Sep 28, 2017 at 12:00am ET By Joanna Hughes

Until recently, limited data was available regarding the connections between mental health, well-being, and PhD students in France. Now, two new interlinked studies led by evolutionary biology, genetics and bioinformatics expert Gabriel Marais offer invaluable insights into where French PhD students stand in terms of well-being, along with the positive role interventions can play on student well-being.

High Stress, Low Well-Being

In setting out to measure the mental health and well-being of French PhD students, the first study revealed some troubling findings: “A large fraction of the PhD students experience abnormal levels of stress, depression and anxiety, and their mean well-being score is significantly lower than that of a British reference sample.”

To what did researchers attribute the low scores of French PhD students? “Career uncertainty, perceived lack of progress in the PhD, and perceived lack of competence” -- all related to, the study suggests, cultural differences between PhD studies in France and in the UK.

Reversing the Trend

The follow-up study suggests that there is hope, however, for increased well-being among PhD students in France. Its primary question: “How could we improve the level of well-being in this population?”

Specifically, the second study “explored the feasibility and efficacy of a positive psychological intervention (PPI) with French PhD students. Using an internally developed program called CARE, it reinforces positive psychology practiced aimed at promoting well-being. The results were heartening.  After completing the seven-week program, participants showed a “strong and significant” reduction in anxiety, as well as weaker improvements across other measures, including sleep problems, stress, and depression.

Ultimately, the report’s conclusion is a promising one. “Our work both provides data on mental health and well-being of French PhD students that were lacking and also assessed a PPI for PhD students,” write the researchers. “These data will be useful to start mental health and well-being programmes for French PhD students and fuel evidence-based policies of universities for PhD students.”





Joanna worked in higher education administration for many years at a leading research institution before becoming a full-time freelance writer. She lives in the beautiful White Mountains region of New Hampshire with her family.

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