begins to slow down, which activates the body’s parasympathetic nervous system and helps us to feel relaxed. As with the body scan, you shouldn’t expect your mind to be quiet. Any time you become distracted by a thought or emotion, simply return your focus to the anchor – your breath. This practise can be completed anywhere, with eyes open or closed. It is recommended to start with 60 seconds twice daily and build from there.  


When we are feeling sad or stressed, it can be easy to get caught up in negative thoughts and emotions. But by taking a moment each day to focus on the things we are grateful for, we can shift our attention away from what's lacking to the positives in our lives. It is not about pretending that everything in your life is perfect or ignoring negative thoughts and emotions; it’s about recognising and appreciating what is going well in our lives, even when things are difficult.

One way to cultivate gratitude is through gratitude journaling, which involves taking time each day to write down a few things you are grateful for. These can be big (reaching a milestone in your programme; your loving partner) or small (a particularly delicious cup of coffee; a new episode of your favourite show). The most important thing is to practise consistently. Research shows that after 21 days of practicing gratitude, you rewire the brain to scan the world for positives, which contributes to an improved mood and reduced feeling of stress and anxiety.

Sources and further reading

What is mindfulness? – Mental Health Ireland

Managing stress – The Wellbeing Thesis

Three mindfulness and meditation techniques that could help you manage work stress – RCSI

What can mindfulness meditation do for your mental health? – spunout

Gratitude and the benefits of journaling – The Resilience Project

A quick guide to mindfulness and meditation – The Resilience Project

Practical exercises

Guided practices – Mental Health Ireland

7/11 breathing – The Wellbeing Thesis

Emotional hi-jacking – The Wellbeing Thesis

Consider your motivations

Students who care passionately about their research topic will generally find it much easier to maintain motivation over the course of their degree than those motivated by the prospect of getting a high-paying job or wanting to impress others. However, just because you may have initially chosen your research topic for extrinsic reasons, or your research topic was chosen for you as part of your studentship, doesn’t mean that you can’t make your research more meaningful to you.

One strategy you can use to connect positively with the subject of your research is to create a list of things that are personally meaningful to you – think about the things that make you excited, determined or passionate or the things you’d like to change in the world. Then examine your list to find points of resonance with your research. Think broadly, considering specific aspects of the subject as well as the methodology you want to use or your publication strategy. Look for ways to infuse your daily work with personal meaning.

Take a break

If you continue to feel uninterested or dispassionate about your research, you might consider taking a short break to try to reignite your love for your subject. For some people, taking a holiday, pursuing another area of interest, spending time with friends, teaching or volunteering can help to refocus. You may even find that moving on to a different chapter or approaching your research from a different angle is enough to help.

However, if you’ve been feeling disengaged for a while, or if you are experiencing personal, medical or academic issues and need some time to get back on your feet or consider your options, you can apply for a leave of absence online. While on a leave of absence, you will not be fully registered to the University and so cannot be active on your programme (i.e. you cannot meet with your supervisor, access the library or receive grants/scholarships). However, you will continue to have access to your UCD Connect account, including email, during this time.

Talk to the University

Before making any decisions, you should make sure that you get as much advice as you can from an appropriate staff member. If you have a good relationship with your supervisor, they can help to walk you through the options available to you. However, as a graduate researcher, you also have access to a dedicated Student Adviser who is here to ensure the best outcomes for you. They can provide confidential support with personal, social and emotional issues, advise on available financial supports, and help you to navigate UCD policies, procedures and services. You may also like to speak with your College/School Office or the Student Counselling Service. You should also make sure to read the UCD Leave of Absence Policy and familiarise yourself with all the implications of this request.

Considering whether to withdraw from your programme

If you’ve exhausted the options above and the thought of continuing your research feels unbearable, it might be time to consider whether graduate research is the right path for you. When confronted with the possibility of not completing your PhD, you may feel that you will be letting yourself or others down, that you have wasted your time, or that you’ll be limiting your future prospects. While these are valid concerns, they do not constitute good reasons to force yourself along a path that is bringing you little joy or satisfaction.

