Dr Amanda Branson, Psychology and Clinical Language Sciences
Year of activity: 2014-15


11176This project focused on identifying challenges faced by mature students studying alongside full time employment, and developing ameliorative practices and resources. Structured interviews conducted with 40 current students and alumni revealed barriers including weak IT and study skills and role conflict. Modifications have been made to interview and induction processes, and online resources are being developed to support students; work continues in this regard.


  • To gain an understanding of the barriers experienced by postgraduate students.
  • To design and deliver interventions aimed at supporting students to achieve their academic potential, and to foster a supportive, inclusive culture that promotes student well-being.


The Charlie Waller Institute (CWI) in the School of Psyhology and Clinical Language Sciences delivers postgraduate training in Evidence Based Psychological Therapies. Trainees typically attend training at the University of Reading alongside full time employment as therapists in NHS Improving Access to Psychological Therapies (IAPT) services. Over the course of five years Amanda Branson observed that these students face considerable barriers to the successful completion of their training, with some reporting a negative effect of training on their well-being.


Current students and alumni were contacted by email and invited to be interviewed. An overwhelming response was received, resulting in 40 interviews being conducted between July and September in 2014. Students were asked about their motivations to return to study, the challenges they faced (clinically and academically), the support they received and that would have been beneficial, their experiences of being a student at the University of Reading, and their emotional well-being. Those who had completed training were asked to reflect on their experiences and impart advice to future students and indicate improvements that could be made. Interviews were transcribed and explored to identify repeating themes. These themes were discussed with programme directors and clinical tutors, resulting in some immediate changes being implemented across the programmes, from interview to induction and across the training period. The process of developing on-line resources for students continues.


The first goal of this case study was to gain an understanding of the barriers faced by postgraduate students, and this goal was surpassed: while the initial target was to conduct 10 interviews, 40 interviews were conducted, giving both breadth and depth of knowledge and understanding of the experiences of a very heterogeneous population of students. The impacts were several fold:

  • Staff obtained a greater understanding of the challenges faced by these students, enabling them to make some small, yet meaningful changes to the delivery of training, particularly in regard to student induction, and delivery of study skills/study support.
  • Students have been given additional tutorials in accessing e-systems (such as Blackboard Learn and the library), and using Microsoft Word effectively for academic writing. Feedback from these training sessions is good. Examples of ‘exemplary’ work have been uploaded to Blackboard Learn to give students some insight into what makes a good piece of academic work.


This case study was made successful by the level of support received by students, which exceeded expectation. Students appreciated that time and resources were being given to improving the experience of their peers. Course tutors were very engaged with the outcomes of the interviews, and were keen to implement changes immediately (particularly the induction process).

To date, fewer study support resources have been developed than were planned. Those focusing on clinical skill have been delayed due to confidentiality issues regarding patient data, but CWI are currently exploring alternative approaches. Over the time within which the project was being planned, the University study advisors developed some excellent video tutorials, including referencing and critical thinking. These topics have not been reproduced and links to relevant tutorials have been added to Blackboard Learn. The technology required to develop resources (such as Camtasia screencasting software) has been procured; therefore there are no limits to the on-going benefit of the project.

Follow up

Work continues on the development of study support resources. The ultimate goal is to create an e-library of resources to support academic and hopefully clinical work, though this may take a greater time than was initially proposed. The programme administrative team are due to receive training on the use of Camtasia, which will enable them to develop tutorials relating the coursework submission process, for example. Administrators have also been trained in the use of Endnote, so that a reference-bank can be developed.