Soaks, strolls and stretches — how Bristol PGRs take well-earned breaks

A rubber duck floating in bathwater

How did you mark this year’s Self-Care Week (18–24 November)?

As well as holding relaxing events and activities in the PGR Hub, we used the occasion to ask Bristol’s postgraduate researchers a simple question: how do you look after yourself?

We received a range of insights into how you take breaks — from stretching to strolling to socialising — but the clear theme that emerged was the importance of giving yourself time to relax and wind down. And, if you’re keen to cut down on your screen time, bathtime can make for a perfect phone-free zone. (Bubbles and browsing don’t really mix, especially if your handset isn’t waterproof.🛀📱😧)

So, without further ado, here’s what helps you unwind, de-stress and step away from your research.

Sabina
For me the best way to relax is yoga! I go to a weekly yoga session, and it’s heaven! It’s where I can be me, I am not a mum, or a daughter or a teaching assistant. I am able to forget about the outside world! Yoga forever!

Natalie
I leave my office every day and go for a thirty minute walk. It always helps me to relax though it’s a bit less fun in this weather. 🌧

Sandra
Got to say clean fresh bedding. Having to be clean getting in and reading or listening to a book.

Joan
Getting into a freshly made bed after a hot bath is the absolute definition of heaven. I’ve also become very reliant on starting the day with a cup of coffee and ‘morning pages‘. Getting all my thoughts out at the beginning of the day sorts me right out.

Caitlin
I second Joan’s comment about baths! I find it’s really hard to keep away from my phone, but I’m always afraid that I might drop it into the bath, so having a bath becomes, of necessity, a phone-free zone! That makes it a great chance to get some quality time with a (non-work related) and keeps me blue-light free, which is really important for sleep hygiene.

I realise sleep hygiene sounds made up, but when I’m anxious I often suffer from badly disturbed sleep and following a sleep hygiene routine works (a bit). Whether that’s just because I’m doing any routine or because the specific “sleep hygiene” stuff actually works, I can’t say.

Leone
I have a nice hot bath.

Sarah
Ensuring I give myself a good amount of time to wind down in the evening before bed. Watch TV/read/have a bath — strictly no work!

Brittany
Talking and having a laugh with all of my doctorate course mates! We are all in the same boat and if it wasn’t for them I don’t know what I’d do!

Building skills at a start-up hub — Henry’s placement story

One of Unit DX's engineering labsThe Bristol Industrial PhD Placement Fund is an EPSRC-funded scheme which pairs doctoral researchers with relevant industrial partners — funding placements in sectors ranging from start-ups to larger companies, government bodies and policy organisations.

In August 2019, doctoral researcher Henry Stennett joined Unit DX, central Bristol’s deep tech incubator, for a three-month placement. Henry shares his experiences below.

Why an industrial placement?

I was keen to get more science communication experience for my CV alongside my research work, so I dropped into a Q&A session about industrial placements run by the Bristol Doctoral College (BDC) at the PGR Hub.

A couple of weeks later, I took part in a ‘speed networking event’ which was a chance to meet companies offering placements. There weren’t many companies offering what I was looking for, but Aby Sankaran (BDC Industrial PhD Programme Officer) did a great job of ferreting out opportunities for me.

She got in touch with Adam, head of marketing at Unit DX. Unit DX is a deep tech incubator in central Bristol. They help science start-ups to grow, providing lab and office space, investment and mentoring.

Why science communication?

During the training period of my CDT course, we were encouraged to reflect on the relationships between science and society. I became interested in science outreach for a few reasons:

  • Synthetic biology is a touchy subject: it raises concerns that scientists are ‘playing God’ or profiteering, some of which are definitely valid.
  • We’re living through a crisis of trust: polling shows that people don’t trust institutions, experts, or even facts.
  • It’s a lot of fun: science communication lets you unleash your creativity, and embrace improvisation and performance.

Through volunteering and projects like the EU’s Horizon 2020 PERFORM, I learned that dialogues are more important than lectures and that there is no such thing as ‘the public’ — we communicate with diverse groups, and have to adapt our approach every time.

Why Unit DX?

I’d been vaguely aware of Unit DX for a while. My supervisor, Paul Race, and Martin Challand, a postdoc in his group, were spinning out their company Zentraxa when I joined. Harry Destecroix, Unit DX’s CEO, judged a competition during my PhD induction where we pitched synthetic biology start-up ideas. The best feedback he had for my group was that we were ‘realistic about the idea’s flaws’…

Adam reached out to me via email, but before I had a chance to reply, we met in person. Embarrassingly, I was rushing out of my flat with a tin of Stella, on my way to a Mos Def gig. Adam recognised me from my picture online, and asked if I was a PhD student — it turned out that we were next-door neighbours! I got back to him the next day and went down to Unit DX for a meeting.