If you decide that the best option for you is to discontinue your studies, follow the steps below:

  • Firstly, if you feel comfortable doing so, communicate your decision to your supervisor(s) in a clear and honest manner, explaining the reasons behind your choice.
  • Review the formal procedures for withdrawal.
  • You may find it valuable to consult with the Graduate Research Student Career and Skills Consultant to explore alternative paths and potential opportunities outside the academic realm. Consider how the skills and knowledge gained during your PhD journey can be transferred to other fields or industries.
  • Assess any financial implications of leaving, including outstanding stipends, fees or scholarship commitments. Be proactive in addressing these matters with the relevant College/School Office.
  • Emotionally, recognise that this decision is a valid and brave step toward prioritising your wellbeing and future happiness. Surround yourself with a support network of friends, family or mental health professionals who can assist you during this transition.
  • Remember, leaving a PhD programme doesn't define your worth or potential. It's a personal choice that allows you to redirect your energy toward endeavours that align more closely with your aspirations and bring you fulfilment.

Sources and further reading

Finding meaning in your subject, even if you didn’t choose it – The Wellbeing Thesis

Why undertake postgraduate research? – The Wellbeing Thesis

Should you quit your PhD? – The Thesis Whisperer

Why do people quit the PhD? – The Thesis Whisperer

Approximately 70% of UCD PhD students don’t go into academic or research-adjacent jobs. You may find this statistic discouraging if you have your heart set on a career in research or academia. But it doesn’t have to be bad news. There are a huge range of jobs and careers in which you can use the skills acquired during your research degree.

As you progress through your degree, try to avoid focusing on only one narrow path as a potential future career, and instead think broadly about all the different types of work that will allow you to feel valued and fulfilled.

A good place to start is by thinking about the transferable skills you will have developed by the end of your degree, such as leadership, teamwork, critical analysis, writing and presenting, among many others. You may find it helpful to ask yourself the following questions:

  • In what areas have you improved as a result of your degree? What can you do now that you couldn’t when you started?
  • How did you self-motivate throughout your degree?
  • How did you persuade others during your degree? For example, did you persuade participants to take part? How did you get work published?
  • How did you manage competing priorities?
  • What will your original contribution to knowledge be?
  • What kinds of problems have you had to solve? How did you manage to solve them? How did you work with information and evidence to produce these solutions?

As a graduate research student, you also have access to the suite of Graduate Studies’ transferable skills workshops, as well as a dedicated Career and Skills Consultant who offers one-on-one sessions to help PhD and Master’s by Research students to find meaningful and rewarding careers.

Sources and further reading

Planning for the world after – The Wellbeing Thesis

Physical wellbeing

Navigating graduate research is demanding, and long hours in labs or at your desk can lead to neglecting things like regular exercise, nutritious meals, hydration and restorative sleep. However, overlooking your physical wellbeing can have a detrimental impact on both your body and mind.

It’s vital that you take care of yourself as you complete you research, and in this section you’ll find information and tips about how to fit exercise into your routine, choose good mood foods, establish healthy sleep patterns and ensure your safety on campus.


It’s easy for exercise to slip lower down your list of priorities when you are facing an intense workload and are under time pressure. But physical activity is crucial to staying well, reducing stress levels, improving mood and boosting motivation.

So let’s challenge the common mindsets that make us more likely to avoid exercise.

I don’t have time

As a graduate researcher, you’re likely spending long hours sitting at a desk or in front of a computer, and you may find it hard to tear yourself away in order to exercise. However, there is a clear link between physical activity and academic performance. So while it may feel as though taking time away from your research to exercise will mean you’ll get less done, you will likely actually be more productive and complete higher quality work as a result of having exercised.

Some simple ways to incorporate exercise into a busy schedule include going for a lunchtime walk, cycling to campus, doing exercises at your desk such as chair yoga, and integrating physical activity into your daily routine by using the stairs where possible or parking further away. 

