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The Peer Support Programme was developed in recognition of the essential role students play in supporting and encouraging one another on a day-to-day basis throughout their time at university. NDS’ own Helen Stark discusses her experience of becoming a Peer Supporter.

Two people chatting over a cup of tea

Why become a Peer Supporter?

I hadn’t heard of Peer Supporters when Eleanor, the Graduate Studies Administrator for our department, approached me with the opportunity. I’m always happy to help someone out when they’re struggling with something, but I didn’t have any formal training, so I thought it would be interesting to have more knowledge about how to offer advice.

I think wellbeing can be tricky for students, especially at the moment. As a DPhil student, you’re very dependent on those around you in order to perform, so if you’re having trouble with someone in a senior position that you’re working with, how do you deal with that? Do you make a complaint? That’s unlikely. I’ve been lucky enough not to have had this issue, but I could see how difficult it would be to navigate something like that. Also, a lot of people come to Oxford specifically to study or do research, so a lot of people are without their support network and don’t necessarily know people here—Peer Supporters provides everyone with the opportunity to speak to someone.

The Training

To become a Peer Supporter, I had to fill in a form explaining why I wanted to take the training etc. The training consisted of 24 hours of sessions spread over four days (it’s usually done over 10 days, but was adapted for my cohort to be run virtually). Although it was run through the University of Oxford Counselling Service, Peer Supporters are not trained counsellors! We are trained to listen, support and signpost to other support services.

How does it work?

Everything is confidential. Unless I have a reason to believe someone may be a danger to themselves or others, I wouldn’t disclose any information about the interactions I’ve had as a Peer Supporter. 

There are a few ways to reach out to a Peer Supporter. You could browse the Peer Supporters in your college, department or division and reach out directly, or, if you’re in the Medical Sciences Division, you can email msdpeers@medsci.ox.ac.uk, who will put you in touch with a Peer Supporter outside of your department. It’s a really flexible scheme and there’s no paperwork or records kept, so there won’t be anything to document that you’ve used the service.

You can meet with a Peer Supporter in whatever way suits you, whether that’s a phone call or a chat over coffee. It’s all very flexible and easy!

Why talk to a Peer Supporter?

It can be a confusing system in Oxford. Being part of a department and a college can make people feel unsure about where to find support, but Peer Supporters are a great place to start. All I can say is if you’ve considered reaching out, follow that thought up. It doesn’t have to be an intense conversation—you can simply meet someone for a coffee or a walk—and sharing your concerns with someone could offer a new perspective. It’s the old cliché of “a problem shared is a problem halved.”

Every Peer Supporter I’ve met has been lovely. Because it’s a voluntary position, you know that the person you speak to is there because they want to be. We all sign up to this role because we want to help. And really, what would you have to lose by speaking to someone? 

 

Helen Stark is a Peer Supporter within NDS and is happy to provide support to other students. You can email Helen directly or contact the divisional Peer Support contact to speak to someone outside of your department. 

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