I knew immediately that Unit DX would be a great fit. I’ve been allowed to independently develop my own projects and encouraged to get involved in anything that interests me.

What’s your role at Unit DX?

On a typical day, I’m working on one main project — researching and writing a piece of content and taking accompanying photographs. There’s a lot of ad hoc work too. Someone will appear at my elbow with a problem: a press release that needs writing or an event to publicise on social media.

My role involves talking to lots of people: in strategy meetings, during interviews for pieces I’m writing, or at graphic design workshops with Patrick Fallon, the lead designer. I also plan public engagement activities with Charlie Proctor, the outreach coordinator, and deliver them about once a week. Being involved in so many different projects keeps work interesting.

What have you learned from your placement?

The main thing I’ve learned is how to work quickly — often we get very little notice on the communications team! Adam has given me a book called ‘Writing Without Bullshit’ to read, which emphasises that your reader’s time is always more important than your own.

I’ve learned so much about writing that will help with my thesis: how to plan and structure a piece, and how to communicate ideas more effectively.

I’ve also developed my professional skills, and I hope to be more organised when I return to the lab, and better at working in teams.

I’d highly recommend applying for a placement. It’s a rare opportunity to try your hand at something that isn’t research and expand your skill set. And to be honest, it’s good to get out of the lab for a while!

Find out more about Henry’s research on his University of Bristol profile page and on Twitter.

Interested in enhancing your own experience and employability thorough a placement? Visit our Bristol Industrial PhD Placement Fund page to find about eligibility and how you can apply.

 

Breaks, books and board games — how we’re marking Self-Care Week 2019

A cartoon tortoise reading a book | 'Take it easy this Self-Care Week'

Self-Care Week 2019, which begins on Monday 18 November, is an opportunity for all of us to take stock, think about our day-to-day wellbeing — and to make sure we’re taking breaks!

To mark the occasion, the PGR Hub (second floor, Senate House) will be hosting free events that provide opportunities to relax, ‘raise your gaze’ from your research and connect with other PGRs.

Here’s what’ll be happening during the week.

Board Game Café
Tuesday 19 November, 4–7pm
Three hours of pizza and play in the PGR Hub. We’ll be breaking out some classic and contemporary games — including Ticket to Ride, Pandemic, Apples to Apples and Scrabble — and bringing in some free refreshments. Find out more on Facebook.

Silent Reading Party
Friday 22 November, 1–4pm
A chance to read and relax in the Hub’s chilled ‘literary lounge’ — and to enjoy some healthy snacks. We’ll have free bookplates, BDC bookmarks and books of all genres (although you’re welcome to bring your own). Find out more on Facebook.

Competition

We’ll also be marking the occasion by asking for your self-care tips — and collating them for a BDC blogpost.

Whether it’s a technique that helps you to relax or an activity that gives you a break from your research, you can share your nuggets of wellbeing wisdom using one of the channels listed below. We’ll pick a tip at random at 5pm on Monday 25 November, and its author will win 20 Bristol Pounds.

You can submit your tip:

  • as a comment on one of the Bristol Doctoral College’s #selfcareweek Facebook posts
  • as a tweet with the #selfcareweek and #BristolPGRs hashtags
  • as an Instagram post with the #selfcareweek and #BristolPGRs hashtags
  • in an email to doctoral-college@bristol.ac.uk
  • (from Monday 18 November) by adding to our ‘timeout tips tree’ in the PGR Hub.

Terms and conditions

  • The competition is open to all current postgraduate research students at the University of Bristol.
  • The closing date for entries is 5pm on Monday 25 November 2019.
  • The winner will receive 20 Bristol pounds.
  • The winner will be selected at random.
  • Multiple entries are permitted.

WriteFest returns — how to get involved this November

WriteFest 2019 | cartoon character using a laptop

WriteFest 2019 begins on 1 November. Below, Dr Elizabeth Mamali, the Bristol Doctoral College’s Postgraduate Researcher Development Officer, explains what it’s all about — and highlights opportunities to take part in the University’s programme of writing-focused activities.

What is WriteFest?

November is Academic Writing Month (#AcWriMo) — an academic write-a-thon inspired by NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month), but catering to the specific needs of academic writers.

The global academic community can pledge their writing projects, record progress and share thousands of writing tips via the #AcWriMo hashtag on Twitter.

WriteFest (#AcWriFest19) is our local University of Bristol contribution, and will bring together academics and researchers from across the University to recognise and celebrate writing. We encourage all academics, research staff and research students to join us and write!

