The Big 5 Ep 8_Alyson Dodd_mixdown
11:09AM Jan 7, 2022
Hello and welcome to the Big Five podcasts from Northumbria psychology department. My name is Dr. Genavee Brown and I'll be your guide and to the mind, psychology students, alumni and researchers at Northumbria University. I'm a lecturer and researcher in the psychology department. Each week on this podcast I'll speak to a guest who is either a student alumni or researcher in the Northumbria psychology department. By asking them five big questions, we'll learn about their time studying psychology, and hopefully learn some big facts about human behavior and experience. This month we'll be specifically discussing several opportunities for funded PhD studentships, and the researchers who will be supervising these PhDs will come tell us about their work and how the PhD will extend their research. Today, I have the pleasure of speaking to my guest, Dr. Allison Dodd. Hello, Allison. Hi. Allison is an associate professor in the Psychology Department and is on the leadership team for the smart network for Student Well, being in the UK. She's one of the researchers who will be supervising a PhD. Her work focuses on student well being and mental health. Your work is very relevant right now there's lots of discussions in the media about student mental health, and how students are struggling. So can you tell us a little bit about why you got interested in this topic and some of the theories that you use in your research?
Yeah, sure. So actually, I came into this in a bit of a roundabout way, my research background originally, and still is on emotion regulation and bipolar disorder. So by emotion regulation, I mean, how people think about in respond to how they're feeling their everyday emotions and moods, and how that then has a subsequent impact on how they're feeling. And as part of that, I really started to get interested not just in people who had a bad diagnosis of a mental health condition, like bipolar disorder, but younger people who are at risk of developing mental health problems. And as you will know, televi in psychology, we often by default, recruit students into what we call analog studies, or non clinical studies, we were looking at clinical phenomena in a non clinical group to understand those processes better. And that just kind of got me to think well, you know, we end up with these these student populations, and this research student samples, not particularly representative, really all the general population that we would want to be. And actually students are a very specific group, they're kind of passing through typically passing through the peak age of onset for a number of severe mental health difficulties. And they also have really unique factors that influence their mental health and well being. So I kind of went from recruiting them as a kind of general population, non clinical group, in my research on emotion regulation in to be more interested in, like, I see those kinds of risk and resilience factors mental health that are very specific to the student experience. So no, I have my bipolar disorder and emotion regulation, research hacks, and also this separate research stream, specifically on student mental health and wellbeing. And my work there has primarily looked at what well being means in student populations, and what key people including students themselves, think we should be asking about when it comes to student well being with that kind of overall view, that there may be very specific needs, and precipitating factors for difficulties in students compared to other groups, including similar age peers who are not attending universities, because of the different challenges and life circumstances and pressures that students often face, including transitions, from school and college into university, often leaving home for the first time, deadlines, all of those things that, you know, we're aware that students are always passing through while they go through their studies. And I think in terms of theoretical perspectives, they're one of the key things that has driven my work on student mental health and well being is actually the separation of mental health and well being where we can view them as separate continuer. Very linked, obviously, highly correlated with each other strong relationships between the two. But we're mental health can be viewed as kind of a continuum from having mental health difficulties through to less severe difficulties to not having difficulties at all. Whereas well being is arguably a construct. That's a lot of different things, including emotions, including life satisfaction, how people feel they're getting on in relationships, and so on and so forth. So I've kind of come from that broad perspective, which is contentious. Not everybody thinks that they're separable like that. And as I say, I don't think they're completely separable, but when I talk about student well being, I mean something different to what I mean when I say student mental health.
Yeah, very interesting. Thank you for clarifying that. So what are some of these methodologies of studies that you talked about, you said that you actually ask students what wellbeing means to them? And are there any specific methods that you use to do that? Yeah, sure.
