Doing the write thing — highlights from Bristol’s first WriteFest

WriteFest 2108 logo | cartoon person typing on a laptop

Writing is a universal experience for all research students. Whether you’re researching rats in Argentina or counting conjunctions in Classical texts, at some point your findings will need to be written up into a dissertation. Add to that the need to draft conference papers, journal articles, and grant applications, and a month focusing on writing seemed like a great idea.

This is the first time Bristol has been involved in WriteFest and we therefore initially had quite modest goals: to write 100,000 words over the course of the month. However, with Thesis Boot Camp as part of our WriteFest activities, we soon smashed that figure, writing a whopping 263, 343 words over 2 and a half days! This required us to re-evaluate and institute a #stretchgoal of 500,000 words! The final figures reveal that we actually wrote 349,229 over the course of 30 days, which is an astounding figure!

But it wasn’t all about the numbers. Our focus during WriteFest has been to develop healthy, professional writing habits. We featured three videos, each with three top tips of how to write productively.

Sarah Green, a part-time PGR student in History, offered some great advice about writing regularly, even if you can only squeeze in fifteen minutes a day:

Our PG Researcher Development Officer, Loriel Anderson, emphasised the need to schedule your writing sessions and the importance of taking breaks:

And Mike Gulliver, Research Staff Development Officer with Bristol Clear, spoke about writing in small chunks and working out what time of day you are most productive:

Through social media we shared several tools to help motivate and encourage our researchers to reach their personal writing targets, including highlighting how the Hemingway app can help to craft more precise prose, and how The Most Dangerous Writing App can provide a little extra pressure to keep writing! We even shared how to block out distractions through social-media blocking apps Freedom.to and StayFocusd.

Hopefully the use of these apps didn’t prevent you from taking part in our #writekindofmusic competition, which encouraged our researchers to share their writing playlists. Lisa Morgans, a researcher in Veterinary Sciences, won a £10 Rough Trade voucher for sharing her favourite instrumental and world music, including Songhoy Blues.

It is no coincidence that Self Care Week fell in the middle of WriteFest. A focus on word counts and competitions can make some people feel as though the only way to write well is to write all the time. However, we tried to stress the importance of taking care of oneself and the value of a well-earned break. We featured tips from the PGR community of how we can take care of ourselves, from practising yoga to finding a bit of peace and quiet each day. Simple, healthy habits to implement every day. Throughout November there were also opportunities for our researchers to meet some of the new Student Wellbeing Advisers, and to attend sessions with Bristol Wellbeing Therapies. We also hosted relaxation afternoons in the Hub, featuring free tea, coffee and board games. Finally, we explored the value of ‘making and connecting’ in our #crafternoon.

Throughout WriteFest we’ve learned the power of writing together – either physically, in our Writers’ Retreats and drop-in writing days, or virtually, by sharing our writing goals and holding one another accountable for our achievements. There’s something quite profound about knowing that by writing alongside others you can achieve more than you ever could working alone.

From stitching to stretching — your PGR self-care tips

A ball of wool on a sheet

We marked this year’s Self Care Week (12–18 November) by asking Bristol’s postgraduate researchers: how do you look after yourself?

The tips we received were varied — from baths to boundaries — but there was a strong emphasis on taking a definite step away from your research degree to do something different. And, when you’re in need of some peace, knitting seems to be a go-to pastime.

So, without further ado, here’s what helps you unwind, de-stress and forget about your research.

Nicola

‘My #selfcareweek tip for PGRs is to do positive affirmations. ‘I am doing well’, ‘I am worthy of this opportunity’, ‘I am making a valuable contribution’, etc. It’s amazing how they can people to rewire their anxious minds. Check out Louise Hay’s work on this if you want to know more.’

Niels

‘I like to make myself aware of the different ways creativity works.

‘Sometimes when you’re stuck at solving a problem or writing, just do something completely different. Your brain will continue to subconsciously work on the problem (and much more effectively than your conscious mind can), while you can do exercise, nap or eat. Consciously taking time out doesn’t mean you’re being lazy. In fact you’re being more productive, but also taking care of your own wellbeing.’

Suzanne

‘Knitting and Lego.’

