Student resilience

A recent scoping review of the pedagogical literature offered clarification on the conceptualization of student resilience in Higher Education, defining it as ‘a dynamic process of positive adaptation in the face of adversity or challenge. This process involves the capacity to negotiate for, and draw upon, psychological, social, cultural and environmental resources’ (Brewer et al., 2019). This highlights the role resilience has to play in enabling students to adapt successfully to periods of adversity, and ideally, allowing students to not only survive these periods, but to grow, learn and further develop skills and resilience into the future.

A team from APHF (Dr Amy Irwin, Dr Joy Perkins, Dr Ceri Trevethan & Dr Heather Branigan) were awarded a Learning and Teaching Enhancement Program (LTEP) grant to conduct research examining student perceptions of resilience, and to develop a micro-credential course designed to support student resilience at the University of Aberdeen.  To date the project has employed two student interns to conduct a systematic review of the resilience literature, and a series of focus groups with University students to discuss resilience and coping strategies.

Understanding resilience

The systematic review (conducted by intern Caitlin Tawse) highlighted that resilience is a multifaceted concept that encompasses the following aspects:

  • The ability to adapt when things go wrong.
  • The ability to recover function (physical and cognitive) in the face of losses.
  • The heightened likelihood of success despite environmental adversity.
  • Coping with academic critique and pressure.

An important aspect of resilience is that it can be supported and trained, and as such the planned micro-credential course will encompass a range of tried and tested resilience activities designed to strengthen resilience.

Resilience can be understood as a graduate attribute, an aspect of metacognition, relevant to mental health and wellbeing and an internal characteristic.

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Student perspectives on resilience

Student intern Sophie Westhead conducted a series of five student focus groups from a mixture of disciplines and year groups.

Research Aims:

  • Understand how University of Aberdeen students conceptualise resilience.
  • Investigate the main factors that could adversely impact resilience.
  • Investigate strategies used to enhance / maintain resilience.
  • Assess awareness of current mechanisms of support.

Preliminary findings:

Opinions on resilience:

  • Keeping on going even when things get tough.

What could adversely impact student resilience?

  • The impression of not meeting expectations.
  • Problems building up over time (and not being addressed).
  • Financial strain.
  • Lack of support from peers / staff.
  • Moving to a new place (and not knowing anyone).
  • Adapting to a new learning environment.
  • Issues with social media.

Resilience strategies:

  • Taking time out to relax.
  • Planning ahead.
  • Reframing negative experiences in a positive light.
  • Asking for more academic feedback.
  • Hobbies / activities / sports.

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