So it's really interesting again, because it's kind of a swerve away from my initial research trajectory, where I was primarily a quantitative research and have done very little qualitative work. Whereas with my research on student wellbeing, primarily that has been quantitative when I've actually spoken to students. So to give an example, I got funding from the British Academy to investigate what matters to students when they think about their quality of life. And so in order to be living the good life, what are the factors that kind of influence that and what would need to do? What would they need to be satisfied with across these different life domains in order to feel like the quality of life was good. And so we interviewed students one to one and their man's and focus groups to really get a picture of what students think is important to their quality of life. And so that's one key methodology that I've used for work with smarten, which you mentioned earlier, edit a scoping review. So that basically meant looking at all the published work on university student wellbeing in the UK, and looking at how wellbeing is defined and measured by researchers and by relevant organizations looking at student wellbeing when they're doing research on this topic. And we found a really mixed bag in terms of both how well being is conceptualized, so people define it in students, and what people use to measure it. So all sorts of different measures and questionnaires, a real lack of consistency across there. So in tandem with that, we also ran consultation and online consultation where we spoke to key people, including students, as they spoke to it was online. But we asked, we basically asked students and people working in higher education people working in relevant organizations, such as the voluntary sector, policy, and so on, if we're going to measure student mental health, what do you think is important? Like what are the key constructs that we should be looking at in order to get this full picture of student well being, you kind of looked at in tandem with the scoping review to see where really overlaps. So hot off the press, that report will be out. Very, super
exciting, might have to link to it in the show notes. I'm curious about what you said about what students said versus what researchers think. So is there anything exciting or surprising that you learned when you heard the student answers versus what kind of experts in the field said? And is there anything that you think researchers should pay more attention to?
So actually, we found that there was quite a lot of overlap across the different groups of people that we asked. So those groups were people working in student services, researchers and academics, and people working in linked organizations that aren't actually in universities that are relevant to universities and have questions themselves. And so the key factors across the board that people said we should be measuring and looking at when we're investigating student wellbeing, where what's known as hedonic well being, which is very much positive slash negative emotions and life satisfaction, and eudaimonic well being, which is the things such as feeling like like I was saying before about relationships or positive you're achieving what you want to achieve, and so on. And social support, coping so kind of feeling able to cope and feeling able to feeling that you have those coping strategies that you need to get by with both university life and non university life, and self belief. So things like self esteem, and self efficacy, and so on. So I think the only difference with students when looking across the different groups individually is that they didn't seem to value the self beliefs as much in terms of measuring well being. But for that group, there were two things that were equally important to the student group that didn't really creep in with the other groups. And that was sleep, feeling like sleep was adequate, and so on, and work life balance. And that actually, interestingly, is something that also came up in a number of different projects I've done relevant to both student mental health and student well being, when you speak to students about their experiences of well being. They always talk about fame, or at least in my experience, they always talk about that importance of finding a balance between studies work social life, other commitments, extracurricular activities, feeling like I need to be doing all of these things to both have the best university experience possible to do as well as I can do my degree but also to get all those great things on my CV. For future employability, while also like having a social life. And that comes up time and time again, that notion of finding a balance, it was one of the key things that came up in the student quality of life project as well as something that's just seemed really crucial to students. So I guess that's not that surprising. But it has been a really consistent finding that I have found across all different projects with different groups of students.
I'm curious about this idea of work life balance, and sleep, these things that students are interested in, do you have any ideas of how these findings might impact policy in the future? Or things that universities could implement to help students improve these these areas of their well being?