It’s too expensive

While joining a gym or pilates studio can be costly, there are countless ways to exercise that are completely free or cost very little. For example:

  • Running is an excellent way to tone muscles, improve your heart rate and immune system, produce endorphins and increase your aerobic fitness, and all you need to get started is a good pair of trainers. Find a path you’re comfortable with and start off by navigating short distances, working your way up to longer ones.
  • Hiking is a great free form of exercise that you can do with a friend or in a group and allows you to spend time in nature. There are a range of hiking trails in Dublin and its surrounds to suit different ability levels.
  • YouTube is an amazing free resource for exercise tutorials, from yoga and mat pilates to living room HIIT routines to all kinds of dance.

I’m too unfit

The HSE advises adults to aim for at least 30 minutes of moderate-intensity activity five days a week for physical health. But remember that it is important to build up your activity slowly. Start with gentle activities like a stroll in the park or gentle yoga. Gradually build up over 30 days, incorporating exercise into your daily routine – you might start getting off the bus a stop or two earlier or taking the stairs where possible.

It's essential to progress at your own pace; a light jog or an extended route can kickstart a regular exercise routine. Listen to your body and avoid pushing to the point of pain – strive for challenge without causing harm. A gradual increase in stamina will yield more sustainable results.

I just don’t feel like it

Lack of motivation can be a significant barrier to initiating exercise, particularly if you’re feeling stressed or low. But try to remember that the hardest part is getting started. Physical activity has been consistently proven to boost motivation and deliver almost immediate benefits, which will encourage you continue.

If possible, try to exercise with friends to help you maintain motivation. You’re much more likely to go for that weekly jog if you’ve committed to doing so with a friend, partner or colleague. Organised sports, such as UCD Sport clubs, can give you structure and something to look forward to. But simply kicking a ball around with friends can be equally beneficial, without the cost or commitment of joining a team.

You might find it helpful to write down the specific benefits of exercise that you would like to experience (such as reduced stress or improved sleep), then refer back to these to help you stay motivated. You might also write down the situations that make it harder for you to exercise and make a plan to address these. For example, the weather in Dublin might make you less likely to go out for a walk – could you do a YouTube yoga session instead?

Sources and further reading

Exercise – University of Galway

Physical wellbeing and academic performance – The Wellbeing Thesis

10 ways to get fit without the gym – spunout

How to exercise if you don't have the time – spunout

Easy and affordable ways to exercise – spunout

Physical activity – University College Cork

Eating a healthy, varied and well-balanced diet can improve brain function, helping us to think clearly, feel more alert and to concentrate for longer periods. In contrast, a poor diet can disrupt our brain chemistry, leading to fatigue, low mood, anxiety, poor sleep and more. Eating well is thus particularly important for those undertaking demanding postgraduate research.

Knowing what and how to eat can be difficult given the sheer volume of often conflicting nutritional information available. Below is a quick guide of evidence-based tips to eat healthily and support your physical and mental wellbeing. 

Eat plenty of vegetables  

During busy or difficult periods, it’s common to reach for sugary processed foods that offer a quick dopamine rush. In the longer term, though, these foods can leave use feeling worse than we started. Diets high in refined sugars have been shown to cause oxidative stress in the brain, which impairs brain function and worsens mood disorders such as depression. Conversely, eating foods rich in vitamins, minerals and antioxidants nourishes the brain. 

To boost your mental health, focus on eating plenty of fruits and vegetables along with foods rich in omega-3 fatty acids, such as salmon. Dark green leafy vegetables, in particular, are brain protective. Nuts, seeds and legumes, such as beans and lentils, are also excellent brain foods.

Stay hydrated

Water loss of only 2% can negatively affect mental functioning, causing brain fog, poor concentration and memory, and tiredness. Aim to drink 6–8 glasses of fluid each day to avoid dehydration. It is recommended that at least half of your fluid intake should be water; however, tea, coffee, juices, milk and smoothies all count towards your intake as well (though you should bear in mind that some of these may also contain caffeine and sugar). 

Eat regularly

The brain relies on a constant supply of glucose for optimal function. Eating regular, balanced meals helps to provide a steady stream of energy to the brain, supporting cognitive functions such as concentration, memory and mental alertness. To maintain steady blood sugar levels, opt for foods that release energy slowly, such as whole grains, legumes, nuts and seeds, and starchy vegetables.

