We know that the summer months can be busy for Bristol’s postgraduate researchers, and that many of you use the time to travel overseas for conferences, symposia, field work, and so on.
We thought it’d be fun, then, to launch a photo challenge with a travel twist.
Yes, our #PGRtrek competition is back for 2018 — and, this time around, the postgraduate researcher who’s been to the farthest-flung location (for ‘business’ reasons rather than pleasure) will win a £50 contribution towards the cost of any research-related travel. We’ll also be offering another £50 contribution to a random draw from all other entrants to the challenge.
To enter our competition — and see your pin on our map — just share a snap from your travels in one of the following ways:
as a comment on one of the Bristol Doctoral College’s #PGRtrek Facebook posts
The Bristol Bone Biologists — aka Bristol PhD students Elizabeth Lawrence and Jessye Aggleton — share an update on the project they’re running with the European Space Agency (ESA) as part of the Spin Your Thesis! programme.
Fish are probably the last thing you think of when you hear about space, gravity and astronauts.
Later this year, though, our team will be putting zebrafish in hypergravity.
Why? We want to explore the effect of different gravity levels on tissue development in ‘normal’ zebrafish and zebrafish with a genetic mutation that’s linked to Stickler syndrome and early onset osteoarthritis in humans. The data we collect will provide an insight into how physiology changes in different levels of gravity and improve our understanding of the changes astronauts undergo during spaceflight.
Our last written update was in February after we visited Belgium to attend the ‘Gravity-Related Experiments Training Week’ run by the ESA Education team. The training week was an interesting and intense introduction to planning and running a high-profile experiment. We quickly realised that our experiment date of mid-September didn’t seem so far away when we had so much to prepare!
Since then, we’ve been busy running initial research to make sure both our data collection and data processing will run as smoothly as possible. We recently submitted a paper that talks about our initial findings on how a specific genetic mutation affects joint shape and function in zebrafish in normal gravity (1g). Along the way, we worked out how we are going to collect results and process data after the experiment at the Large Diameter Centrifuge in Noordwijk.
As well as being busy in the lab, we have also been completing a variety of paperwork including: work breakdown packages, timelines, system engineering analysis and budgeting (less glamourous but very important!).
Outreach and public engagement are also a critical part of the project. Alongside creating a fun logo, designing a mascot (Finn the fish), and drafting team stickers and t-shirts (Jessye has thoroughly enjoyed using her penchant for graphic design!), we’re currently setting up a collaboration with We The Curious.
As part of this pilot, we will be asking the public to choose one of the experiments we do using the zebrafish as well as telling them more about our project and how amazing fish are! This will run from 20 to 26 August 2018.
To widen the net our project will cast, we’re also applying for sponsorship for experiment materials, showcasing our work in competitions, and we will be filming the experiment in the hope of making a short film that we can show at science festivals and online.
So far, the project has been amazing at developing skills for our PhDs, with our project planning abilities improving massively as a result.! It’s also made us much more engaged with the impact of communication and outreach, which is essential for any postgraduate researcher.
Finally, we’ve been making sure our social media is looking sharp! Follow us on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter, and visit our website to keep updated and find out more about our project.
In the meantime, in the inimitable words of Kylie Minogue, ‘I’m spinning around… Move out of my way…!’
Our latest competition gives Bristol research students the chance to win a free trip to the ‘Life Beyond the PhD’ conference — just for sharing a photo of their hobby.
The competition winner will receive a free place at this year’s ‘Life Beyond the PhD’ conference, which will be held from 13 to 17 August. Travel costs will also be covered.
Held at Cumberland Lodge, in the heart of Windsor Great Park, ‘Life Beyond the PhD’ is an annual celebration of postgraduate research culture in the UK.
The conference invites PhD students and early career researchers to share their experiences, take part in training, and explore the value of doctoral research in an inclusive and supportive environment.
