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Source: Massey University

Some of the doctoral students with Professor Tracy Riley (seated): Stefi Romero from Paraguay (left), Ermanno Brosch from Austria, Thu Nguyen from Vietnam, Aniek Hilkens from the Netherlands, Kate Andrew from South Africa and New Zealand, Daniel Uhle from Germany, Iqra Zulifqar from Pakistan and Esther Onguta from Canada.

The Graduate Research School has been trialling a garden for doctoral students at the Manawatū campus over recent months.

The garden was developed and cultivated by students outside the GRS office in the Courtyard Complex, which enjoys sunny sheltered conditions.

The head of the school, Dean Research Professor Tracy Riley, says the idea came from a visit to the University of Glasgow where a garden group has been running for some time.

“The garden developed as a way to support mental health and wellbeing in the doctoral student community,” Professor Riley says. “International studies show that one in three doctoral candidates experience poor mental health during their studies – usually depression and anxiety, and we know anecdotally this to be the case at Massey, too.

“I worked with our gardeners and GRS to develop the garden, which is now being led by a core group of students organising weekly events. They not only tend the garden, but they have been sharing food – a weekly salad bar, pesto-making, spinach dips, calendula bars etc – and creating crafts like painted stones to label plants.

“This gets them out of the office or lab, outdoors, being creative, sharing, learning, which is important to maintain that balance of good health and wellbeing in the doctorate. They are also developing leadership skills as organisers – have their own facebook page, gardening calender, etcetera.”

She points out the initative aligns with Massey’s commitment to sustainability. “To my knowledge, this is the most successful Massey student garden – that is what the gardeners tell me.”

Aniek Hilkens, from the Netherlands, who completed her PhD on financial management in the New Zealand dairy industry in December, is a regular participant in the garden activities.

Ms Hilkens, the scholar development coordinator for the school, says it is a great place to connect with other students and creates a feeling of being part of a community. “Food is a very simple yet powerful tool to connect people.

“Achieving something in a PhD can feel very abstract and results are often intangible. Growing plants and food are very tangible results and thus rewarding. It’s a great conversation-starter; through food you learn a lot about different cultures and make new friends from different parts of the campus. It’s also great for informal connection between students and the GRS staff so it creates a feeling of being part of a bigger community than just students.”

“During the gardening sessions we also talk about challenges we have in our PhD or other parts of our lives, so the garden also serves as an informal support group.”

Amira Mahmoud from Egypt found gardening therapeutic and good for stress relief. “Often when I feel overwhelmed, I take a walk to the garden and weed or water the plant or simply sit and watch it for a while and that is enough to put me in happy mood.”

Professor Riley is working with Elizabeth Adams and Margaret Sutherland at the University of Glasgow to facilitate a roundtable discussion at the United Kingdom Council of Gradaute Education annual conference later this year to share what has been learned from the gardens.

PhD student Charline Lormand, from France, working in the garden.

The garden was developed and cultivated by students outside the Graduate Research School office in the Courtyard Complex at the Manawatū campus.