Despite having been at Imperial for three years, adjusting to PhD life brought its own new challenges, both academic and in terms of maintaining work-life balance, managing my motivation and mental health and finding time to devote to exercise. At the start, when I knew literally no one, I wished I had a way of finding support and friends in the wider PhD community. I wanted to meet people who have been at this point before and have had to adjust their approach to become effective in their research. Unfortunately, the lack of community spirit not just in the PhD circle but at Imperial as a whole means that its research students, who are responsible for a significant portion of the academic output of the college, are suffering in silence. Struggling with motivation, mental health and resilience are no new problems to PhD students; a ‘part of the job’ some might argue. But your Graduate Students’ Union (GSU) is here to support you to have the most enjoyable and effective time at Imperial. We want to build a community of PhD students which is collaborative and supportive in all aspects of PhD life. I was keen to get involved and help build this community but, at the moment, it’s a bit of an uphill battle.

Before the Christmas break, about five of your elected PhD representatives. a sadly low number (although we did get extra pizza, mince pies and mulled wine), met to discuss some of the big problems facing PhD students. Apart from spending almost 20 minutes complaining about how we are all slowly freezing to ice cubes in our labs and offices – which the GSU president has agreed to raise further – overwhelmingly it was agreed that building a college community where PhD students between faculties can meet, interact, make friends or even more (speed dating was even suggested) would make for a more positive atmosphere! The GSU are working hard to promote cross-faculty interaction, so watch out for information about ‘GSU Connect’ and ‘GSU Black Tie Event’ all to come in the new year. For those of you in the Faculty of Natural Sciences and looking for a New Year’s resolution which will improve your mental and physical health, consider joining me and the faculty running club: we meet outside SAF at 5:30pm every Tuesday (and ultimately end up in H-Bar). Your GSU is here for you so, if there are any suggestions you have, talk to your PhD representative or Academic and Welfare Officers for your faculties.

Multiple faculties are struggling with open discussions about both positive and poor supervision of PhD students. The GSU is looking to hear from its students so we can share good supervision practice with the Graduate School and College. One problem we discussed was the feeling in multiple departments that PhD students are underprepared for supervision of undergraduate or Masters project students; we suggested that college should make it mandatory for supervisors to inform PhD students well in advance when they have to supervise a project student. Also, we figured that it would be good to have access to additional training for PhD students by the Graduate School who have to supervise.

As we look into the new year it is also a good time to remind all members of our community about the mental health support on offer; Imperial College Counselling Service, Union Advice Centre and Imperial College Health Centre are all offering services open to all students. Every department has qualified Mental Health First Aiders which can be identified by their green lanyards. The Chaplaincy also offers courses in mindfulness and tea, cake and chat, exclusively for PhD students, happening once a month from 12.30-14.00 (the next one is 24th January).

We hope to see you at some of our events this term and encourage everyone to get involved in the Imperial Community!