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New programmes offer peer support for underrepresented postgraduate researchers

New programmes offer peer support for underrepresented postgraduate researchers

Two new cross-institutional peer support programmes for postgraduate researchers (PGRs) from marginalised and underrepresented groups in higher education have been launched by the GW4 Alliance universities of Bath, Bristol, Cardiff and Exeter, as part of GW4 Connect.

The peer support programme for neurodivergent postgraduate researchers will offer 16 participants the chance to join an 11-month programme, and work with neurodiversity experts and peers from across the region, to create safe space outside of institutional structures, for honest conversations exploring neurodivergence.  

Currently, there are uneven levels of institutional support for neurodivergent postgraduate researchers. Whilst the higher education sector is rapidly expanding its understanding of the impact of neurodivergence on the student population, most of this effort is concentrated on those studying at undergraduate level. 

As a result, neurodivergent postgraduate researchers may be left to navigate a system that can create barriers to success, through unconscious bias and attitudes, culture, environment, policy and process.  

Through peer-to-peer facilitated discussion sessions, participants will have the opportunity to explore strategies that they, and others, have developed, as well as the strengths that they bring to postgraduate research as neurodivergent individuals.  

Attendees will also explore the challenges and common experiences of balancing study, research and daily life as neurodivergent postgraduate researchers. The group is designed to support attendees to co-create solutions, exchange practice and wisdom, and build a community around common experience. 

The programme has been co-designed and facilitated by Lucy Smith, Founder of Inclusive Change, an organisation that champions greater understanding of neurodiversity in the workplace, and Asha Sahni, Founder and Chair of the University of Bristol’s Neurodiversity Staff Network. They said: “The peer support programme for neurodivergent PGRs is a positive step to recognising the strengths of neurodivergent researchers.  Whether participants have a formal diagnosis or self-identify as neurodivergent, our programme is committed to delivering a strengths-based approach, designed to empower PGRs to share diverse perspectives, grow their networks, explore their strengths and reach their potential. With greater understanding and awareness of neurodiversity in Higher Education, we will see stronger teams, improved outcomes and greater resilience.” 


The peer support programme for postgraduate researchers with disabilities and long-term health conditions will offer 12 participants the opportunity to join a 10-month programme where they will have open, safe and honest conversations with peers on disability and long-term health conditions.  

Despite the protections embedded within the 2010 Equality Act, institutional support for PGRs with a disability or a long-term health condition can be challenging to navigate, and what might be considered reasonable adjustments at undergraduate level rarely translate to the postgraduate research experience. 

This new peer support scheme aims to create a safe space for postgraduate researchers to reflect on commonalities and challenges experienced by those with long-term health conditions and disabilities. The programme will use coaching and action learning set methodology to discuss topics such as disability and identity, personal definition of disability, ableism, discrimination, accessibility, reasonable adjustment, funding, advocacy and change, with the aim of increasing understanding and developing possible actions to address these issues. 

The programme has been co-designed and facilitated by Joanna Hurry, an experienced coach specialising in working with people with disabilities and long-term health conditions. Joanna said: “Academia needs to embrace diversity and inclusion and recognise and value individual differences. For people with a disability or long-term health condition, higher education can present a range of challenges. We have created a programme that will draw on shared experiences, and peer support, as powerful catalysts for success. This programme will provide a unique and enriching experience that empowers participants to achieve their goals, collectively redefining what’s possible in academia.” 


GW4 Connect 

The Networks form part of the GW4 Connect initiative, a suite of Equity, Diversity and Inclusion activities which have been developed by GW4 to bring together researchers from the universities of Bath, Bristol, Cardiff and Exeter to meet, support and learn from each other. 

Previous GW4 Connect programmes have focused on providing targeted support for PGRs from the Global Majority, as well as those with parental responsibilities. 

Sabrina Fairchild, GW4 Talent and Skills Programme Manager, said: “GW4 Connect has provided a vital mechanism for the development of networks offering peer support, guidance and resources for postgraduate researchers from diverse backgrounds across the Alliance. Moreover, it has allowed us to work directly with our PGR communities to create systems of support that advance equity, diversity and inclusion in higher education. We are thrilled to be able to extend the scheme and offer two new innovative programmes, which have been carefully designed with specialist development coaches, to deliver enhanced support to PGRs who identify as neurodivergent, as well as those with long-term health conditions and disabilities.” 


How to apply  

Deadline for applications for both schemes is 12pm on Wednesday, 27 March 2024. The application can be completed via an online JISC survey. If you need another method of completing the application form, please email and we will work with you to address your needs. Applications will be reviewed by a panel of professional service leads from GW4 universities to select participants. 

To be eligible to apply, participants must: 

  • Be a postgraduate researcher (PhD or Professional Doctorate) at a GW4 university past probation, but not in final year.  
  • Agree to participate in all elements of the programme.  
  • Have the approval of your supervisor to engage with the programme in full. 

Applicants can only apply to one of the GW4 Connect EDI programmes. 

Find out more at: 

University of Bath
University of Bristol
Cardiff University
University of Exeter