How to enter the competition
To enter, just take a photo that illustrates one of your hobbies and share it in one of the following ways:
as a comment on one of the Bristol Doctoral College’s #PGRpastimes Facebook posts
as a tweet with the #PGRpastime or #PGRpastimes hashtag
as an Instagram post with the #PGRpastime or #PGRpastimes hashtag
The competition is open to current research students at the University of Bristol.
The closing date for entries is 5pm on Monday 25 June 2018.
The winner will be chosen at random. [Clarification, posted 25/6/18: As we will choose a winning individual rather than a winning entry, please note that submitting multiple photographs will not increase your chances of being selected.]
The winner must confirm that they accept the prize by 12pm on Wednesday 27 June 2018. If they are unable to do so, and alternative winner will be chosen at random.
Travel costs will be covered either through a transfer of funds or a reimbursement of expenses.
Entrants will be asked if their images can be used in a future Bristol Doctoral College blogpost.
I’m the BDC’s “GTA Scholars Scheme Coordinator”, which means that I have two main tasks.
On the one hand, I’m working to develop a scholarship programme for Graduate Teaching Assistants (GTAs) at Bristol, which is slightly different from subsidising your income while studying with some hourly-paid teaching in that GTAs get a stipend, i.e. funding.
The other part of my role consists of figuring out how the BDC can best support all PGRs who teach at the University of Bristol, whether they are GTAs or hourly-paid teachers.
What are you working on at the moment?
A few months into this job, I’m working on getting to know all I can about the University’s PGRs who teach, in order to figure out in which ways the BDC can offer support, and also to be able to build a great scholarship programme for GTAs.
At the moment, I’m organising the Bristol Doctoral Teacher Symposium, a special event for PGRs who teach at the University of Bristol, which will take place on Tuesday 3 July in the M Shed down at the Harbourside.
If you’re a PGR who teaches, why is it worth signing up for the symposium?
There are quite a few reasons!
Fundamentally, it’s a chance to find out about support and opportunities, and to become part of a wider community of peers who can provide guidance and advice. We want all doctoral teachers — whether they feel experience or inexperienced, confident of their skills or unsure where to turn — to be able to share experiences, questions, victories and difficulties in a constructive and supportive environment.
In terms of the format of the day, there will be discussions and panels about a wide range of topics, including career pathways (both inside and outside of academia), development opportunities and how to balance teaching and research.
And there will be free refreshments and a wine reception!
What do you do outside of the BDC?
I did my own PhD at Bristol’s Department of English some years back, studying American Gothic literature — an area in which I still occasionally publish. I’m a big fan of all sorts of horror fiction and can’t resist a good intertextual reference.
I taught as an hourly-paid teacher for several years and have also held a number of professional services jobs at the University, both during and after my PhD. In the beginning of 2018 I joined the Bristol Doctoral College.
I’m a German expat who has lived in the UK for just over a decade now and still regularly visits her native Bavaria.
What are you reading at the moment?
I’ve just finished Stephen King’s new book “The Outsider” and am just starting Christopher Buehlman’s “Those Across the River”.
Kate Oliver, a PhD student from the School of Physics, shares a first-hand account of her visit to the UK Parliament for the STEM for Britain exhibition.
On the 12th of March I went to Parliament, for the second time in my life, this time accompanied by a rolled up piece of A1 paper. I was going to ‘the major event bringing early career researchers and parliamentarians together’, STEM for Britain*.
This poster session, now in its 21st year following its founding by Eric Wharton MP, invites around 50 exhibitors in each of Physics, Chemistry, Mathematics, Engineering and Biological sciences to explain their work to the employees of Parliament and a panel of expert judges. Five of us from Bristol had been selected to present — around a third of applications are successful — all in different categories, and we had been preparing our two-minute pitches for a few weeks, with the help of our supervisors, university support staff, and patient friends.
A particular challenge of this event is that it is judged by scientists — who selected the posters that made it to the event, and decided who would receive each of the three gongs available per subject — but targeted at MPs and policymakers. Therefore, we needed to show our technical chops, but put the applications and relevance or our work front and centre for people who have slightly wider horizons.
All the posters and presenters took a very different route to achieving this goal, and there was an amazing diversity of work and approaches on show. Sadly my poster didn’t pique the attention of the judges much, but I did manage to buttonhole Professor Dame Julia Higgins, President of the Institute of Physics, and chat to the MP for Glasgow North East, Paul Sweeney. We agreed that science had a great potential to improve human well-being, so now we just need to do that!
However, the University did well overall: Dr Celine Maistret, senior research associate in the School of Maths at Bristol, won the gold De Montfort medal for her work on the Birch and Swinnerton-Dyer conjecture. I shall have to get her to explain what that is to me at a time when she is not surrounded by enthusiastic fans.
I only got a small glimpse of the corridors of power due to the rather tight security, but it was still good to feel involved in a small section of the machine that runs the country. Government can feel very opaque and jargon-rich — perhaps almost as much as our specialist subjects — but we need to interact with it for our findings to have maximum impact. I reckon any opportunity to share what we know and cross barriers is worth taking. Plus, I’ve now got an extremely well-honed pitch that I can fire off at anyone.
*Formerly known as SET for Britain — science, engineering and technology — but maths have successfully lobbied for inclusion. Fair enough, you can hardly define a set without them.
Eleni Michalopoulou, a third-year PhD student in the School of Chemistry, explains how she came to be a contributing author on an important Intergovernmental Panel for Climate Change report.
I think now, looking back a year later, it was my inner physicist that helped me look at the problem from a different perspective.
‘The problem’ here was why there was such a big gap in the measurements of CF4 — a nasty greenhouse gas, historically emitted by the aluminium and the semiconductor industries, that has a global warming potential (GWP) of 7360 and a half-life of 50,000 years.
This perfluorocarbon is the focus of my PhD research in the Atmospheric Chemistry Research Group. In particular, I’ve been trying to work out why there’s quite a big gap between what we call a top-down estimate, which broadly means the amount of CF4 we measure in the atmosphere, and the bottom-up inventories, which are compiled from several bodies and/or different industries.
These three years that I have been working on my project, which is sponsored by Prof Mike Czerniak and Edwards Ltd, have been wildly interesting. I had the opportunity to look very closely into the aluminium and semiconductor industries and their emissions, how their technology has changed over the time and how geographical shifts of the industries had an effect on the emissions of CF4 and other PFCs.
However, the more I read about the industries, the more it seemed like there was something missing — something that would help explain the gap and the discrepancies. No matter how we looked at it, the emissions that came from the aluminium and semiconductor industries alone were not enough to explain those discrepancies.
Since there was no explanation for the gap, given what we had already found and what we already knew, I started to look in the literature for other sources, either less known or less likely.
Eventually, I found the work of Hanno Vogel at TRIMET Aluminium, which involved estimating PFC emissions that came from the rare earth smelting industry. I was so excited when I found that — mostly because I had taken the risk of spending quite a lot of time looking into something that could have been just a wrong idea or a bad hunch.
Once we started the discussions with Hanno, it became very clear to us that we were both on to something. From his side, it was a ‘bigger picture’ point of view; from my side, the discrepancies and that gap now made so much more sense.
Very soon afterwards we joined forces and started presenting our work at conferences. I think what really helped us make our case regarding the PFC emissions from the rare earth smelting industry was that his work combined with mine made a really good, logical argument — and good, logical arguments are always great when you are trying to do science!
The best moment was when we presented our work to the head of the greenhouse gas section for the U.S Environmental Protection Agency. What we were suggesting about the contribution of the rare earths to the PFC emissions seemed to make so much sense to so many people.
Not too long after that, we were notified that the Intergovernmental Panel for Climate Change (IPCC) was considering adding a brand-new chapter regarding PFC (and other greenhouse gas) emissions from the rare earth smelting industry, as part of its 2019 Refinement of the 2006 IPCC Guidelines for National Greenhouse Gas Inventories.
We were, of course, absolutely thrilled to hear that! Along with the news of the new chapter came the nomination for both me and Hanno to be included as contributing authors for that new chapter on rare earth smelting and its associated PFC emissions. Eventually, we received the email from the lead authors confirming both of us as contributing authors for the chapter. I can’t speak on behalf of Hanno on this, but I sure spent a significant part of that day just absolutely bouncing around with joy.
There is still a lot of work to be done of course, but I think it’s a great start!
By now, most Bristol PGRs will (we hope) have heard about Research without Borders, the University’s festival of postgraduate research.
You might not have heard, though, that there are a lot of good reasons why it’s worth your time — from communication training to making new connections.
So, ahead of the closing date for applications (11am on Monday 5 February!), we thought we’d share a quick round-up of the benefits of taking part. (Of course, if you’re ready to apply now, you can just pop over to our Research without Borders page.)
1. It’s a chance to showcase your work to potential employers
We’ll be welcoming a wide variety of visitors to both the Colston Hall exhibition and the discussion series — from academics and industry contacts to fellow PGRs and school pupils.
If you’re keen to share your research with the wider world, then, Research without Borders is an amazing opportunity to make connections with audiences that otherwise would be hard to reach.
Want to get a flavour of the festival? Watch this round-up video from the 2017 showcase.
2. You’ll get £30 to develop your display
We’re encouraging all our exhibitors to come up with creative and imaginative displays — above and beyond the standard academic posters.
We know that this kind of creativity comes with a price tag, though, so every PGR who takes part in the showcase event will get £30 that they can use for materials or equipment.
But what happens if you have a particularly ambitious idea for your exhibit? We’re keen to encourage innovative approaches — so, during the training phase, you’ll be able to apply for up to £200 to make it a reality.
3. You’ll sharpen your communication skills with free training
Every PGR who takes part — whether they’re exhibiting at the showcase event or presenting during the evening discussion series — will receive a bespoke package of training that’ll help them structure and communicate their ideas.
4. It can open up new opportunities
It’s not just a fun event in itself; Research without Borders can also be a springboard for PGRs who want to communicate their work to the world.
After last year’s festival, some of the participants went on to talk about their research on podcasts, at public events, conferences — and even on television.
You don’t just have to take our word for it, though. Watch Jessye Aggleton, who took part in last year’s festival, share some of her reflections on the event.
6. You might win an iPad
Interested in taking part in the showcase event? If you do, you might win the coveted title of ‘Most Engaging Exhibit’ — an honour that comes with a free Apple iPad. Other prizes on the day will include money for researcher development activities.
As 2017 draws to a close, we thought it would be fun to look back over a fast-paced twelve months and select (in no particular order, honest) nine highlights that reflect the sheer range of activity within the Bristol Doctoral College (BDC) team.
Of course, as our work is all about Bristol’s postgraduate researcher (PGR) community, we also want to know what your highlights have been.
Feel free to share them in the comments — or, better still, pop over to our Facebook page and add them to our competition post for a chance to win 10 Bristol pounds. (The competition will end at 5pm on Saturday 30 December 2017.)
1. Bringing research into the heart of Bristol
May’s Research without Borders wasn’t the first festival of postgraduate research coordinated by the BDC — but it was the biggest and best yet, showcasing the work of almost 100 postgraduate researchers through an evening discussion series, an afternoon showcase exhibition at Colston Hall and the finals of the prestigious Three Minute Thesis (3MT®) competition.
Afterwards, PGR Katiuska M Ferrer told us how event had helped her to make connections: “On a personal level, I had the opportunity to make friends with engineers, vets, and biologists — a crowd that, as a sociolinguist, I do not normally mingle with.”
Interested in taking part in the 2018 festival? Keep an eye on our Facebook page during January.
OK, so November’s researcher inauguration event wasn’t just about the free scarves; it was also an opportunity to get over 300 new PGRs together, encourage them to explore connections between their chosen topics and give them a warm welcome them to Bristol’s vibrant researcher community.
But yes — the scarf-waving moment, prompted by BDC Director Dr Terry McMaster, is a 2017 highlight in itself. Thankfully, as you can see from the video above, we were in the right place to capture it for posterity.
3. Sharing your stories
Bristol has an amazingly vibrant researcher community — and, throughout the year, we’ve had the privilege of being able share some of your stories on Facebook, Twitter and the BDC blog.
The video above — Astronauts star Tim Gregory reflecting on his final frontier — was just one of the PGR profiles that we posted during 2017. You can watch our other interviews, including Alfie Wearn on his well-earned place in the UK Three Minute Thesis final and bio-archaeologist Cat Jarman on her BBC Four appearance, on our Facebook page.
What’s so significant about this new Bristol-Macquarie Cotutelle programme? For one thing, it’ll offer PGRs access to state-of-the-art facilities at two universities renowned for their research excellence — and enable them to receive a PhD from both. It’ll also act as a model for future collaborations with institutions around the world.
The BDC conceived and co-managed the project with Macquarie University, so we’ll be sharing much more about it during 2018. Look out for details!
5. A zinger of a session with Inger
In December, we were lucky enough to welcome the renowned Thesis Whisperer herself, as Inger Mewburn visited Bristol to hold a special ‘What Examiners Really Want’ seminar with PGRs.
For Sabrina Fairchild, the BDC’s PG Researcher Development Adviser, helping to coordinate the seminar was her professional highlight of the year. As she noted afterwards: ‘de-mystifying the viva is crucial to decreasing the anxiety of research students and Inger did that with Star Wars-themed flair.’
For one thing, it was the first time we had actually run a Thesis Boot Camp. For the BDC’s Paul Spencer and Anja Dalton, this meant creating an environment where PGRs could spend an entire weekend writing — without even having to think about making their own meals — and encouraging them to put aside perfectionism so they could push ahead with that all-important first draft.
Did it help the PGRs, though? Well, the tweets about ‘#bdctbc’ were certainly encouraging.
The special celebration that we held for the current group of China Scholarship Council PhD scholarship holders was very recent — literally in the last week — but it was such a fine, festive occasion that it easily makes our list of 2017 highlights.
Although the mince pies and mulled wine were fantastic, the real treat was the positive feedback that we got about UoB, the city and the scheme itself. As one PGR put it: “I hope more students will come to Bristol and enjoy their life as a researcher as much as me.”
Interested in finding out more about the China Scholarship Council-University of Bristol Joint PhD Scholarship Scheme? Pop over to the CSC-UoB page.
8. A pilot programme for industrial-strength skills
Did you know that we launched apilot Industrial PhD Professional Development Programme in 2017?
If you’re a doctoral researcher who’s funded by the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC) Doctoral Training Partnership, you’ll be able to build your skills and expand your future career options by signing up for entrepreneurial training, industry placements, a summer school — and, as we announced a few weeks ago, a skills development workshop on 23 January.
The pilot programme came about after the EPSRC awarded the UoB funding to support new and current PhD studentships in science and engineering (as part of the National Productivity Investment Fund).
It’s perhaps more of a theme than a specific highlight — but, for the BDC, 2017 was all about expansion.
A huge part of our work centres on enhancing the environment for our PGRs, and on that front we welcomed Paul Spencer (PGR Environment Development Manager), Anja Dalton (PGR Development Officer, covering for Loriel Anderson), Sabrina Fairchild (PGR Development Adviser), Patrick Ashby (BDC Administrator) and Robert Doherty (Communications & Engagement Assistant).
The work that we do to support the growth of our PGR community is equally important, and new team members Kevin Higgins and Aby Sankaran joined the team during 2017 to lead on, respectively, the Global Bristol PhD Programme and the Industrial PhD Programme.
Of course, it would be remiss of us not to mention the esteemed colleagues who moved on this year — and who played a huge part in making the BDC what it is today. So thanks and best wishes to Bea Martinez Gonzalez and Charlotte Spires. (The much-missed Loriel Anderson will be back with us in summer 2018.)
Dr. Paul Spencer, the Bristol Doctoral College’s PGR Environment Development Manager, took some time during December’s Thesis Boot Camp to reflect on the aims of the weekend — and why it’s so beneficial for the postgraduate researchers who take part.
It’s a Sunday morning in mid-December, I can see great big flakes of snow falling outside the window to my right and I’m writing away along with 25 postgraduate researchers who are making stellar progress on writing that thesis. Why? Well, the Bristol Doctoral College (BDC) is running our first Thesis Boot Camp here in the School of Education this weekend. The BDC will run two more in the coming months, so I thought I’d take the time to explain what it’s all about.
What is a Thesis Boot Camp?
Simply put, it’s about getting late stage postgraduate researchers together in a peer group and setting them a seemingly impossible target of writing 20,000 words between Friday evening to Sunday evening.
Many postgraduate researchers find themselves writing alone, struggling to make progress on what can feel like an unreachable goal. Thesis Boot Camp turns that on its head and brings people together to harness the power of collective motivation and progress.
Why Thesis Boot Camp?
All creative ideas involve some sort of theft, and so it is with Thesis Boot Camp. There are many writing retreats that groups of authors often engage in and this is just an iteration of that. It’s really quite simple: provide some comfortable space, food, drink, an empathetic ear, plenty of opportunity for connection and just let the postgraduate researchers write.
What key things are we trying out here?
The key concepts that we ask the participants to experiment with are things that experienced writing tutors may be familiar with.
That writing in a group, especially of like-minded individuals, can be hugely productive.
To be productive, you first need quite a lot of material to begin with — make a big mess first and then tidy it up!
Preparation is crucial, so participants are given lots of ideas and suggestions on how to plan and be ready for Thesis Boot Camp before it happens. This involves a bit of planning — to really think about what each chapter is trying to achieve and how it fits into an overall argument or thread that forms the backbone of the original contribution claim in a doctoral dissertation.
So, how is it going?
The first thing that has really struck me this weekend has been the overall enthusiasm and positive approach from the postgraduate researchers on this Thesis Boot Camp.
The willingness to lean into the discomfort of trying out unfamiliar approaches to writing, the collegial nature of the interactions, the supportive conversations that I’ve witnessed. It really drives home the absolute key ingredient for me, and that’s the importance of a community of writers/peers who offer each other encouragement and support collectively whilst pursuing their own writing goals.
Here are a few things that really help make a Thesis Boot Camp work.
A good, flexible venue. In this case the entire top floor of the School of Education in Berkeley Square — self-contained and able to support a DIY approach to the provision of copious amounts of tea/coffee (essential!).
Regular meal times. A good range of wholesome food — and being able to eat together without effort — is crucial for the community dynamic. Plenty of snacks in between is also essential. Boot Camp runs on biscuits!
Taking regular breaks. We took full advantage of our great location and went for a walk to the Cabot Tower on Brandon Hill on Saturday afternoon, and on Sunday with the sleet and snow falling, it was easy to pop over the road to the Bristol Museum & Art Gallery. As one participant said, viewing the dinosaur bones certainly brought a sense of perspective to the thesis writing.
The rewards! I know it seems silly, but squeezy coloured Lego bricks at regular word-count milestones (5,000, 10,000, 15,000 and 20,000) are a real symbol of progress and productivity and the participants really took to the concept. The real magic of these is that you take them home, pop them on your desk and they serve as a reminder of your achievement to inspire you during the writing times to come.
And that of course is the most important part of Thesis Boot Camp: the legacy. Creating ways for postgraduate researchers to remind themselves and each other of their progress during just one weekend helps inspire them to continue to meet, talk, write and encourage each other to get to that dreamed of finish line. Being part of that is something pretty special.
The next Thesis Boot Camp will take place over the weekend of 23–25 February 2018. To find out more — and submit an application to takepart — visit our Thesis Boot Camp page