Qualitative studies have the potential to evoke emotional distress among participants, particularly where sensitive issues are explored. Consequently, novice qualitative researchers become well versed in strategies to minimise risk to participants. But what happens to the novice researcher when they are confronted with the emotional account of a participant? While research practices consistently serve to protect the wellbeing of participants, concern for researcher wellbeing is often overlooked. This study explored doctoral students’ experiences of undertaking qualitative research projects with vulnerable populations, and the ways in which this influenced their emotional wellbeing. Semi-structured interviews were conducted with six doctoral candidates attending a public Australian university. The analysis shed light on the ways in which doctoral students navigate their emotional wellbeing, pointing to a range of challenges and resources. This article discusses potential intervention points throughout doctoral candidature, while pondering deeper questions about the responsibilities of universities to support early career researchers.


wellbeing, doctoral, student, qualitative, vulnerability, higher degree

Author Bio(s)

Dr. Stefania Velardo is a Senior Lecturer in Health Education at Flinders University. Her work centres on the use of oral and visual qualitative methods to investigate social, cultural, and economic influences on people's relationships with food. Stefania is experienced in conducting qualitative health research with marginalised and vulnerable groups, with a particular interest in inclusive child-centred methodologies. She also works with other vulnerable groups including older Australians and socioeconomically disadvantaged communities. Please direct correspondence to stefania.velardo@flinders.edu.au.

Dr. Sam Elliott is an award-winning early career researcher and Senior Lecturer in Sport, Health and Physical Activity in the College of Education, Psychology and Social Work at Flinders University. He has published 32 peer-reviewed outputs and received over $240K in combined grants, tenders and consultancies. Sam is an active member of the Sport, Health, Activity, Performance and Exercise (SHAPE) Research Centre and invited reviewer for 13 international journals. Please direct correspondence to sam.elliott@flinders.edu.au.

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