Yeah, well, interestingly, one of the other projects that I worked on that involve consulting with students about their own priorities, and was this key questions project through smarten? And and again, one of the one of the important research questions that students were seeing when you are doing research on our student mental health and wellbeing, we want you to look at this. And one of them again, was that work life balance, finding a balance. And so I think it's quite an untapped area, we know that students get very stressed, they have deadlines, they experience all these things, but not that much has been done to my knowledge about what we can actually do to tackle that. And I do think that's a really important area, we can't change that, really, we can't change the demands of student life. But what we can do is equip students with the ability to feel that they're better able to manage that, I think that's probably a crucial thing to be looking at. And as part of that, actually, the importance of having a routine and so on, and sleep feeds into that quite nicely. So I know that there is a body of research going on around sleep and actually supporting students with their sleep through interventions. I'm not involved in that, but that research is happening. So I think those are really important things moving forward. In terms of the importance of my own work in the area already. I think that the focus on defining and measuring facets of student well being sometimes doesn't sound that exciting, but how do you define a concept? And how do you measure it? Okay, the notion of conceptualization that operates operationalization, as we'll see in psychology. But actually, when we've talked to students, people working in higher education, it's meant that we've been able to produce this document that spoke about this guidance document, which will hopefully help people to make really informed decisions about how they measure wellbeing in the student population. So that could ultimately help people to understand the concept of wellbeing, how it may or may not differ from mental health, and kind of just to use more appropriate means of measuring student wellbeing in line with student priorities, what's important to them, what do they want to change what's important for them to feel good about in terms of good well being? And yeah, take a consistent approach and ultimately lead to more effective and efficient and better evaluation of things like well being initiatives that universities can follow. So I guess that's some of the the practical implications of the work I've done to date. But we'd obviously like to do a lot more particularly around the work life balance and helping students to manage
that. Well, maybe that leads us perfectly into where do you hope to go from here? I know you have a funded PhD studentship, which is advertised right now. And we'll link to that in the show notes for anyone who's interested. So can you tell us a bit more about what that PhD project aims to do?
Yes, definitely. So my work today is really looked at student wellbeing and what's important to measure to Luca when we're talking about student wellbeing. But when you look at the university as a whole, obviously, we have students, we have Student Services staff, we have people who work in as lecturers, we have managers, we have all sorts of people who are all part of the university community, whereas most research has looked at well being from a very individual perspective, either looking at well being in university students are looking at well being in academic staff, and not kind of looking at what what are the shared important facets of well being for those groups when we're looking at the university community as a whole. So community well being is quite a tricky construct to define it, you know, in all sorts of communities, including, you know, actual communities, physical communities, tones and so on. And it's, it's about kind of the economics, social, and political, environmental, cultural conditions that are important to a particular community and how satisfied they are with those things. conditions at the moment to get that kind of sense of community wellbeing. And nobody's really looked at this in universities as a unit as a community. But we're asked about community quite often the National Student Survey asks about community and our students satisfied with the community that they've experienced at the university. But I guess what this PhD is wanting to look at is what does that actually mean? What does it mean to students? What does it mean to staff who work in universities, and kids develop a kind of framework of university community well being drawing on those perspectives, and which is very in line with the whole university perspective that's currently being advocated by key organizations like student mains, universities, UK, and so on. So it's taken the university as a whole, rather than a very individual perspective, rather than just looking at people fill out a well being questionnaire. And then the sense of well being in that group is determined by aggregate scores across that group of people is it's kind of broader than that. So that's what we're interested in looking at?
And do you have any ideas about what kind of skills are successful candidates might have or what kind of prior knowledge they might need?
I think being really interested in listening to people's stories and understanding, you know, pick different people's perspectives and be able to obviously drive links between what people are saying, so those kind of qualitative skills, but also, there will be an element of quantitative work within this as well. So that's important. A background in psychology would be ideal, and obviously a very linked discipline because this is very much from a psychological perspective. And just, I guess, a passion for wellbeing in universities and for mental health research more broadly. Okay.
Yeah. Excellent. Well, thank you so much for telling us about your research and about this PhD studentship. Where can people find you online?
I'm on Twitter at Alison Dodd and annoyingly I always have to spell that because it's spelt with a y. So b r y. So when do you add and then obviously I have a profile on the Northumbria University website. Excellent.
Thank you. So listeners if you'd like to learn more about Northumbria psychology, check out our psychology department blog at Northumbria PS y.com. This is also where you can find the links to all the funded PhD studentships, which we are currently advertising. The deadlines for applications are February 18. You can follow the Psychology Department on Twitter as well at Northumbria PS y. If you'd like to be interviewed on the podcast or know someone who would please email me at Genavee firstname.lastname@example.org. Finally, if you'd like to podcast make sure to subscribe to our podcast on your listening app and give us a review and rating. I hope you've learned something on this voyage into the mind. Take care until next time