WriteFest started at Sheffield University. This year, there are 11 partner universities contributing to the festival! Exeter, Bristol, Manchester, Kings College London, Keele, Sheffield Hallam, Liverpool, Newcastle, Edinburgh, Derby and Adelaide!

What is the University of Bristol doing for WriteFest 2019?

The Bristol Doctoral College will be posting information and useful resources in social media throughout the month to support you in all matters related to writing – and help you to take a break from writing!

Alongside Bristol Clear, who support Research Staff at the University, we have organised the following workshops and writing retreats. All BDC-run activities are free for postgraduate researchers to attend, and all Bristol Clear-run activities are free for academic and research staff to attend*.

All of our planned activities will take place in the PGR Hub, on the 2nd Floor of Senate House, unless otherwise specified.

*Please note that all Bristol Clear offers are in italics. If you are an academic or research staff member, find out more about taking part on the Bristol Clear webpage.

Week 1

Week 2

Week 3

  • Drop-in Writing Day, PGR Hub training room – 13th November (no booking required)
  • Bristol Clear: Writers’ Retreat – 14th November

Week 4

  • Drop-in Writing Day, PGR Hub training room – 20th November (no booking required)
  • Bristol Clear: Writers’ Retreat –21st November
  • Thesis Boot Camp – 22nd, 23rd, 24th November (applications closed)

Week 5

  • Bristol Clear: Writers’ Retreat – 25th November
  • Bristol Clear: Regular Productive Academic Writing – 25th November
  • Writers’ Retreat – 28th November (booking required)
  • Bristol Clear: Writers’ Retreat – 28th November

A prize-winning partnership — our Data Challenge story

Nina Di Cara and Tiff Massey at the Office for National Statistics Data Science Campus
Nina Di Cara and Tiff Massey at the Office for National Statistics Data Science Campus [Photo: Tiff Massey]
In early September, the Jean Golding Institute announced that its 2019 Data Challenge competition, held in partnership with the Office for National Statistics, had been won by Nina Di Cara and Tiff Massey.

Nina, a PGR in the Bristol Medical School, reflects on what she learned from entering the competition — and what it meant to win it.

The challenge…

Earlier this year, the Jean Golding Institute (the University’s centre for data-intensive research) and the Office for National Statistics announced a joint ‘Data Challenge’, inviting teams to find out if loneliness was associated with movement for the purpose of education using ONS open data and their newly created ‘Loneliness Index’.

The entry had to lay out the analysis you had used in the form of a blog post. My PhD research focuses on applying data science methods to data about mental health, so I was keen to get involved!

Planning our entry

Following the initial information session, my friend Tiff and I decided to enter — though with her living and working in London and me living in Wales, we knew it would be a bit of a challenge to find opportunities to actually do the work.

In the end, we both worked remotely to decide on which datasets we would use and how to analyse them, and then came together for a weekend to do the actual analysis we had planned.

After a couple of late nights working on our entry, we were pretty pleased with what we’d achieved in the time that we had. We both learned a lot about working with government data, and both of us picked up a lot of R tips and tricks from each other; Tiff knows a lot about data manipulation and interactive data visualisations, whereas I knew more about the statistical modelling side. What I learned from Tiff also ended up helping me out with some data dilemmas I had been having in my research.

What happened next?

Finding out we had won was very exciting for us both — we had had a lot of fun working together on our entry (as someone has since said to me, only two mathematicians would call a weekend of data analysis ‘fun’), so were really pleased that the JGI and ONS liked what we came up with.

Later, we were told that they particularly liked the novel metrics we had created with the data, and that we had presented the results as reader-friendly for a non-expert audience. The outputs from the competition have been passed on to the team in the ONS working on this project, so hopefully some of our ideas will be taken forwards.

Of course, the prize money was very exciting for us both, but we also got the opportunity to visit the ONS Data Science Campus for the day and give a presentation about our results (I was very thankful for all the presentation practice I’ve been making myself do this year). On our visit, we also met with staff working at the Data Science Campus and got to hear about some of the cool projects they are working on, with a view to using data science for public good.

Would we do it again?

Definitely! I would really recommend getting involved next time if it’s something you are considering — sometimes it’s just nice to have a project outside of your PhD research to give your brain a chance to work on a new problem for a while, and I think that’s one of the main benefits I personally got from taking part.

If you’re interested in seeing our entry, it’s currently on our GitHub page and is also due to be published on the ONS website shortly.

Find out more about Nina’s research on her personal blog — and by following her on Twitter.

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 ‘impostor 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!