Get enough protein

Protein contains amino acids, which make up the chemicals your brain needs to regulate your mood, attention, motivation and overall cognitive function. Protein also helps to modulate blood sugar levels and keeps you feeling fuller for longer. Ensure your diet contains plenty of protein-rich foods such as lean meat, fish, eggs, cheese, legumes, soya products, nuts and seeds. 

Eat the right kinds of fat

While we should try to avoid trans fats and partially hydrogenated oils (found in many shop-bought cakes and biscuits), fats play several essential roles in maintaining the structure and function of the brain (which itself is composed of approximately 60% fat). Omega-3 fatty acids are particularly important for brain function. These are found in oily fish, poultry, nuts (especially walnuts and almonds), olive oils, seeds (such as sunflower and pumpkin), avocados, milk, yoghurt, cheese and eggs. 

Limit caffeine

Moderate caffeine intake (approximately three cups of coffee per day, or 250 milligrams of caffeine) is not associated with any recognised health risk. However, caffeine is a stimulant, meaning that if you consume too much it may leave you feeling anxious, wired or depressed and can interrupt your sleep. 

Look after your gut health

Taking care of your gut is crucial for supporting your mental health because the gut and brain communicate closely through a network known as the gut-brain axis. For instance, you might notice that emotions such as stress and anxiety can cause your digestive system to speed up or slow down. If you're feeling stressed and you think it is affecting your gut, you could try some of the mindfulness techniques listed on this webpage.

To support gut health and mental wellbeing, focus on eating a varied, balanced diet with fibre-rich foods and fermented foods such as kimchi and sauerkraut, manage stress, stay hydrated, and limit processed foods and sugars. 

Get enough vitamin D

Adequate levels of vitamin D are crucial for cognitive functioning and reducing the risk of mental health disorders such as depression and seasonal affective disorder. To ensure you’re getting enough, make sure you are exposing your skin to sunlight for 5 to 15 minutes two to three times per week during the summer months and eating vitamin D-rich foods such as fatty fish and fortified dairy. 

Sources and further reading 

Feeding your brain – The Wellbeing Thesis

Eating healthily to improve mental health – HSE

Maintaining mental health: food – St Patrick's Mental Health Services

Achieving a balanced diet with the food pyramid – spunout

Who can I trust for nutrition and fitness advice? – spunout

Vitamin D and the sun – Irish Cancer Society

Lack of sleep can negatively affect your academic performance, problem-solving abilities, mood and mental health. As graduate research is composed of many complex tasks and ongoing problem-solving, it is vital that you prioritise getting a good night’s sleep as often as you can. Remember, giving up sleep to work late into the night is likely to reduce your overall productivity. If you struggle to get a good night’s sleep, consider the tips and techniques below.

  • Create a consistent sleep schedule: Train your body to sleep better by going to bed and waking up at the same time daily, even on weekends. Avoid napping and sleeping in; it may take some time, but your body will adjust to a regular sleep pattern.
  • Establish a bedtime ritual: Engage in a relaxing activity before bed, avoiding emails or phones to reduce distractions. Consider relaxation techniques or mindfulness exercises to ease into sleep.
  • Regulate your circadian rhythm: Try to get 20–30 minutes of natural daylight during the day (in the morning if possible) and avoid artificial light and bright screens in the evening.
  • Transform your bedroom into a sleep haven: Make your bedroom a comfortable and inviting place by keeping it quiet, dark and cool and removing unnecessary sources of stimulation. You might consider black-out blinds; an eye mask; ear plugs; soft, clean sheets; and an alarm clock with dimmable brightness.
  • Avoid bringing work or electronics to bed: Experts recommend reserving your bedroom for sleep and intimacy. If you're unable to sleep, don't toss and turn for hours; get up and engage in a soothing activity.
  • Exercise regularly: Regular exercise can help to improve your sleep by tiring out your body and helping you to reduce anxiety and stress. 
  • Manage your naps: If you need to nap, keep it short (20–30 minutes) and earlier in the day to avoid disrupting nighttime sleep. If you suffer from insomnia or other sleep issues, it is not recommended to nap during the day.
  • Handle stress effectively: Practice stress-reducing activities such as meditation or deep breathing to ease your mind before bedtime.
  • Limit alcohol consumption: Reduce alcohol intake, especially close to bedtime, as it can interfere with the quality of your sleep.

