Knitting and Wellbeing

As part of Wellbeing Week we thought it would be great to hear from PGRs and ECRs who are doing research in to wellbeing. This post is from Mirja Rutger – a PhD student in the Medical School doing research into the relationship between knitting and health and wellbeing.

Why knitting?

It all started with me noticing various claims particularly in online media about how knitting is good for your health and wellbeing. A realisation that I personally use yarn based crafts to improve my sense of wellbeing may of course to some extent have contributed to a cognitive bias in terms of the perceived frequency of those types of claims, but I couldn’t help wondering about the research behind them. It turned out that the so called evidence base was not very strong (this is an understatement). The idea for my PhD was born!

Through happy coincidences, the right contacts (read supervisor) and the open-mindedness of the Medical School PhD competition board the project was to my surprise funded. Now in the final year after extensive fieldwork including participant observation in a number of knitting groups and interviews with knitting group participants as well as group facilitators I think I am better positioned to answer the ‘why knitting?’ question I have so often been asked.

Think long-term conditions and mental health issues; think social prescribing, but foremost think people taking responsibility for their own wellbeing regardless of if they have a health condition or not. This is the context where I would put knitting/groups.

It seems that engaging in knitting/groups may be used in a very specific way beyond it being a relaxing and creative hobby. Knitting groups seems to have Social and Mental Wellbeing benefits that may be of value for people (read mostly women) with chronic or mental ill health. They offer an opportunity for social connection and in the case of knitting for loved ones or for charity being able to make a contribution even from your home or hospital bed.

In the spirit of the wellbeing week and referring to what may be the most obvious benefit of knitting in terms of relaxation and stress relief, I would like to end with an invitation to other PhD students interested in getting together for lunchtime crafts sessions at St Luke’s. What I have in mind is a bi-weekly gathering where you bring your own craft material and we instead of procrastinating in front of our computers, proCRAFTinate* together!

Please get in touch and men are welcome too!

*Definition of procraftinate: the act of putting off a task by crafting instead [Note: let’s keep it time limited shall we?!]

For further information about Mirja and her research project, please visit her Medical School profile.

The First Doctoral College Wellbeing Week!

Hello! And a very warm welcome to the first Doctoral College Wellbeing Week for PGRs and ECRs.

Wellbeing Week was born because we recognise that research is stressful. Some of that stress is useful, as it provides us with the energy and motivation needed to continue working, and working at our best. However, not all stress is ‘useful’ stress. And there are all sorts of other wellbeing issues associated with working in a research environment. These can range from not leading a healthy lifestyle – working too late, not eating right – to more serious mental health issues.

The purpose of Wellbeing Week is to give you the space to thing about YOU – to do a little health check about how you’re feeling and how you’re coping. Hopefully you’ve seen our mindful colouring sheets and self-care postcards popping up around campus. These are to encourage you to do small things to take care of yourself. This week, we’ll also be running some bigger things to help you do this – from wellbeing workshops and exercise classes to research talks on some of the cutting edge work happening in this area at Exeter. The best thing about this is that’s all exclusively for PGRs and ECRs, and absolutely free! We have events running at Streatham, St. Luke’s and Penryn so do take a look at the Doctoral College website for information about whats happening.

We  know that a fair proportion of our students are not campus based, so we’re running an online campaign too. It’s in two parts – the first is our twitter campaign, where we want to challenge you to take a break, go outside and have a 5 minute walk. When you complete your walk, either tweet us using #DCWellbeing or visit our wellbeing week website to register your walk. For every register, we will donate £1 to the charity Mind. We’ll be announcing at the end of the week how much money we’ve raised!

The second part of our online campaign is an online wall, on a password protected area of the website, where you can anonymously share your experiences of being a PGR or ECR at Exeter. This is an opportunity for you to share how you feel studying and/or working at Exeter, and what the key wellbeing issues are for you.

In line with this, we thought we’d kick off Wellbeing Week by sharing some resources which we find really useful. You can find all these, and more, on our ELE page.

These blog posts really helpful in thinking about the up and downs, and general stresses of being a researcher:

Sometimes it’s hard not to feel alone. These blogs really useful in helping connect with others in similar situations:

And on twitter:

Got any more? We’d love to hear from you!

We hope you find these resources and our online and face-to-face activities useful. Keep an eye on the blog and @ExeterDoctoral for more posts, resources and discussion throughout the week!

Kelly Preece

Researcher Development Programme Manager (PGRs)

Great Ideas Start With Discussion (GISWD)

Did you know that a group exists where you can come and share ideas in a friendly environment? Do you often feel the need for a casual space to discuss your research ideas?

GISWD is run by PGR students for PGR students as a platform for friendly yet constructive exchange and communication. We were set up for PGR students to have a forum to discuss issues relevant to our PGR journeys in a broad range of disciplines, which are:

  • Detailed enough for answering specific questions;
  • Insightful based on previous experiences of PGR graduates;
  • Resourceful in signposting to most relevant parties;…

Our story so far:

The GISWD was set up in 2015 by a group of enthusiastic PhD candidates based at the University of Exeter from successful funding gained from the ESRC.

In the last 2 years the initiative has held sessions on: sharing conference experiences, research methodologies, as well as insights into publishing and featured guest speakers.


One of our landmark events was a conference based on Collaboration, which celebrated the successes of postgraduate research students from the universities of Bristol, Bath and Exeter.


The day involved engagement across a wide range of platforms which included: keynote addresses, student presentations, a poster competition and networking. A number of students won a poster prize presented by Prof. Michelle Ryan, Director of Doctoral College (University of Exeter).

Our upcoming events:

‘The Interdisciplinary PhD’

Tuesday 21st February 12:30-13:30 in XFi Seminar Room B.

We will discuss topics such as Interdisciplinary definitions, benefits and challenges of interdisciplinary research at various stages, including the Literature Review and Methodology. Questions and discussions are encouraged. Lunch is provided.

 ‘Careers inside and outside of academia’

Tuesday 21st of March 12:30-13:30 at Building One (Business school), Kolade Teaching Room.

We will have two guest speakers from the Research development office who will give a short talk. The session will be informal with students having the opportunity to share experiences, pose questions and reflect on their future plans after the PhD.

Other exciting events planned too please watch this space.

This year we have a fantastic line-up of sessions for you guys with free lunch included. We hope to see you in anyone of them!

Be there or be square (literally staring at the computer for too long will make your eyes square :-))!

The GISWD Committee

For any enquiries, please drop us an email:


The GISWD is recruiting!

Are you looking to engage with fellow students during your PGR journey? The GISWD committee are looking for new members, if you would like to join please send your expressions of interest to the email address below.

For any enquiries, please drop us an email:


Come and join us in a relaxed environment where you can openly discuss your PGR journey and get well informed of and prepared for the challenges that might come with it!

Who says PGR is a lonely journey? Let’s make it together!