During the Covid-19 pandemic, the Bristol Doctoral College team have been working to provide our postgraduate research community with the support, tools and information they need to stay well, progress and adapt.
This blog post outlines a number of areas where we have adapted our provision. We hope our activities might provide inspiration for others; we also encourage our postgraduate researchers (PGRs) to engage with the changes we are making. If you have any questions or suggestions please do get in touch.
PGR Hub: from a physical space to a virtual place
With campus closed, we have had to adapt activities that would have been run at our PGR Hub to digital-only formats.
Our Personal and Professional Development programme was swiftly transferred to online platforms. Since lockdown began, there have been 369 participations in 14 online sessions, from ‘Getting Started with Academic Publishing’ to ‘Seven Secrets of Highly Successful Researchers’. PGR feedback has been positive:
“The course online worked really well and it was possible to interact with other students in the chat groups.”
“Thank you. Very appreciative of the time/effort put in by the facilitator and support staff to swiftly move this to a webinar format under difficult circumstances.”
We even moved our popular Writers’ Retreats to Zoom, providing those writing up with some structure and companionship during a day of typing at home. These retreats have been well received and demand has been so high that we increased the capacity and frequency of these sessions.
However, whilst online training going out live (synchronously) serves a useful purpose, there are other varied approaches to bringing the community together. Recorded resources that can be accessed by the PGR community in a more flexible manner are now high up in our priority list. We recently converted our popular “Thesis mapping: planning your PhD in its entirety” workshop to a recorded webinar, with complementary resources. We are also in the process of creating a Sharepoint site for PGRs, which will provide materials and opportunities for asynchronous peer interaction.
Enabling our community
During lockdown, we adjusted promotion of our Community Fund to focus on digital events led by PGRs. We’ve seen nearly 200 attendees at community-building events since lockdown began, including virtual quizzes, our online Three Minute Thesis (3MT) competition, film screenings and PGR Book Group.
As well as funding these events, we’ve been developing a range of tips and tools to enable our postgraduate researchers to adapt to the new normal: see our tips and tools webpage.
We have also been hosting online drop-in sessions to provide help and technical advice for PGRs running digital events and webinars.
Research without Borders
With all mass gatherings across the university cancelled, our flagship festival of PGR research, Research without Borders was adapted in a number of ways:
- The Research without Borders Showcase became an online virtual showcase.
- Our 3MT competition was conducted via Zoom and then screened on Facebook Premiere and YouTube.
- Our evening discussion events are currently being adapted into online events or podcasts.
Partnerships and scholarships
We’ve also been supporting our scholarship cohorts to continue with their research, sustain connections with their peers and stay in touch with their supervisors. Kennedy Kipkoech Mutai, a Cotutelle PhD Student based at the universities of Bristol and Cape Town said:
“The university has been greatly supportive in the course of this pandemic. The support from my supervisors (and Infectious Disease Modelling group) has been immense. The team managing the Cotutelle Programme led by Professor Robert Bickers, Associate Pro Vice-Chancellor Postgraduate Research, Dr Kevin Higgins, and Alex Leadley have been of enormous help. The team relentlessly scheduled meetings with our cohort of Cotutelle students, where several aspects of our PhD life were discussed. My fellow Cotutelle students have become a family, with weekly catch-up meetings! To this point I am grateful, to all who have ensured a seamless continuation of my PhD during this globally challenging times!”
Looking to the future
Whilst the circumstances are challenging and have been exceptionally difficult for so many of our PGRs, we hope that the work we’ve undertaken over the last few months will mean we can support a wider pool of PGRs beyond lockdown. Focusing on digital resources means we can provide better support for our part-time students, those on other campuses and those working remotely or with caring responsibilities.
This crisis has handed us an opportunity to support more of our PGRs and change the way we work, while continuing with our core offering.