Try the 10-3-2-1 method

  • 10 hours before bed: Caffeine can be present in your body over 6 hours after its consumption. To improve your sleep, avoid sources of caffeine such as coffee or soft drinks 10 hours before you plan to go to sleep.
  • 3 hours before bed: To ensure you aren’t kept awake by reflux or digestive issues, try to avoid eating any big meals within 3 hours of going to bed.
  • 2 hours before bed: Working right before you try to sleep can overstimulate your brain and cause anxiety; switch off from work 2 hours before going to bed, making time to wind down and relax.
  • 1 hour before bed: Screens emit blue light that confuse our brains into thinking its daytime, and the massive influx of information we receive when scrolling can be overstimulating. Try to avoid screen time for 1 hour before bed to allow your body the time it needs to feel ready for sleep.

Sources and further reading 

How to improve your sleep quality – spunout

How to get a better night's sleep – The Resilience Project

Sleep – The Wellbeing Thesis

How sleep can affect your mental health – spunout

Feeling physically safe and secure is vital for mental wellbeing and, by extension, academic performance. It’s vital that you feel safe on campus so that you can focus on your academic pursuits without the distraction of safety concerns.

Both UCD Belfield and Blackrock are large, open campuses with a population of over 30,000 students and staff, and many visitors who attend the numerous events that take place on campus throughout the year. The University is continuously working toward providing a safe environment for our community, creating a conducive environment for learning, researching and collaborating with peers and faculty. However, we all have our own role to play in protecting our own safety and belongings. For top safety guidelines, refer to the UCD Estates website.

If you are experiencing a safety issue and you’re not sure who to speak to, please refer to the Help section of the UCD website.

Dignity and respect

UCD is committed to the promotion of an environment for work and study that upholds the dignity and respect of all members of the UCD community and that supports your right to study and/or work in an environment that is free of any form of bullying, harassment or sexual misconduct (including sexual harassment and sexual violence). ‌

If you experience any of these, you are strongly encouraged to come forward to seek confidential support and guidance on the range of informal and formal options for resolving issues as appropriate. For more information, visit the UCD Dignity and Respect website. 

Social wellbeing

Research can feel all-consuming. While it’s not a bad thing to immerse yourself deeply in your subject area, it is crucial for your wellbeing to sometimes step away from your studies and focus your attention on other things in your life, such as your relationships. Feeling socially connected will help you to maximise your energy, boost your creativity and lift your mood, all of which will make you a better researcher.

In this section, you will find information on managing your relationship with your supervisor, devoting time to your social life and building a professional network.


The student-supervisor relationship is a critical component of your research journey, and both you and your supervisor have an active role to play in ensuring your relationship is a positive and constructive one.

The most common cause of tension in a student-supervisor relationship is mismatched expectations regarding, for example, frequency of meetings, level of direction and timelines for receiving feedback. Therefore, from the outset, you should aim to establish a firm understanding of each party’s role and clear expectations about how you each want the relationship to function.

Roles and responsibilities

Your supervisor’s role is to oversee your research training, manage your progress and provide you with pedagogical advice and support. At the beginning of your research, your supervisor will have far more research experience and subject knowledge than you. However, this doesn’t mean you should adopt a passive role in your relationship and wait for them to tell you what to do.

As a graduate research student, you are expected to demonstrate initiative in your research and commit to devoting the time, effort and energy necessary to engage in your programme. Remember that your supervisor is responsible for providing guidance as well as evaluating your performance, so be receptive to their suggestions and feedback.

Establishing clear expectations

Good, open communication is key to establishing what you expect from your supervisor and what they expect from you, to ensure potential sources of tension are addressed proactively.

