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 firstname.lastname@example.org.
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.
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.
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.
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.
This shot of a school in Gitarama, Rwanda, was submitted by Leanne Cameron, a researcher in the School of Education.
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?
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.
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.]
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
The Bristol Bone Biologists — aka Bristol PhD students Elizabeth Lawrence and Jessye Aggleton — share an update on the project they’re running with the European Space Agency (ESA) as part of the Spin Your Thesis! programme.
Fish are probably the last thing you think of when you hear about space, gravity and astronauts.
Later this year, though, our team will be putting zebrafish in hypergravity.
Why? We want to explore the effect of different gravity levels on tissue development in ‘normal’ zebrafish and zebrafish with a genetic mutation that’s linked to Stickler syndrome and early onset osteoarthritis in humans. The data we collect will provide an insight into how physiology changes in different levels of gravity and improve our understanding of the changes astronauts undergo during spaceflight.
Our last written update was in February after we visited Belgium to attend the ‘Gravity-Related Experiments Training Week’ run by the ESA Education team. The training week was an interesting and intense introduction to planning and running a high-profile experiment. We quickly realised that our experiment date of mid-September didn’t seem so far away when we had so much to prepare!
Since then, we’ve been busy running initial research to make sure both our data collection and data processing will run as smoothly as possible. We recently submitted a paper that talks about our initial findings on how a specific genetic mutation affects joint shape and function in zebrafish in normal gravity (1g). Along the way, we worked out how we are going to collect results and process data after the experiment at the Large Diameter Centrifuge in Noordwijk.
As well as being busy in the lab, we have also been completing a variety of paperwork including: work breakdown packages, timelines, system engineering analysis and budgeting (less glamourous but very important!).
Outreach and public engagement are also a critical part of the project. Alongside creating a fun logo, designing a mascot (Finn the fish), and drafting team stickers and t-shirts (Jessye has thoroughly enjoyed using her penchant for graphic design!), we’re currently setting up a collaboration with We The Curious.
As part of this pilot, we will be asking the public to choose one of the experiments we do using the zebrafish as well as telling them more about our project and how amazing fish are! This will run from 20 to 26 August 2018.
To widen the net our project will cast, we’re also applying for sponsorship for experiment materials, showcasing our work in competitions, and we will be filming the experiment in the hope of making a short film that we can show at science festivals and online.
So far, the project has been amazing at developing skills for our PhDs, with our project planning abilities improving massively as a result.! It’s also made us much more engaged with the impact of communication and outreach, which is essential for any postgraduate researcher.
Finally, we’ve been making sure our social media is looking sharp! Follow us on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter, and visit our website to keep updated and find out more about our project.
In the meantime, in the inimitable words of Kylie Minogue, ‘I’m spinning around… Move out of my way…!’
Our latest competition gives Bristol research students the chance to win a free trip to the ‘Life Beyond the PhD’ conference — just for sharing a photo of their hobby.
The competition winner will receive a free place at this year’s ‘Life Beyond the PhD’ conference, which will be held from 13 to 17 August. Travel costs will also be covered.
Held at Cumberland Lodge, in the heart of Windsor Great Park, ‘Life Beyond the PhD’ is an annual celebration of postgraduate research culture in the UK.
The conference invites PhD students and early career researchers to share their experiences, take part in training, and explore the value of doctoral research in an inclusive and supportive environment.
How to enter the competition
To enter, just take a photo that illustrates one of your hobbies and share it in one of the following ways:
as a comment on one of the Bristol Doctoral College’s #PGRpastimes Facebook posts
as a tweet with the #PGRpastime or #PGRpastimes hashtag
as an Instagram post with the #PGRpastime or #PGRpastimes hashtag
The competition is open to current research students at the University of Bristol.
The closing date for entries is 5pm on Monday 25 June 2018.
The winner will be chosen at random. [Clarification, posted 25/6/18: As we will choose a winning individual rather than a winning entry, please note that submitting multiple photographs will not increase your chances of being selected.]
