Finding peace in a frantic PhD

Katey Warran is the recipient of an AHRC Creative Economy Studentship led by The University of Edinburgh in partnership with Queen Margaret University, and the Edinburgh Festival Fringe Society. She is interested in bringing together the arts and sciences, with experience across a range of disciplines including arts and health, cultural sociology, philosophy and music. You can find her SGSAH profile here  and follow her on Twitter here.

As a doctoral student receiving funding from the AHRC Doctoral Training Partnership, I am fortunate to be a member of the Scottish Graduate School for Arts & Humanities and to benefit from their Future Research Leaders programme. Part of this programme entails attending an annual residential training event each year, with our most recent residential taking place in Millport, Isle of Cumbrae to focus on ‘wellbeing and self-care’.

In light of the increasing awareness surrounding the need for graduate students to have greater support in relation to wellbeing and mental health, SGSAH are doing a great job equipping students with the tools needed to survive a PhD!

Here’s a few of my top reflections from the trip:

1. Being with nature

Research shows that spending time in green spaces or being with animals can benefit both mental and physical wellbeing. Travelling to and from Millport we saw a dolphin, rabbits roamed the island, we took walks along the beach, and we learned about the Flora and Fauna of the island in a seminar led by a member of staff at The Field Centre.


Millport beach, taken on the way to a group trip to the local pub

2. Cycling

We all know that exercise can be a good stress reliever, but cycling around an island in a large group, chatting whilst cycling and stopping to admire the views and skim stones, is the best form of exercise. If you have a busy mind that finds it hard to stop working, exercising with others is a perfect remedy.

3. Mindfulness

A form of meditation that requires paying attention to your breath and being in the moment, mindfulness can sound quite unsuitable for the minds of doctoral students dedicating their lives to research, but it is for this exact reason that it is needed for those minds that cannot stop thinking! We had the chance to just accept our thoughts and be with them on this beautiful island.

4. Socialising

It can feel a little overwhelming to spend a lot of time with a group of people you don’t know all that well, including sharing rooms, but this was one of the best things about Millport – the chance to just be around other people and to get to know one another. Doing a PhD can be a solitary existence and It’s important to remind ourselves how much it can help to just talk to other people who are going through similar experiences.

5. Choice

Aside from presenting our research to one another and lectures from previous doctoral students about their experiences, there was little that was compulsory for this trip. If you wanted, you could read a book in the library or sit in your room alone, go on a boat trip with others, build sand castles or go crabbing. The choice was ours! It sounds simple but being able to make decisions about the things that will help your own wellbeing is vital because It isn’t the same for everyone.


Postcard from Millport, given as a gift from SGSAH to post to ourselves

We know there are structural issues with the academic environment that may cause mental health problems or exacerbate underlying conditions, but being on Millport was a chance to step outside of these problems for a brief moment and ask, ‘what can I do to feel better?’

We are always seeking new guest bloggers! If you have an idea for a blog post or would like to informally discuss writing for the SGSAH blog please get in touch with Brittnee via email at or connect with the blog on Twitter



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