Mary

‘Forcing myself to only work the 1 hour I am paid for preparing a seminar, or the 20 minutes I am paid for marking a paper, even if doing a good job means working triple that and working extra for free.

‘Also knitting.’

Pam

‘If your life is busy and full of thoughts and people, find a way to be quiet and alone once a day. I’m no good at doing nothing so meditation doesn’t suit me. Instead I like a hot bath (doesn’t need to be long), a little yoga or a walk in the fresh air.’

Jane

‘I go to yoga class.’

Demi

‘As research can be hectic at times, I try to involve myself in exercise classes throughout the week, taking a break away from my desk whilst meeting new people!’

 

What would you add? Tell us in the comments or share your tips on Twitter or Instagram using #selfcareweek.

How to Break Your Writer’s Block

… or Getting Ideas Out of Your Head And Onto The Page

This post by Bristol PGR Pam Lock, who’s been running Writers’ Retreats at Bristol since 2014, was originally shared on the Bristol Clear Blog.

A man slumped in front of a laptop

Some days writing is hard. Whether you have writer’s block or just can’t translate your ideas into writing, here are some practical ways to get your ideas out of your head and onto the page.

Free Writing

What is Free Writing? Free Writing is a brain dump, a way to write down your thoughts and ideas without constricting them by constantly editing yourself. It can be particularly useful for people who are afraid to ‘dirty the page’ with words that aren’t quite perfect or who lose track of ideas because they are constantly editing as they write.

Free writing is not about creating beautiful prose. That is the next stage, or even the stage after that. As Terry Pratchett once said, ‘The first draft is just you telling yourself the story’. Once you understand what story you want to tell, you can shape and translate it for others to read and understand. Free writing gives you a different way to access and explore your ideas.

How do I do it? For five minutes, write non-stop: don’t lift your fingers from the keyboard or your pen from the page. Just keep writing. Don’t stop to ponder or make corrections or look up a word’s meaning in the dictionary. Just keep writing.

If you find yourself stuck for something to say, write, ‘I don’t know what to write next’ or repeat the last word you wrote again and again until a fresh thought emerges. It won’t take long.
Be strict, finish your sentence at 5 minutes and stop writing.

When can I use free writing? There are lots of uses for free writing. I recommend it:

  • As a warm up. If you want to get started at the beginning of a writing day, five minutes of creative free writing is a great way to get yourself into the groove before you start tackling your academic writing. It can also open up creative pathways in your brain allowing you to write more smoothly. Write on anything: the view from your window, your journey to work, a painting or photo.
  • As a method to move forward when you are stuck. We all get stuck. Sometimes we just can’t quite work out what we think about something. Sometimes a walk around the block can be good to clear your head. Or five minutes of free writing to help you access deeper thoughts or accept ideas you may have been blocking for some reason.
  • As a way to develop or close an idea. It is easy to get into an inescapable circular pattern of writing. You get obsessed with one idea and end up writing it in slightly different phrasing again, and again, and again until you have thousands of words repeating one thing. Sometimes you just need to close the idea. Free writing can be a great way to do this so that you can move onto the next thing.

Want to know more? For more information about free writing, take a look at:

Peter Elbow, ‘Freewriting Exercises’, Writing without Teachers (New York: Oxford University Press, 1973), 3-11.

Richard Nordquist, ‘What Is Freewriting? How Writing Without Rules Can Help You Overcome Writer’s Block

Six-word summaries

If you find free writing too unstructured, you could try creating a six-word summary of your article or chapter, or even of a single paragraph that isn’t working.

  • Take a few minutes to think about what the piece you want to summarise is about.
  • You may find it useful to write down a few key words to get you started.
  • Spend five minutes sculpting a six-word summary of the piece
  • Not only can this help you work out the essence of your writing piece, the summary you produce can be helpful in the editing process too.
    • Ask yourself: Does every paragraph or sentence help me to communicate the essential ideas of this piece to my reader?
    • Use it to ensure you don’t include anything redundant or miss anything essential from your writing.

Talk to someone else

For some people, writing can be a lonely process. I advocate finding someone you like to write with and meeting up with them regularly for company and motivation. Writing doesn’t have to be a solitary.

Writing buddies can take many forms. Finding someone you trust to be quiet and productive during your writing time but who will be good distracting company during those very important breaks is a great way to improve your writing.