Early in your relationship, some points you should discuss with your supervisor include:

  • Meetings: How often do you plan to meet and what form will these meetings take (e.g. in-person, online)?
  • Communication: How often will you communicate between meetings? Does your supervisor prefer to speak over the phone/Zoom or via email? How quickly do you expect a response to emails?
  • Supervisory style: How much direction do you expect from your supervisor? How much direction does your supervisor expect to exert over your research?
  • Timeline: What is the overall plan/timeline for your research? How will you agree on deadlines throughout the course of your programme?
  • Drafts: How often does your supervisor expect you to submit work and in what format (hard copy or electronically)? Does you supervisor expect to receive your work all at once or in smaller chunks? Do they expect drafts to be ‘works in progress’ or fairly polished pieces almost ready for publication?
  • Ethics: Which intellectual property and ethical issues are relevant (e.g. if you are working as part of a research team or on human/animal research)?
  • Progression milestones: What will be the role of your Research Studies Panel (RSP) members? How will progress be monitored? What are the requirements for your Stage Transfer Assessment (STA)?  
  • Professional development: What kind of skills and training do you need to complete your research (e.g. health and safety, statistical or research methods, IT training, language support etc.)? What are the opportunities for career development during your programme (e.g. teaching opportunities, conferences)?
  • Leave: How many annual leave days are you entitled to? Are there any specific periods in which you cannot take leave? Are there periods when you or your supervisor already have leave planned; will you keep in touch during this period?

Expectations will change as time goes on, and you should continue to revisit these questions as you progress through your programme.

Sources and further reading

Appendix 2: Guidelines for good practice between research students and supervisors in the Graduate Research Student Handbook

Working with your supervisor

Checklist for Starting as a Research Student in UCD

Supervision of Research Degree Students Policy

Effective communication – The Wellbeing Thesis

Maintaining your existing social networks

You’ll need people you can lean on as you navigate the challenges of graduate research. And while the people in your existing support system may not be able to help with your research (or possibly even understand it!), they are likely to be a valuable source of fun, encouragement and stress relief.

Maintaining a social network outside your research is not only helpful for your wellbeing but for your work and productivity as well. While at times it might feel frustrating to shift your attention away from your research, allowing yourself time to focus on other things and giving your brain other kinds of stimulation will mean that when you return to work, you will likely be more productive and better at problem-solving. Moreover, having friends and family members who ground you in the reality of day-to-day life outside of your research can help to bring any research-related challenges you are facing into perspective.

Building new social networks

If you are new to Dublin, you’ve lost touch with friends or colleagues from your previous institution, or you simply want to find people who understand the experience of graduate research, you will likely be looking to build a community within UCD. This can be more challenging for graduate research students than it is for undergraduates, who are likely to meet likeminded people organically in classrooms. As a graduate researcher, you may be spending a lot of time working alone and you might feel like you don’t have the time or energy to devote to seeking out new friendships. However, if you spend too much time alone, you’ll likely begin to feel lonely and isolated, which can negatively affect your mood, your ability to concentrate and your level of motivation. On the other hand, being socially connected can improve your overall sense of wellbeing and enhance your energy and academic performance.

Devoting some time to building a social network within UCD can boost your productivity along with your sense of belonging and is therefore well worth your while. There are many ways to meet new people in the University, including orientation events, research training events, research seminars and symposiums run by your or another School, public talks and debates, volunteering opportunities, and Students’ Union or PhD Society social events. Many Schools run informal coffee mornings for their graduate research students, as does the Postgraduate Research Student Advisor (these are usually advertised in the monthly email communication from the Dean of Graduate Studies). Additionally, some Schools have their own graduate research societies, such as Graduate Research Association of Medicine (GRAM) – check with your School to find one relevant to you. Lastly, there is an enormous range of societies and sports clubs in UCD, covering everything from debating to juggling, fencing to taekwon-do.

When pursuing opportunities to develop connections, remember that there will be instances where you attend an event or meeting and don’t meet anyone you click with. This is an inevitable part of a process; like all experiments – some will work and some won’t. Try not to let it discourage you from attending future events or putting yourself into situations where friendships could blossom.

