Animal charm — ‘PGR Pets’ returns to banish the winter blues

For many of us, the cold, dark days of a new year can be something of a slog. The festive break is a fading memory, your regular routine has resumed — but it can be a challenge to find your motivation and get back into the swing of things. Which is why we’re launching a competition that’s designed to bring some joy to January.

Yes, ‘PGR Pets’ is back — and, as in 2019, it’s really just an excuse to celebrate the furry/scaly/feathered friends that help you take a break from your research, or even just give you a little lift when you’re having a particularly frustrating day. The animal in question can be a cat, dog, fish, lizard — even a robin that you always spot on the University campus. If it belongs to somebody else, though, please make sure that you have their permission to share the photo.

To take part in our contest, and be in with a chance of winning a £20 voucher for Pets at Home or 20 Bristol pounds, just share a photograph:

  • as a comment on one of the Bristol Doctoral College’s #PGRpets Facebook posts
  • on Twitter or Instagram using the #PGRpets hashtag
  • by emailing it 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 Friday 31 January 2020.
  • The winner will receive a £20 Pets at Home voucher or 20 Bristol pounds. (The winner will be able to select their prize from these two options.)
  • The winner will be selected at random.
  • Multiple entries are permitted.
  • PGRs who took part in the 2019 competition can participate in the 2020 contest, as long as different images are submitted.
  • If a photograph features a domestic animal that isn’t yours, please ensure you have the owner’s permission to enter.
  • The Bristol Doctoral College may share images from the competition in a future blogpost and on social media. Entrants who don’t want their images to be used are asked to notify the Bristol Doctoral College.

Note: although we thought this was an original idea, we must credit the University of Glasgow’s PGR Service, who got there before us. Read their PGR Pets and self-care blogpost.

Prizes, perspectives and popped balloons — Laura’s Research without Borders story

  • Laura Fox holding a scientific model
    Laura Fox's Research without Borders stall was entitled 'Nano: Nice or Nuisance?'.

Dr. Laura Fox, who recently completed her PhD at the University of Bristol, is a Development Scientist/ KTP Associate in the Physics department at the University of Manchester. In May 2019, when she was still a postgraduate researcher (PGR), she won the ‘Best-Communicated Exhibit’ prize at the 2019 Research without Borders showcase exhibition.

Below, she reflects on the festival — and why getting involved was such a positive experience for her.

I took part in Research without Borders (RwB) in the final year of my PhD (2019), while I was writing my thesis. I decided to take part mostly because I had gotten fed up with the daily slog of writing and sitting at my desk for weeks on end. Taking part in the festival let me have fun with my research again and view my work from a new perspective.

Getting out of the writing bubble

Coming to the end of a research degree sometimes feels like you don’t have time for anything else. You can feel like you should live and breathe your research, which you probably have been doing for 3/4 years.

When you have been working on something for so long, it can definitely start to feel a bit stale towards the end. Taking myself out of the writing bubble to view my research from the eyes of the general public really helped me to squash that feeling. I really enjoyed putting some creativity into the stall design, making colourful and engaging posters, displays and demonstrations. Sparking a bit of joy back into my research again.

The BDC provided some really helpful sessions to help us plan a stall design, discussing what had worked well before and how best to communicate with a wide variety of people that would likely visit us on the day. From these sessions, I learnt the importance of keeping it simple and how much people love to be quizzed!

Sharing research with diverse audiences

I had a bit of set-up to do on the day, as I had decided to make a display out of balloons to represent a cell membrane. Quite a few popped, as you can imagine.

I was ready to go as the doors opened with props and quizzes to describe what I had been doing for the last three years of my life! The first guests at my stall were a large group of retirees that took part in my quiz, ‘Nano: nice or nuisance?’. I was surprised at how much they already knew and they had some brilliant questions. This experience taught me never to assume someone’s knowledge! Within the group were people who used to be engineers and worked at NASA!

From then on, I had lots of visitors at the stall throughout the day — including four-year-olds, sixth-formers, teachers and industry professionals working in a huge variety of fields. Explaining my work to such a large range of people with different science capital was a challenge, but one I’d been prepared for.

A rewarding experience

The event was brought to a fantastic end by the final of the Three Minute Thesis (3MT) competition, which I watched as part of the audience. At the prize-giving and drinks event afterwards, I won the prize for the ‘Best-Communicated Exhibit’ — and I got to use the prize money to attend a conference and give an oral presentation in Sofia, Bulgaria. I’m now happy to say I’ve since submitted my thesis and passed my viva!

Taking part in RwB gave me improved communication skills, the opportunity to network and, most importantly, renewed energy to finish writing up! It’s a fun day and a fantastic thing to put on your CV, so what are you waiting for? Apply!


Want to give it a try yourself? To apply for this year’s festival, just complete the Research without Borders application form before 9am on Thursday 6 February 2020.

If you’d like to get more information about the festival before you apply, the Bristol Doctoral College team will be holding two drop-in sessions in the PGR Hub (2nd floor, Senate House). Join us at:

  • 1.30–2.30pm on Wednesday 22 January
  • 1.30–2.30pm on Friday 24 January.

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.

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!