They can also help you break through writer’s block. Talk for 5 minutes at the beginning of a writing day about what you want to each. Challenge each other. Can you help improve or clarify each other’s writing projects? If you are stuck on something, talk it through with your writing buddy. Even if they are not familiar with your subject, they may just ask the right question to make you look at your ideas in a new way.


Want to get involved in WriteFest 2018, the celebration of academic writing held during November? Find out how the Bristol Doctoral College is marking the month in our round-up blogpost.

Tips, tea and time outs — it’s time for Self Care Week 2018

A teapot with the captions 'Got time for a time out?' and '#selfcareweek'

Self Care Week 2018 begins on Monday 12 November, and it’s an opportunity for all of us to take stock and think about our day-to-day wellbeing.

To mark the occasion, the PGR Hub will be hosting free events that provide an opportunity to talk about self-care — and just take a break.

Meet your Student Wellbeing Advisers
Wednesday 14 November, 2.30–4.30pm
An opportunity to meet your faculty’s Student Wellbeing Advisers and learn what they can do for you. This 90-minute session will also include practical tips for looking after yourself. Book now on Eventbrite.

Relaxation Afternoon
Friday 16 November, 12–5pm
As it says on the (biscuit) tin, this is an opportunity to take a break, enjoy some free tea and biscuits, and relax in the PGR Hub. No booking required!

In addition, although it won’t be held during Self Care Week, bookings are also now open for the Bristol Wellbeing Therapies information session on 26 November — a chance to get tips on managing stress and anxiety, and to find how you can get support from the NHS. To attend this special session, sign up for a free place on Eventbrite.

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 a little routine 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 19 November, and its author will win 10 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 hashtag
  • in an email to doctoral-college@bristol.ac.uk.

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 19 November 2018.
  • The winner will receive 10 Bristol pounds.
  • The winner will be selected at random.
  • Multiple entries are permitted.

Welcome new researchers — by sharing what you love about Bristol

It’s a huge celebration for new postgraduate researchers — and, this year, we’re asking all our PGRs to mark the occasion by sending us a snap of something they love about the city, the University or their research.

At our Researcher Inauguration, which takes place on 18 October in the Great Hall of the Wills Memorial Building, we’ll be welcoming hundreds of new PGRs to the University with speeches, fun activities, refreshments and, of course, free scarves. (If you started your research degree after the November 2017 inauguration, be sure to book your free ticket on Eventbrite.)

We already have a selection of stock snaps for the Great Hall’s big screen (which may or may not feature balloons and bridges), but we thought it’d be much more meaningful to share some of your photos — especially images that encapsulate what you’ve enjoyed about your time so far.

To take part, just share a snap in one of the following ways:

  • as a comment on one of the Bristol Doctoral College’s #WelcomePGRs Facebook posts
  • as a tweet with the #WelcomePGRs hashtag
  • as an Instagram post with the #WelcomePGRs hashtag
  • in an email to doctoral-college@bristol.ac.uk.

We’ll pick our four favourite entries at 5pm on Wednesday 17 October. The winners will be displayed on the Main Hall’s giant screen during the Researcher Inauguration and exhibited in the new PGR Hub from the week beginning 22 October.

Good luck — and happy snapping!

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 Wednesday 17 October 2018.
  • Each winner will receive a £10 Watershed voucher. Four prizes will be awarded.
  • Entries will be judged by members of the Bristol Doctoral College team.
  • Entrants can submit more than one photo.
  • Winners consent to their winning photos being displayed during the Bristol Doctoral College’s Researcher Inauguration event on 18 October 2018 and in the PGR Hub in Senate House.
  • Photos will not be used for commercial purposes.

Ada Lovelace Day: one day isn’t enough

Portrait of Ada King, Countess of Lovelace (Ada Lovelace), by Alfred Edward Chalon

For Ada Lovelace Day, Angela Suriyakumaran — a PhD student in the School of Chemistry and a STEM Ambassador — shares a personal reflection.

Someone recently asked me if I had a role model in science that I aspired to as a kid. A lot of you would expect me to name a famous scientist we all learn about in school, but my answer was no. There is one simple reason to that: no one I read or heard about was like me.