The winner must confirm that they accept the prize by 12pm on Wednesday 27 June 2018. If they are unable to do so, and alternative winner will be chosen at random.
Travel costs will be covered either through a transfer of funds or a reimbursement of expenses.
Entrants will be asked if their images can be used in a future Bristol Doctoral College blogpost.
I’m the BDC’s “GTA Scholars Scheme Coordinator”, which means that I have two main tasks.
On the one hand, I’m working to develop a scholarship programme for Graduate Teaching Assistants (GTAs) at Bristol, which is slightly different from subsidising your income while studying with some hourly-paid teaching in that GTAs get a stipend, i.e. funding.
The other part of my role consists of figuring out how the BDC can best support all PGRs who teach at the University of Bristol, whether they are GTAs or hourly-paid teachers.
What are you working on at the moment?
A few months into this job, I’m working on getting to know all I can about the University’s PGRs who teach, in order to figure out in which ways the BDC can offer support, and also to be able to build a great scholarship programme for GTAs.
At the moment, I’m organising the Bristol Doctoral Teacher Symposium, a special event for PGRs who teach at the University of Bristol, which will take place on Tuesday 3 July in the M Shed down at the Harbourside.
If you’re a PGR who teaches, why is it worth signing up for the symposium?
There are quite a few reasons!
Fundamentally, it’s a chance to find out about support and opportunities, and to become part of a wider community of peers who can provide guidance and advice. We want all doctoral teachers — whether they feel experience or inexperienced, confident of their skills or unsure where to turn — to be able to share experiences, questions, victories and difficulties in a constructive and supportive environment.
In terms of the format of the day, there will be discussions and panels about a wide range of topics, including career pathways (both inside and outside of academia), development opportunities and how to balance teaching and research.
And there will be free refreshments and a wine reception!
What do you do outside of the BDC?
I did my own PhD at Bristol’s Department of English some years back, studying American Gothic literature — an area in which I still occasionally publish. I’m a big fan of all sorts of horror fiction and can’t resist a good intertextual reference.
I taught as an hourly-paid teacher for several years and have also held a number of professional services jobs at the University, both during and after my PhD. In the beginning of 2018 I joined the Bristol Doctoral College.
I’m a German expat who has lived in the UK for just over a decade now and still regularly visits her native Bavaria.
What are you reading at the moment?
I’ve just finished Stephen King’s new book “The Outsider” and am just starting Christopher Buehlman’s “Those Across the River”.
Kate Oliver, a PhD student from the School of Physics, shares a first-hand account of her visit to the UK Parliament for the STEM for Britain exhibition.
On the 12th of March I went to Parliament, for the second time in my life, this time accompanied by a rolled up piece of A1 paper. I was going to ‘the major event bringing early career researchers and parliamentarians together’, STEM for Britain*.
This poster session, now in its 21st year following its founding by Eric Wharton MP, invites around 50 exhibitors in each of Physics, Chemistry, Mathematics, Engineering and Biological sciences to explain their work to the employees of Parliament and a panel of expert judges. Five of us from Bristol had been selected to present — around a third of applications are successful — all in different categories, and we had been preparing our two-minute pitches for a few weeks, with the help of our supervisors, university support staff, and patient friends.
A particular challenge of this event is that it is judged by scientists — who selected the posters that made it to the event, and decided who would receive each of the three gongs available per subject — but targeted at MPs and policymakers. Therefore, we needed to show our technical chops, but put the applications and relevance or our work front and centre for people who have slightly wider horizons.
All the posters and presenters took a very different route to achieving this goal, and there was an amazing diversity of work and approaches on show. Sadly my poster didn’t pique the attention of the judges much, but I did manage to buttonhole Professor Dame Julia Higgins, President of the Institute of Physics, and chat to the MP for Glasgow North East, Paul Sweeney. We agreed that science had a great potential to improve human well-being, so now we just need to do that!
