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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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
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!
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.
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.
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!
Bristol PGR Sophie Stevens recently won an Alumni Association Award for her engagement work, which has brought mathematics to new audiences. For Pi Day — and our own Give Week — she tells us why explaining your research to new audiences isn’t just fun, it can also improve your motivation.
Today is Pi Day, and — let’s not kid ourselves — it’s probably the only recognised day dedicated to celebrating maths.
I’m a mathematician, but a problem that I face when I sit and read maths all day is that I lose perspective of why I like it. One way to bring fresh perspective to my work is via outreach and public engagement activities. Around Pi Day, most outreach activities tend to be centred around pies.
Though I enjoy celebrating Pi Day (I am a mathematician, after all), I’m less into actual pies. The filling is delicious, but the pastry’s too thick and gloopy and crumbs go everywhere. Pie’s redeeming feature is the filling, but I’ve always got funny looks for eating the filling by itself.
This leaves us — well really me, but a problem shared is a problem halved — with a conundrum: what shape should my pie be?
What Shape Should My Pie Be?
To fool those watching me eat, the pastry should be really thin. Mathematically, the pie filling is the volume, and the pie crust the surface area. Our game is to maximise the volume and minimise the surface area. This way, I can each as much filling as I want without creeping everyone out.
Now we’re in business; this has a name — the isoperimetric problem — a very old problem, but with a relatively recent solution.
The Isoperimetric Problem
In about 800BC Queen Dido had a problem. (Actually, she had many, because she was also fleeing her murderous brother.) She was about to found the city of Carthage, and had bought the amount of land that she could “enclose with one bull’s hide”. She wanted some bang for her buck so she proceeded to cut the leather into fine strips, creating a very long rope. Using this rope, she wanted to encircle the largest possible area for Carthage. What shape did she make?
Why Am I Telling You About My Pie Problems?
My pie problems are not vital for the isoperimetric problem. Nor are Queen Dido’s city creation skills. Both, however, are examples of communicating problems via stories.
Stories in research are everywhere (yes, even in maths). You can weave a plot from research; you can tell narratives of those who influenced it. Stories make research come alive; they make people care.
One of my favourite things about the isoperimetric problem is that it arose so naturally as a story. The narrative behind the problem has captured the imaginations for thousands of years.
Stories are a method of bring research to new audiences, but why should you?
Most obviously, giving back to the community is rewarding and fulfilling, and fun.
For example, I’m involved in organising Pint of Science — an annual festival where scientists explain their research to “the public” in a pub. Partaking in making this event happen makes me proud; the talks are fun; seeing others fascinated by science is rewarding.
Moreover, when you teach your subject, you pick out the best parts. Which in turn, reminds you what the best parts are.
For example, school-aged visitors to Bristol Central Library can enjoy the Puzzle Challenge — a rescue plot of shipwrecked alien disguises that masks a variety of mathematical tasks. This fun diversion for the young ones also happens to be a fairly accurate rendition of my own thesis, translated into whimsical worksheets as part of my work with the Library
Making my research accessible forced me to take a ‘big picture’ approach to my area: what were the most interesting aspects? How to make other people care?
An important corollary of these activities is that you (or at least I) return with fresh motivation and creativity for your own thesis.
What of Queen Dido?
Returning to Queen Dido’s problem, our solution is a circle. Whilst this is maybe somewhat obvious, proving that it’s true is pretty tricky.
The first halfway convincing proof came in 1838, when Steiner proved that IF there were a best possible way for Queen Dido to claim her city, then Carthage would be circle-shaped. However, it still took a few years to prove that a best solution exists, completing the proof.
Ramping this problem up to three dimensions — where you and I, and my pie, live — tells us that the best surface is a sphere.
And if we lived in n-dimensions? Maths has got our back: the ideal pie would have to be an n-dimensional sphere. Thanks maths.
Whilst we sit, happily munching our minimally pastrified pie, I’d like to ask you: how, and when, will you explain your research to a stranger?
‘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.