Let me add some context: I am a scientist, who happens to be of the South Asian origin, gay, first in my family to attain a degree and a woman. As a kid, I knew I was different but it took me years to realise why, and how that may create some obstacles for me in life. I was different from my family, who only knew manual labour as a way of life and just wanted to survive. I was different from the nine-year-olds in my first UK school, who didn’t understand the sorrow of leaving behind your best friends (human and dog) in a country over 5000 miles away. I was different from the boys who were expected to excel in the sciences and the girls in the arts, because I was okay at sewing but better at multiplying. All of these differences are part of my identity, but they are also the reasons why I could not and often still cannot find role models to connect to within Science.

Being a woman in STEM is a privilege I treasure, but it also comes with the burden of knowing that there are kids still out there who feel just as different as me. Some of these kids will overcome those barriers to reach heights they never even dreamed of, and for some, it will fade into the background as just a dream. So why does all of this matter?

I believe there is real worth in taking the time to go out to schools, and reach out to kids, especially young girls, to teach, inspire and show them that there are people just like them living their dream. Even if we inspire just one self-doubting young girl to keep chasing her aspirations, we have made a difference. And who knows? She may be the next Ada Lovelace, Katherine Johnson or Youyou Tu, but most importantly, we have given her the tools to be the best version of herself.

One day a year is not enough time to show a world full of kids that they are not alone in breaking down barriers through their very existence, but it’s a start.

Your #PGRtrek pictures — a globetrotting gallery

Whether it’s a quick trip to Trondheim or several weeks in Sri Lanka, many PGRs use the summer months to travel beyond Bristol for conferences, symposia and fieldwork. What better way to capture the diverse range of locations visited by these roving researchers than to round them up in a globetrotting gallery? (OK, so we could’ve made a map instead — but we thought this would be more visually appealing.)

Yes, the #PGRtrek competition returned for another year — and this year’s selection of shots didn’t disappoint, with photos featuring everything from frozen fjords to sun-kissed sands. A selection of our favourite snaps are below. Which one do you like the most? Tell us in a comment.

Celebrating the Olden times

Claire Williams submitted this image of a serene green lake, taken during her visit to Olden in Norway.

Trondheim travels

This year’s Inascon conference, held at NTNU Trondheim, gave some of our PGRs a chance take in the spectacular Geiranger Fjord in Norway — as captured in this photo by Victoria Hamilton.

Victoria Hamilton and Gary at Geiranger Fjord, Norway.

Rwandan roamings

This shot of a school in Gitarama, Rwanda, was submitted by Leanne Cameron, a researcher in the School of Education.

View this post on Instagram

 

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Canadian crustaceans

This downtown crab was captured by Anouk Tleps whilst on a break from a conference in Vancouver, Canada. Although this wasn’t the farthest-flung location, Anouk was the winner of this year’s random draw.

Jassi’s epic journey

Although not a winner in this year’s competition, University of Bristol Law School PGR Jassi Sandhar deserves an honourable mention for submitting a stunning selection of images from her recent fieldwork in Rwanda, Uganda and Sri Lanka — featuring Buddhist statues, waterfalls and a particularly bovine beach. And how many people can say they’ve been photobombed by an elephant?

A statue of the Buddha in Colombo, Sri Lanka

Murchison Falls, Uganda

Cow on abeach in Trincomalee, Sri Lanka

An elephant in Udawalawe National Park, Sri Lanka

The trees of Telok Blangah

Second-year PhD student Ashley Tyrer travelled to Singapore in June to attend OHBM 2018 — and, whilst there, took this striking image of Telok Blangah Hill Park. By our calculations, this lush foliage is over 11,000km from Bristol, making Ashley this year’s runner-up.

Telok Blangah Hill Park, Singapore

A quick hop to Honolulu

It was a close-run contest, but her trip to Honolulu, Hawaii for a conference — a journey of over 11,800km — meant Angie McFox was crowned this year’s #PGRtrek winner. Congratulations, Angie!

Thank you to everyone who took part! Whether or not you were a winner, we really enjoyed seeing your images and reflecting on how far PGR life can take you.

[This blogpost was updated on 10 September 2018 to include Angie McFox’s photo and to make it clear that this was the winning entry.]

Where has your research taken you this summer?

A pinboard with the caption: Tell us about your #PGRtrek
Featured images: Lake Superior by Andrea Iannelli; Honolulu by Fiona Belbin; Melbourne by Kacper Sokol; Montmorency Falls by Lin Ma; Patagonia by Sarah Tingey.

We know that the summer months can be busy for Bristol’s postgraduate researchers, and that many of you use the time to travel overseas for conferences, symposia, field work, and so on.

We thought it’d be fun, then, to launch a photo challenge with a travel twist.

Yes, our #PGRtrek competition is back for 2018 — and, this time around, the postgraduate researcher who’s been to the farthest-flung location (for ‘business’ reasons rather than pleasure) will win a £50 contribution towards the cost of any research-related travel. We’ll also be offering another £50 contribution to a random draw from all other entrants to the challenge.

To enter our competition — and see your pin on our map — just share a snap from your travels in one of the following ways:

  • as a comment on one of the Bristol Doctoral College’s #PGRtrek Facebook posts
  • as a tweet with the #PGRtrek hashtag
  • as an Instagram post with the #PGRtrek hashtag
  • in an email to doctoral-college@bristol.ac.uk.

We’ll be sharing a #PGRtrek gallery on the blog later in the year, so please let us know if you don’t want your picture to be featured.

The closing date for the competition is noon on Friday 31 August. Good luck — and happy snapping!

Terms and conditions

The competition is open to current postgraduate research students at the University of Bristol.

The closing date for entries is 12pm on Friday 31 August 2018.

The prize is £50 towards the cost of any research-related travel.

The prize will be awarded via a transfer of funds or a reimbursement of expenses.

The prize will be awarded to the entrant whose research-related activity was the furthest Bristol. The activity in question must have taken place between 1 June and 31 August 2018.

Unless entrants indicate otherwise, images submitted during the competition will be featured on the Bristol Doctoral College blog.

Picture this — a gallery of your PGR pastimes

Last month, as part of our ‘Life Beyond the PhD’ competition, we asked Bristol’s postgraduate researchers to tell us about their hobbies. And, once again, our community didn’t disappoint …

The striking ‘PGR pastimes’ pictures we received showcased the broad range of activities that researchers use to take a break — from crochet to climbing, and from engine reconstruction to embroidery.

Below are a selection of the images that you shared with us, grouped into (slightly rough) categories. We hope you enjoy skimming through them as much as we did.

The Great Outdoors

Taking a break by climbing, exploring — or growing your own veg.🌶️

 

Making and mending

The relaxing effects of stitching, building, puzzling — or fixing a pianola.

My doctoral pastime… #PGRpastime #PGRpastimes

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Sewing by Naomi Clarke
‘I am a Social Work PhD candidate and my downtime/interests outside of my PhD is sewing! I get lost in the rhythmic, repetitive motion of hand stitch which provides an almost meditative experience as I fall into a rhythmic pattern which appeals to so many senses (audio, visual, tactile). It enables me to create a tangible beautiful object to show for my time and effort.’ Naomi Clarke

 

A pianola in the middle of restoration
‘[This is a] picture of the 1923 pianola which I am restoring at the moment. This was left to my family by my Great Grandmother around ten years ago, but unfortunately it was in a desperate state … So I decided to refurbish it after the last of my masters exams had finished last year, and turn it into the cherished family heirloom it deserves to be. Still a long way to go on it though 🙂 Much more woodwork and fun to be had.’ Mark Graham

Music and motion

Hobbies that are anything but … hum-drum.


Going for a spin (and flying through the sky)

The power of hitting the road, making waves or taking flight.

Skydiving image by Maneera Aljaber
A spectacular skydiving image by Maneera Aljaber

Seerat Kaur with her bicycle
Seerat Kaur with her cycle
Lingfeng Ge driving a boat
‘I love boat trips. And sometimes I drive the boat myself. This photo was taken when I was driving a leisure boat on River Avon in Bristol.’ Lingfeng Ge

How do you take a break?

With a community of over 3,000 postgraduate researchers, this selection is obviously just scratching the surface.

And, although the competition is over, we’d love to see more of your snaps — so please feel free to share them with us on Twitter and Instagram using #PGRpastimes.