However, the University did well overall: Dr Celine Maistret, senior research associate in the School of Maths at Bristol, won the gold De Montfort medal for her work on the Birch and Swinnerton-Dyer conjecture. I shall have to get her to explain what that is to me at a time when she is not surrounded by enthusiastic fans.
I only got a small glimpse of the corridors of power due to the rather tight security, but it was still good to feel involved in a small section of the machine that runs the country. Government can feel very opaque and jargon-rich — perhaps almost as much as our specialist subjects — but we need to interact with it for our findings to have maximum impact. I reckon any opportunity to share what we know and cross barriers is worth taking. Plus, I’ve now got an extremely well-honed pitch that I can fire off at anyone.
*Formerly known as SET for Britain — science, engineering and technology — but maths have successfully lobbied for inclusion. Fair enough, you can hardly define a set without them.
Eleni Michalopoulou, a third-year PhD student in the School of Chemistry, explains how she came to be a contributing author on an important Intergovernmental Panel for Climate Change report.
I think now, looking back a year later, it was my inner physicist that helped me look at the problem from a different perspective.
‘The problem’ here was why there was such a big gap in the measurements of CF4 — a nasty greenhouse gas, historically emitted by the aluminium and the semiconductor industries, that has a global warming potential (GWP) of 7360 and a half-life of 50,000 years.
This perfluorocarbon is the focus of my PhD research in the Atmospheric Chemistry Research Group. In particular, I’ve been trying to work out why there’s quite a big gap between what we call a top-down estimate, which broadly means the amount of CF4 we measure in the atmosphere, and the bottom-up inventories, which are compiled from several bodies and/or different industries.
These three years that I have been working on my project, which is sponsored by Prof Mike Czerniak and Edwards Ltd, have been wildly interesting. I had the opportunity to look very closely into the aluminium and semiconductor industries and their emissions, how their technology has changed over the time and how geographical shifts of the industries had an effect on the emissions of CF4 and other PFCs.
However, the more I read about the industries, the more it seemed like there was something missing — something that would help explain the gap and the discrepancies. No matter how we looked at it, the emissions that came from the aluminium and semiconductor industries alone were not enough to explain those discrepancies.
Since there was no explanation for the gap, given what we had already found and what we already knew, I started to look in the literature for other sources, either less known or less likely.
Eventually, I found the work of Hanno Vogel at TRIMET Aluminium, which involved estimating PFC emissions that came from the rare earth smelting industry. I was so excited when I found that — mostly because I had taken the risk of spending quite a lot of time looking into something that could have been just a wrong idea or a bad hunch.
Once we started the discussions with Hanno, it became very clear to us that we were both on to something. From his side, it was a ‘bigger picture’ point of view; from my side, the discrepancies and that gap now made so much more sense.
Very soon afterwards we joined forces and started presenting our work at conferences. I think what really helped us make our case regarding the PFC emissions from the rare earth smelting industry was that his work combined with mine made a really good, logical argument — and good, logical arguments are always great when you are trying to do science!
The best moment was when we presented our work to the head of the greenhouse gas section for the U.S Environmental Protection Agency. What we were suggesting about the contribution of the rare earths to the PFC emissions seemed to make so much sense to so many people.
Not too long after that, we were notified that the Intergovernmental Panel for Climate Change (IPCC) was considering adding a brand-new chapter regarding PFC (and other greenhouse gas) emissions from the rare earth smelting industry, as part of its 2019 Refinement of the 2006 IPCC Guidelines for National Greenhouse Gas Inventories.
We were, of course, absolutely thrilled to hear that! Along with the news of the new chapter came the nomination for both me and Hanno to be included as contributing authors for that new chapter on rare earth smelting and its associated PFC emissions. Eventually, we received the email from the lead authors confirming both of us as contributing authors for the chapter. I can’t speak on behalf of Hanno on this, but I sure spent a significant part of that day just absolutely bouncing around with joy.
There is still a lot of work to be done of course, but I think it’s a great start!