Sources and further reading

UCD Graduate Welcome Guide

Using your existing support networks – The Wellbeing Thesis

Not Everyone Needs to Understand Your PGR Studies – The Wellbeing Thesis

Connecting with researchers who share your passion not only provides a sense of community but can be beneficial to you during your career. By the time you have completed your thesis, you will be an expert in your research area; and while some in your School may share similar interests, your exploration may lead you beyond their expertise. In this case, you may need to look further afield to build your professional network.

Fortunately, collaboration is intrinsic to research, and approaching fellow researchers in your field is expected. Remember that while you may have cited someone's work and hold them in high regard, they are human, just like you. Instead of seeing yourself as a student seeking help, consider yourself a peer in the research community. When you approach fellow researchers, identify potential mutual benefits. This could be asking for clarification so you can cite their work in an upcoming article, or you might want to share some of your published work with them or suggest a possible collaboration.

Conferences are an excellent avenue to meet other researchers and initiate these conversations. Alternatively, you might email the authors of some of the pieces most important to your work. In any case, think carefully about your purpose – what are you asking for, and what are you offering?

Finally, it may be worth looking out for opportunities to join webinars or online forums. 23 Things International, for example, groups participants into ‘pods’ with researchers from other institutions who share overlapping research interests, providing an excellent opportunity to expand your professional network internationally.

Sources and further reading

Building professional support networks – The Wellbeing Thesis

Differences and conflicts are a natural part of learning with others. The most effective way of handling any differences is to pre-empt them when establishing your relationship. But where problems do arise, it is a good idea to attempt to resolve them as early and as informally as possible. Don’t let things fester as this may lead to increased feelings of frustration and resentment, which will make the issue more difficult to resolve.

Step 1: Discuss the issue with your supervisor

Make an appointment with your supervisor, ideally face-to-face and allowing sufficient time for what might be a lengthy discussion. It is a good idea to bring some notes with you outlining what the issue is, any steps you have already taken to resolve it, and what you need from your supervisor to be able to overcome this obstacle.

Be prepared to state your needs. Remember, your supervisor isn’t a mind reader. It is your responsibility to clearly tell them what you need from them to be able to move forward. Listen to the other person’s side carefully and respectfully and be ready to offer solutions or problem-solving strategies.

During the meeting, it’s a good idea to note down the key points raised and any actions agreed. It’s important to make sure that nothing gets lost in the discussion and that both you and your supervisor have reached some kind of agreement about how the two of you will try to resolve the issues you have identified. If you and your supervisor have made some progress on the issue but you still have more to discuss, determine a date for a follow-up meeting

Step 2: Seek other sources of support for resolving the problem

Sometimes despite everyone’s best efforts, problems remain unresolved after these initial discussions. If your conversation with your supervisor didn’t go very well, or you are afraid to approach your supervisor for whatever reason, it is a good idea to seek help in addressing your concerns. This might involve making an appointment with your RSP (without your supervisor) to discuss specific problem-solving strategies. They may be able to provide you with a fresh perspective and suggest different ways for you to approach the situation. You could also approach the School Graduate Coordinator who may have some insight into the problem you are experiencing and be able to suggest solutions.

If you are experiencing a lot of stress in dealing with the situation, make sure you seek out sources of support.

Step 3: Consult the Head of School

If you cannot resolve the issue at this stage, make an appointment with the Head of School to discuss what options are available to you. Prepare for this meeting in the same manner you did for your initial meeting(s) with your supervisor. You should expect that whomever you consult will ask you if you have discussed your concerns with your supervisor and what, if any, steps you have taken to resolve them. At this stage you may need to decide whether you wish to continue with your supervisor or whether you want to explore the possibility of changing supervisors, referring to the Conflict Resolution for Supervisor(s) and Graduate Research Students Policy for guidance.

Sources and further reading

Appendix 2: Guidelines for good practice between research students and supervisors in the Graduate Research Student Handbook

Addressing conflict – The Wellbeing Thesis