Debbie Kinsey is a PhD researcher at Exeter Medical School examining museum programmes for people with dementia, with a particular focus on how including caregivers has an impact on the person with dementia, the carer, and the relationship between them. Her broader research interests include living well with chronic health conditions (particularly those acquired in adulthood), the arts and health, and accessibility in its many forms.


Dealing with a chronic illness or disability as a PGR involves many of the same issues as those without an illness/disability – finding balance between work and life, managing differing expectations, project managing (perhaps for the first time), etc. But those issues are often magnified for those of us who also have a health condition. For example, you may be more likely to need to take sick days or need to work less hours in a day. And there are also additional issues like navigating support services (or lack thereof depending on what you need), considering whether to disclose to supervisors or wider teams, and dealing with working in perhaps a very different way to your colleagues.

It can be quite isolating at times, particularly if you need to work from home or others around you don’t understand the difficulties of doing a research degree with a chronic illness or disability. But there are more of us out there than it can seem.

I’ve started a network for PGRs at Exeter with a chronic illness or disability, so we can find peer support, share experiences, and perhaps think about if there’s anything we would want to try to change or add to in the way the university (or funders) supports PGRs. It’s new, so we’ll work out what we want as we go. We might want to stick to just having an email list where people can post, or we could have a some coffee meet-ups, or we could invite university staff to talk to us about how they navigate academia with health conditions, or we could lobby the university to make changes in policy based on our experiences. It’s completely open and up to us.

Initially, the email list is set up on JiscMail. It’s set to private, which means that only those on the list can read the archive (past messages), and the list can’t be found in searches on the JiscMail site. The privacy settings are intentional, so that people feel able to talk openly. And though the doctoral college supports this network, it’s not run by them or any member of staff, which, again, hopefully helps people to feel they can be open without worrying that supervisors (or potential future employers) will read it. But we can decide as a group if we want to change that in the future.

If anyone wants to join, you can sign up via the JiscMail link below. Because the list is private, you have to be ‘approved’ by me to join, but I will do this automatically for Exeter University email addresses. You don’t need to provide ‘proof’ of your condition; you don’t need to be ‘bad enough’; you don’t need to have disclosed an illness or disability to the university or your supervisors. All that’s required is that you feel you would benefit from peer support and/or networking around coping with chronic illness or disability as a PGR at Exeter.

Click this link to sign up to the JiscMail.

Please feel free to email or tweet Debbie if you have any questions: