6 top tips for new Bristol PGRs

Clockwise from top left: Angela Suriyakumaran, Helen Rees, Kit Fotheringham, Arsham Nejad Kourki, Trang Tran and Eve Benhamou.
Clockwise from top left: Angela Suriyakumaran, Helen Rees, Kit Fotheringham, Arsham Nejad Kourki, Trang Tran and Eve Benhamou.

You’ve read the University’s registration checklist and checked out the Bristol Doctoral College’s list of tips — but what about some advice from fellow research students?

We asked postgraduate researchers at Bristol for their top tips for new PGRs. Here are their words of wisdom… 

1. Work on campus as much as possible 

“Just being among other PGRs makes a great difference.”

Trang Tran, PGR in the School of Education

2. It’s good to socialise and network with PGRs from across the University

“This is important! A PG course isn’t all about research, it’s about learning how to be an academic, and socialising is a huge part of that. I would advise new PGs to take this seriously. The BDC and the SU provide ample opportunities beyond your department, so don’t miss out on them!”

Arsham Nejad Kourki, PGR in the School of Biological Sciences

3. Make friends in your department/school

“PGRs who are above your cohort have valuable advice from their own experiences which you can learn from. Making friends with people finishing at the same time as you is great — these people will be dealing with the same pressures as you at the same time so will be most understanding (and probably in the same boat!).”

Helen Rees, PGR in the School of Biological Sciences

4. Do something outside of your research that you enjoy

“Having something to look forward to such as a sport, volunteering or activity with friends really helps if you are having an ‘off’ day with research. It also gives some balance to your life and allows you to de-stress and focus on something else.”

Angela Suriyakumaran, PGR in the School of Chemistry

5. Think about outreach and options beyond your studies

“Seize the opportunity for outreach events (Research without Borders is worth doing at least once), placements, etc. Also look for Quickfix events from the Career Services, especially the Careers beyond Academia, and CVs for non-academic and academic careers.”

Dr Eve Benhamou, recent PGR graduate from Department of Film & TV Studies

6. The BDC’s events and opportunities can help you connect with other PGRs

“Get involved with Bristol Doctoral College training sessions and events. The BDC sessions and the PGR Hub will help you to overcome the isolation and ‘imposter syndrome’ that are all too common among PGRs. Connecting with people from different disciplines and finding your mutual interests makes you feel like you’re part of one big doctoral community.”

Kit Fotheringham, PGR in University of Bristol Law School

Looking for even more helpful tips? Check out our 2017 blogpost, ‘10 things all postgraduate researchers at Bristol should know’.

Four reasons to book for our Bristol Doctoral Teacher Symposium

Calendar with 'A Day for Doctoral Teachers' written on 10 July

On 10 July, the Bristol Doctoral College will hold its second annual Bristol Doctoral Teacher Symposium — a day of networking and knowledge-sharing that’s open to all Bristol postgraduate researchers (PGRs) who teach.

Below, the BDC’s GTA Scholars’ Scheme Coordinator, Dr Conny Lippert, explains why it’s worth booking a ticket for this free event at Bristol’s M Shed — and how, in addition to making new connections, it’s an opportunity to get practical advice on self-care and support.

1. You’ll learn about the support and training that exist within the University

And there is more of it than you might realise!

We’ve been working closely with Academic Staff Development, who look after the University’s ‘Starting to Teach’ and ‘CREATE’ programmes, to develop a stimulating programme for the day.

But a wide range of other services — including the Student Wellbeing Service, the Careers Service and the Bristol Institute for Learning and Teaching — will also be coming along to let doctoral teachers know what they do and how they can offer support.

2. You’ll meet other members of Bristol’s doctoral teacher community

At the University of Bristol, we have quite a variety of different doctoral teachers. There are PhD students teaching or tutoring small group seminars, demonstrating in the lab or undertaking field work — and some of you are even doing occasional guest lectures!

Whatever sort of teacher or demonstrator you consider yourself to be — or even if you’re just thinking of becoming one — this event is for you.

3. You’ll receive practical tips on how to safeguard your wellbeing

Doing a PhD can obviously be quite stressful. Being a doctoral teacher on top of that means your time is divided between even more complex tasks and responsibilities. How do you ensure you’re keeping not only physically, but mentally well during those particularly demanding times?

The symposium will be a great opportunity to learn what others are doing, what the science says about wellbeing and what the University offers that can help you maintain yours.

4. You’ll have a chance to discuss your experience with peers and experts

Guest speakers from other institutions, as well as experts and practitioners from our own, will be on-hand to share their knowledge — but also to hear about your experience as a doctoral teacher.

This is the perfect opportunity to widen your professional network and explore one of the most under-used support resources that’s out there: each other!


Interested in joining other doctoral teachers for this unique opportunity to share experience and get advice on support? Book your free place now on Eventbrite.

If you have any questions about the event, please get in touch with Dr Conny Lippert.

Five reasons to apply for our ‘Skills for the Future’ Summer School

Doctoral researchers at the 2018 summer school
Doctoral researchers at the 2018 summer school

For the second year running, the BDC is organising a skills-enhancing summer school — a free, three-day workshop that’s designed to help doctoral researchers learn how to build successful collaborations with external organisations and explore opportunities beyond academia.

Below, the BDC’s Industrial PhD Programme Officer, Dr. Aby Sankaran, explains why ‘Skills for the Future’ (1–3 July) will be beneficial for those considering entrepreneurial or non-academic careers after their research degrees.

Interested in applying for the summer school, which is open to doctoral researchers from all six faculties? Make sure you read to the end …

Reflecting on my own personal experience — and feedback from our previous year’s summer school — these are the reasons any doctoral researcher should apply for ‘Skills for the Future’:

1. You’ll learn about the support that exists within the University

Did you know that the University of Bristol was a top-ten university for spin-outs in 2018? Attending the summer school will be a great way to explore entrepreneurial ideas, get a better understanding of intellectual property (IP) — and hear directly from the Head of Commercialisation about what the University can do for you!

2. It’s hands-on learning about agile thinking

Everybody has great ideas (sometimes) — but what’s key is actually identifying the potential in these ideas, irrespective of the subject area. Evolving your thinking, and looking beyond ‘PhD’, ‘paper publication’ and ‘thesis’, is a step towards realising that potential.

At ‘Skills for the Future’, you’ll explore the key competencies required to work in a hybrid research/industry interface. Who knows? Your idea or research interest could be the next big solution to our global challenges.

3. You’ll hone your critical thinking and problem solving

There is no such thing as an easy PhD. Every project has hurdles, and the best-laid plans of mice and PhD students can get crushed.

How you cope with these issues, though, is what matters. Can you think critically to solve problems and convert threats into opportunities? The summer school is a chance to hear successful alumni share their experiences and the key lessons they’ve learned.

4. Wondering where to start with a start-up? This is Commercialisation 101

You’ve spotted a potential opportunity or you’ve had a superb idea. So what’s next?

The challenge is communicating this to different stakeholders to get their buy-in. What do you need to do to plan and prioritise? How do you raise funding and pitch your ideas? What tools do you have for negotiation? How do you sort out cash flow and finance? ‘Skills for the Future’ is an opportunity to explore, in detail, the issues you’ll face when you take an idea to market — and how you can start preparing now.

5. Meet and build a peer group of like-minded entrepreneurs

You may think that being an expert in your specific field is enough to succeed. Not so. You still have to work with a number of different people, whether it’s policy makers, HR, engineers, stakeholder, customers — or even the people in your own team. Wouldn’t it be nice to have a peer group that you can develop and share ideas with?

The summer school is chance to meet doctoral researchers, from a wide range of disciplines, who are on the same path. Who knows? You might even find your own team or next business partner at the event.


Ready to apply for three jam-packed days of activities and learning, all designed to help you increase the economic and societal impact of your research? Visit our Skills for the Future Summer School page and complete the application form before 9am on Monday 24 June 2019.

If you have any questions about the course, please contact Dr. Aby Sankaran.

Skills for the Future is organised by the Bristol Doctoral College, and facilitated by Spin Up Science and QTEC.

PGR Hub: Pop-up activities throughout the summer

The Brambles
The Brambles — one of the venues for our pop-up summer events.

The PGR Hub is closing its doors for the summer in Senate House for necessary and crucial building works to take place across the building. Its new home will be on the second floor of Senate House while the first floor becomes a construction buffer zone for work to continue throughout the 2019/20 calendar on the new Campus Heart atrium. 

But don’t worry – we understand that a physical space dedicated to cross-disciplinary research collaboration, and your general development and wellbeing, is an important part of being a PGR at Bristol. Also, we appreciate that research students don’t get whole summers off – research doesn’t always follow academic terms! 

We’ll be helping run some summer pop-up activities across campus from June through September for you to meet and mingle with one another, take a time-out, or work on your researcher development. Whether it’s time to focus on writing your thesis or a paper, an opportunity to chat over coffee and cake, or a space to unwind in our calming crafternoons, there is something for everyone to enjoy.  

See our schedule below – which will be regularly updated throughout the summer. All of our activities are open to all research students. 

Schedule of PGR Hub pop-up activities

ActivityDate & TimeLocationDescription
Spring-into-Summer Shindig4-6pm , Thursday 30 May PGR Hub, 1st floor Senate House Meet and mingle with your wider research community over light refreshments and snacks – there will be music, plants for the keeping, and a chance to leave your thoughts about the PGR Hub’s first year
Writers’ Retreat 9am-5pm, Tuesday, 11 June Room 2.26, 35 Berkeley Square Supportive and structured days designed to help you focus on your word count and pick up some tips on distraction-free writing
Coffee & Cake Hour11am-12pm Tuesday, 18 June The BramblesTake a break from your work, meet other PGRs, and enjoy some *free* sweet treats
Thesis Bootcamp: Veterans' Day9am-5pm, Wednesday 19 JuneTBCA day for our Thesis Bootcamp attendees to come and check back-in on their progress and write in peace
Board Game Café2-4pm, Thursday 4th July The BramblesEnjoy a classic like chess, Scrabble or Monopoly — or bring in your own game. It's your move.
Coffee & Cake Hour11am-12pm, Tuesday 16 July The BramblesTake a break from your work, meet other PGRs, and enjoy some *free* sweet treats
Writers’ Retreat 9am-5pm, Friday 19 July Helen Wodehouse Building, 35 Berkeley SquareSupportive and structured days designed to help you focus on your word count and pick up some tips on distraction-free writing
Writers’ Retreat 9am-5pm, Monday 5 August TBCSupportive and structured days designed to help you focus on your word count and pick up some tips on distraction-free writing
TA Talk Series: with Academic Staff Development 2-4pm, Wednesday 14 August The BramblesAre you a doctoral researcher who teaches? Come along to a relaxed informal talk for those balancing research and teaching.
Coffee & Cake Hour11am-12pm, Tuesday 20 August The BramblesTake a break from your work, meet other PGRs, and enjoy some *free* sweet treats

Would you like to run an event or session yourself?  

PGRs will have access to the Brambles space (in the Hawthorns) throughout the summer. 

If you would like to run an event or activity for PGRs during the months of June – September, please get in touch with us with your idea and we endeavour to book you into the Brambles space. 

Please note that we will be unable to offer bookings between 12 and 2pm, during which time the space is used as a relaxation lounge by all staff across the University. 

When does the PGR Hub open again? 

The PGR Hub opens its doors once again on 23rd September. To find out more about the changes taking place in Senate House and the Campus Heart programme, visit their website. 

What we’ll miss about our Postgraduate Researcher Development Officer, Dr. Loriel Anderson

Dr Loriel Anderson

Whether you’ve only recently started your degree, or you’ve been a PGR for a while, the chances are you’ve come across Loriel, our PGR Development Officer.

Originally a Classics PhD student, she started her career in Professional Services as an intern when the Bristol Doctoral College was first founded in October 2013 – making it a total of 5.5 years she has been working to make our University’s environment better for our postgraduate research students.

Today, the BDC team and wider PGR community bid farewell to Loriel as she returns with her family back to Canada, where she originally hails from. Just like the geese in winter, she is going back home – but not before we commemorate some of the initiatives she has left with us that have helped make our PGR community feel like a home for researchers.

She helped set up the PPD programme

The BDC’s Personal and Professional Development programme, commended by the Quality Assurance Agency (QAA) as a shining example of good practice, is a curated catalogue of opportunities designed specifically with postgraduate researchers in mind.

Loriel was there at its conception, and has been the driving force behind the programme as it has grown and developed every year. While the programme extends out far beyond the seminars and courses offered centrally within the BDC, Loriel has played a huge role in working with colleagues across the University to ensure that the postgraduate research community knows what support is available to them in their personal and professional needs throughout their time at Bristol.

Setting up the Ventures Fund – a pot of money reserved for students to run development activities and initiatives they’d like to see offered – is part of one of the many amazing incredible gifts she has brought to the University’s PPD offering. Along with assistance from other colleagues in the BDC team, she even started running and delivering in-house workshops on Thesis Mapping and how to manage different stages of a research degree.

She is one of the brains behind Research without Borders

Some say that the Research without Borders festival is one of the PGR parties of the academic year – it’s both a showcase and a celebration of the amazing work that research students accomplish at the University.

The first Research without Borders festival was run by Loriel in the BDC’s early days, and while the festival itself has grown and evolved into its Colston Hall showcase and Watershed discussion series format of today, its aims have always remained the same: to give students the chance to communicate their work, train them about how to talk to different groups in effective ways, and to create space and opportunity for our researchers to meet people outside of their disciplines.

Loriel is the team member who described the festival as a chance for students to “raise their gaze” from their desk and look around at the wide, wonderful and wacky world of research happening all around us everyday. And this is a reminder and a gift we now celebrate annually!

She’s a constant champion for the PGR community – including making the PGR Hub happen!

A space dedicated to researcher development and wellbeing is something that felt like a faraway dream when Loriel first began with the BDC in 2013.

After years of setting up the PPD programme across various University rooms – from windowless holes in the basement of Wills Memorial Building to the beautiful views found on the 4th floor of the School of Education (she is still a font of knowledge about what rooms to avoid when booking meetings…!) – the PGR Hub became instated as part of the Campus Heart project.

Shaping the space, defining its mission, and being a champion for the significance of a PGR-specific space and the activities it can run, have been hallmarks of Loriel’s last year with us. She was even the ideas-person behind our Five Weeks of Wellbeing initiative.

She brings her job title to life

What is in a job title, you ask? In 2013, “researcher development” was still a phrase few in the world of academia understood. Why is researcher development important, and how is it different to other kinds of development?

Researcher development – as the BDC applies it in the world of postgraduate research – is about helping students at the beginning of their degree feel equipped and empowered to grow into effective researchers who feel able to apply the skills and experience they gain in a variety of interesting and engaging areas.

No one has brought this quite to life like Loriel: she has proven, as all the above have indicated, that growing into an “effective researcher” means more than just delivering a skills programme, or hosting one fun community event. It is about making sure the soil to plant ideas in is fertile, and that the seeds and plants are well-tended and watered. She has given us an entire garden that will continue to grow and flourish, because she has given it the attention and care that it needed to take root in the first place.

So – this isn’t goodbye, but a “thank you”. Thank you, Loriel. You will be missed, but you have given us a number of gifts that we can carry with us on our side of the pond!

Positivity and the Potential of Giving

A woman holding a boxed gift | Give

‘Give’ is the final Five Weeks of Wellbeing theme — a chance to give yourself a break (more on that below), but also to reflect on ways you can express your gratitude and share your time. Carlos Gracida Juarez, a PGR in the School of Biological Sciences, shares some personal thoughts why we should give giving a chance.

In Western culture, materialism plays a significant role. We are used to collecting new items and accumulating material stuff — we confound being with having. Many of us have been taught that more money and amassing wealth is the real meaning of success. Being successful takes you to live the “good life”; and not being successful will make you struggle to survive, always chasing the money. At a certain point, it makes sense, but there are many more things that can give you a sense of realisation in life.

One thing that is probably underrated in our society is “the potential of giving”. Giving adds meaning to our life, filling it with love and compassion. By giving we are creating a positive impact on the person or group, and ideally improving our world at the same time.

Giving has a double function: it helps someone in need and makes yourself feel better at the same time. That’s why giving can be a tool for improving our lives in a connected approach.

But sometimes and for different reasons, it can be difficult to give. When we care for others they can take advantage or misinterpret our intentions. Or we are afraid that if we provide, we will end having less. Or maybe we have judgements about what people in need will do with what we give them. It’s OK to have these thoughts, but they’re not always are correct.

Not giving can result in the worst outcome of all, because we are solving nothing and we are losing the chance of improving our and others lives. Instead of simply not giving, we can learn to give wisely. We can instead learn how to give helpfully and how giving can cause a positive impact. Even if giving turns out to have been the wrong approach, at least we gave it a try and we learned.

We also might think that we need to have more in order to give, but this is not always true. Regarding money, you can give even if you don’t have much. You can provide some change to the homeless, give to a charity (some charities would really appreciate your £8 per month funding) or support some causes by buying related products.

Besides money, you are capable of giving time and energy as well. For example, a way to increase your positivity, you can brighten enough someone’s day by saying a kind word, smiling or help them out in a small task.

When you give, you open a channel to an abundance mindset. If you feel blocked in a specific area of your life, then give. Need more love? Give love. Need more attention? Pay attention to the others. Need more joy? Spread joy.

How does it make sense? When you give, it makes the impression that you have what you want to give. You are not in a state of shortage. You start to get used to this feeling, and in some way, you attract it back. If you give love and spread positivity you get used to this and people will start to react this way around you. If you offer free services to people, some will want to thank you by paying, and maybe you will come up with new ways to earn money.

Remember that true giving comes from the heart without expecting anything in return, but for sure it will.

When we give, we do it with affection. It may be hard at the beginning and may feel forced, but after you practice you start giving with love.

So what to do now? We can practise doing small things while we get used to the act of giving. Picking trash from public places, being kind and smiling to others, volunteering in local charities among many other options. (The Bristol Conservation Society and Helpful Peeps have made of an art of giving.)

Of course, you can take a few steps further and make something more significant. But remember that every action has an impact. Give wisely, and expect smiles back in your life.


Ready for the Five Weeks of Wellbeing finale? Here’s what’s happening this week in the PGR Hub.

  • Coffee and Cake Hour — Tuesday 12 March, 11am
  • Movie Night — Tuesday 12 March, 6pm,
  • Board Game Café — Thursday 14 March, 1pm,
  • Clothes Swap — Friday 15 March, 1pm.

And if that’s not enough, don’t forget that you still have a chance to win a £100 wellbeing hamper in our Five Weeks of Wellbeing competition.

To take part, just hand in your stamped ‘5wow’ card to the BDC office in the PGR Hub. Wondering how you can get a card? Just pick up a free zine from the Hub’s collaborative space and read to the end.

What I’ve learned about learning

Cartoon woman with a download cloud above her head | 'Keep Learning'

Week four of our Five Weeks of Wellbeing has focused on learning. Jacks Bennett, a Bristol PhD researcher looking at mental health and wellbeing in students, shares her reflections on why maintaining curiosity matters.

I love learning new things. Things about things (information), how to do things (skills), why things happen (knowledge), and what things say about other things (meaning). I’ve always been curious. As a child, I sat in the shed at the bottom of our garden, the walls newspapered with articles and the shelves littered with potions I’d made from fallen rose petals. From my musty office, I declared myself both writer and scientist.

More than four decades later — I have become, circuitously and arguably, both. At university first time around, I explored French, pretty fruitlessly I might add — c’est la vie. I then learned to write, research, and report at the BBC — where discovering new ‘things’ (in short bursts) became a way of life. More recently, I came back to university as a psychology undergraduate and now PhD researcher looking at student mental health — in at the deep end again. It’s become my raison d’être: get stuck in, ask questions. My family and friends variously call it: ‘enthusiastic’, ‘overthinking’, ‘nosy’, ‘earnest’. I prefer to think of it as meaningful engagement with my one short life.

My learning curves have come in all shapes and shades. I’ve learned how to interview prime ministers, how to make cheese, what to do in a police raid, and how not to be sick during a Hercules take-off. I’ve also learned that I’m not good with pregnancy, vodka, or arrogant people, and that I’m often riddled with self-doubt. But I’m also tenacious, great in a crisis, impossibly fond of communicating, and I can parachute out of a plane. The list isn’t exhaustive and doesn’t include life’s bigger challenges like learning to be: mother, daughter, wife, friend, employer, employee, student, citizen. I’ve also had to learn how to do all those things. I’ve sometimes learned the hard way and I’ve always had to work at it. I still do.

Learning the basics of who you are, what you like, what you need, and what you’re capable of — is all a journey. For me, that’s been critical for my wellbeing and equilibrium. I felt for years that I ‘should’ love to cook — mainly because cooking is wholesome, other people seem to enjoy it, and it helps with the whole feeding the family thing. Actually, I really hate cooking. But I do love to clean or tidy. Bad day at work? Imposter syndrome kicking in? My floors sparkle and my paperwork gets done. I feel better. A light-hearted example — but you get my drift?

It’s not just about self-awareness, there’s also learning for learning’s sake. I’ve made several sea changes over the years; and when I’ve been stuck in my head or in a job that doesn’t fit – I’ve usually signed up for a writing course, some voluntary work or a half marathon. I realise most of us don’t always have the capacity or resources to shake things up dramatically, but you can always do something. Walk a different route to work, strike up a conversation with the person next to you on the bus, head to the museum at lunchtime and temporarily lose yourself. You never know what may happen. Every time I look outward, my world becomes just a little bit more colourful.

Taking on a doctorate is my current curve ball. Commissioned by the University, the research feels pertinent and timely — ‘What type of support improves mental health and wellbeing in university students?’ Bristol aims to be part of an evidence-based solution to growing concern about young people’s mental health, and our students are sharing their experience in an annual survey, forming the spine of my project. I’m lucky to be involved — another steep learning curve. Those curves just keep coming.

What have I learned about learning (so far)? It matters that you try and work out who you are and how you tick. Align that with your goals and take some risks. Learn from your mistakes: outcomes can be good and bad — and believe me, I’ve experienced the latter — but every experience has shaped me. When life is good — savour it, and when things get tough — push through. Our time here is short and precious, and the world is endlessly interesting. Fill your toolbox with curiosity, kindness and respect, and then grab life by the scruff of the neck and shake out every last meaningful experience.


Want to get involved in our Five Weeks of Wellbeing? There are still plenty of events ahead, including a PGR Movie Night, a Board Game Cafe and a Clothes Swap. Read the full programme.

The discs and the doctorate — why I played Ultimate Frisbee whilst finishing my PhD

Sarah Garner with her Ultimate Frisbee team.

This week, our ‘5 Weeks of Wellbeing’ theme is ‘Be Active’. To kick us off, Sarah Garner, a final-year PhD student in the Bristol Dental School, tells us how she balanced the demands of her PhD with fitness training for the World Ultimate Frisbee Club Championships — and how that helped her get fresh perspectives. 

October 2017: I’ve just started the final year of my PhD. Whilst I’m not in dire straits, the lab work isn’t going as well as I’d hoped, and I definitely feel like I’m behind where I want to be. I’d had good intentions to write up as I went but this quickly fell by the wayside. So I feel the pressure is on, and time is limited. I have a new job lined up for next October and the start date is non-negotiable. But it’s fine, because I’m just going to spend the next year really focusing and putting in the hours on the PhD. Got a plan. Phew. A few 12 hour days in the lab and I’ll be fine.

November 2017: I find out that my club Ultimate Frisbee team has just qualified for the World Ultimate Club Championships in the USA in July 2018. I’ve played with this club for 12 years, captained it and coached. This is the culmination of a huge amount of hard work. I should be excited, right? Bubbles of excitement are spreading through my team. I really want to get excited about it too — there’s nothing like the thought of playing a world championship with a bunch of great friends to get the adrenaline flowing! But, having played at international tournaments before, I also know what’s involved in the preparation: a lot of fitness training! Two weights sessions a week, a conditioning session and anything from 2-4 team training sessions as well. Plus throwing practice, stretching, rolling and yoga. Oh, and a 5k run here or there if you fancy squeezing it in. They say it’s important to ‘stay active’ whilst you’re doing a PhD, but this is possibly a bit overkill.

How can I possibly fit this in around my PhD?

In my heart, I knew I desperately wanted to play, and I also wanted to be at my fittest and strongest possible, so I could play my best. So I’d need to put in the hours doing the fitness. I also knew how physically and mentally tired that can make me feel — not exactly conducive to high level PhD research and writing! So what to do?

I spoke to friends, teammates, my partner. I knew what I ‘should’ do — forget frisbee for once and concentrate on the PhD. I didn’t speak to my supervisors, as I thought I’d knew what they would say — it’s up to you, but the more time you put into the PhD this year, the better. I was torn between my head and my heart!

So what did I do?

I went to the world championships with my team. I reasoned that, if it was what I really wanted to do, I would make time for it, and it would be a useful way of switching off at the end of a long day in the lab.

How was it?

Really, really tough. The fitness programme we had was designed to make us ‘peak’ at the time of the championships, but we were told that up until then chances are we’d feel exhausted, ache in funny places, and be totally sick of frisbee. And we did.

How did I do it?

Every Monday morning, I sat down and looked at my week and decided when and where I could fit in each of the sessions I needed to. I did gym sessions before work twice a week. Sometimes it would really wake me up for the day, and other times when I sat at my desk by 9am I’d feel like I wanted to sleep. That’s where my good friend strong coffee came in.

In the summer we trained as a team twice a week after work. I usually managed to make it on time, but I made it clear that sometimes I wouldn’t be able to leave the lab bang on 5pm and I might be late. My teammates were very understanding and supportive. The other sessions I did ad hoc in evenings or at weekends when we weren’t playing tournaments. And if I missed the odd session for whatever reason, I didn’t beat myself up.

It was really hard to balance training for sport at a high level with trying to complete a PhD. But I also think it kept me sane; it gave me something else to think about and strive for, that had a definitive end point — unlike a PhD, where there’s always more you can do and so you never get that satisfaction of ‘I’ve finished’ until you’ve done the Viva.

Seeing all of my friends train and prepare around me whilst I wasn’t would have given me serious FOMO and probably would have distracted me enough that I would have lost almost as many hours to thinking about what could have been as I would have spent doing the training in the first place!

The final year of a PhD is never easy. Whilst I took the ‘keeping active’ part to the extreme, what I realised was that doing something that you enjoy — whether that’s a walk around the park at lunch or travelling overseas to play a week-long world championship, or anything in between — does help to keep you sane, as it allows you to think about something other than research, just for a bit. PhDs aren’t the be all and end all, and, whatever anybody tells you, the world will keep turning regardless of your findings.

Doing something that allows your brain to get away from the PhD for a bit is so important and will help you look at it with a fresh pair of eyes on your return. Sometimes I find getting the endorphins flowing really helps me kick start some lab work or writing. Find something that works for you and schedule it into your week — it’s as much a part of doing a PhD as being in the lab or library!


Want to get active yourself? Here’s the full list of activities that we’re holding as part of our ‘Be Active’ week. All activities take place in the PGR Hub, on the 1st floor of Senate House, unless otherwise stated.

Competition! Whether it’s jogging, juggling or jujitsu, we want to know how you take active breaks from your research degree. One random comment will be chosen at 5pm on Friday 1 March, and its author will win a free session with a personal trainer at the University of Bristol Sport Centre. (Please note that the competition is open to current Bristol PGRs only. To take part, see our posts on Facebook or Twitter.)

And remember to pick up a free 5 Weeks of Wellbeing zine from the PGR Hub! Collect a sticker for an activity each week and you’ll be entered into a prize draw — and you could win a wellness hamper worth up to £100!

5 reasons why you should apply for Research without Borders

Bec Rengel at the 2018 Research without Borders showcase exhibition
Bec Rengel at the 2018 Research without Borders showcase exhibition

Bec Rengel, the Bristol PGR who picked up the ‘best-communicated exhibit’ prize at the 2018 Research without Borders showcase exhibition, reflects on the festival — and why getting involved was such a positive experience for them.

We’ve all been there. You’re slogging through that research degree (for me it was my MPhil), but it isn’t nearly where you hoped it would be by now. In fact, you’re caught in between being proud of your work, and wanting to bury it in a shallow grave while you flee the country assuming a new identity.

This is how I felt when I applied for Research Without Borders (RwB) in 2018. And here’s 5 reasons why you should too:

1. It helps your research

When designing your stall, you need to think about engaging, creative, and clear ways of conveying your research to members of the public. It prompts you to look at your research in ways that you might not have before, giving you a fresh perspective.

Talking with members of the public, you’re forced to examine every aspect of your arguments, sources, and results. For example, during one in-depth discussion, I ended up having a huge breakthrough and discovering a strong answer to my primary research question. I’m not saying that’ll happen for everyone, but it’s almost inevitable that you’ll come out of RwB with more ideas, clarity, and even new directions for your research.

2. Careers, Careers, Careers

Believe it or not, RwB is a huge event that really packs a punch on your CV. If you’re looking to continue a career in academia, public engagement experience is an absolute must and RwB can help kick-start your career.

If you’re heading outside academia, RwB shows employers that you can manage your own projects, think creatively, and engage audiences. It’s also a fantastic way to improve your communication skills, making interviews that tiny bit less terrifying!

3. Get out of the bubble

Sometimes you can get completely lost in your research, consumed by #gradlife, and forget why you started your degree in the first place! After all, we don’t just do research for ourselves, but to make a contribution to society in our chosen field.

RwB gives you the opportunity to take your research directly to people, finding out what people outside universities think, as well as seeing just how your research can make a real difference in their lives.

4. Get creative

Even if you don’t think you have a creative streak, you’ll be amazed at what you could do! I saw robotics demonstrations, magic, a full pub set-up, screen printing, interactive maps, guessing games. It doesn’t even have to be something particularly elaborate. Sometimes the simplest thing like an artwork display or a prompt for attendees to write their fondest memory of Bristol were enough to draw people in.

5. Networking

RwB doesn’t just showcase your work to the general public. You’ll also be able to meet industry professionals from a huge range of sectors. And don’t despair my fellow Arts and Humanities researchers, RwB isn’t just for science, technology, or business! I met professionals working in heritage, education, civil service, journalism, research, law, you name it! It was fantastic to see what people with degrees like mine went on to accomplish.

You’ll also get the chance to meet amazing fellow PGRs, researching everything from bees to Beauty and the Beast. Research degrees can be pretty isolating — particularly when, like me, you’re working alone with mountains of books every day. RwB is the perfect opportunity to make new friends and leave your self-imposed solitude in the library or lab.

You won’t regret it and you’ll leave with a stronger research project, vital skills, new friends, and great memories. Go ahead and apply!


Want to give it a try yourself? It’s not too late! Just complete the Research without Borders application form before 11am on Thursday 28 February 2019.