WriteFest returns — how to get involved this November

WriteFest 2019 | cartoon character using a laptop

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.

Week 1

Week 2

Week 3

  • Drop-in Writing Day, PGR Hub training room – 13th November (no booking required)
  • Bristol Clear: Writers’ Retreat – 14th November

Week 4

  • Drop-in Writing Day, PGR Hub training room – 20th November (no booking required)
  • Bristol Clear: Writers’ Retreat –21st November
  • Thesis Boot Camp – 22nd, 23rd, 24th November (applications closed)

Week 5

  • Bristol Clear: Writers’ Retreat – 25th November
  • Bristol Clear: Regular Productive Academic Writing – 25th November
  • Writers’ Retreat – 28th November (booking required)
  • Bristol Clear: Writers’ Retreat – 28th November

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.

Five reasons to apply for our ‘Skills for the Future’ Summer School

Doctoral researchers at the 2018 summer school
Doctoral researchers at the 2018 summer school

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.

If you have any questions about the course, please contact Dr. Aby Sankaran.

Skills for the Future is organised by the Bristol Doctoral College, and facilitated by Spin Up Science and QTEC.

PGR Hub: Pop-up activities throughout the summer

The Brambles
The Brambles — one of the venues for our pop-up summer events.

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. 

Schedule of PGR Hub pop-up activities

ActivityDate & TimeLocationDescription
Spring-into-Summer Shindig4-6pm , Thursday 30 May PGR Hub, 1st floor Senate House Meet and mingle with your wider research community over light refreshments and snacks – there will be music, plants for the keeping, and a chance to leave your thoughts about the PGR Hub’s first year
Writers’ Retreat 9am-5pm, Tuesday, 11 June Room 2.26, 35 Berkeley Square Supportive and structured days designed to help you focus on your word count and pick up some tips on distraction-free writing
Coffee & Cake Hour11am-12pm Tuesday, 18 June The BramblesTake a break from your work, meet other PGRs, and enjoy some *free* sweet treats
Thesis Bootcamp: Veterans' Day9am-5pm, Wednesday 19 JuneTBCA day for our Thesis Bootcamp attendees to come and check back-in on their progress and write in peace
Board Game Café2-4pm, Thursday 4th July The BramblesEnjoy a classic like chess, Scrabble or Monopoly — or bring in your own game. It's your move.
Coffee & Cake Hour11am-12pm, Tuesday 16 July The BramblesTake a break from your work, meet other PGRs, and enjoy some *free* sweet treats
Writers’ Retreat 9am-5pm, Friday 19 July Helen Wodehouse Building, 35 Berkeley SquareSupportive and structured days designed to help you focus on your word count and pick up some tips on distraction-free writing
Writers’ Retreat 9am-5pm, Monday 5 August TBCSupportive and structured days designed to help you focus on your word count and pick up some tips on distraction-free writing
TA Talk Series: with Academic Staff Development 2-4pm, Wednesday 14 August The BramblesAre you a doctoral researcher who teaches? Come along to a relaxed informal talk for those balancing research and teaching.
Coffee & Cake Hour11am-12pm, Tuesday 20 August The BramblesTake a break from your work, meet other PGRs, and enjoy some *free* sweet treats

Would you like to run an event or session yourself?  

PGRs will have access to the Brambles space (in the Hawthorns) throughout the summer. 

If you would like to run an event or activity for PGRs during the months of June – September, please get in touch with us with your idea and we endeavour to book you into the Brambles space. 

Please note that we will be unable to offer bookings between 12 and 2pm, during which time the space is used as a relaxation lounge by all staff across the University. 

When does the PGR Hub open again? 

The PGR Hub opens its doors once again on 23rd September. To find out more about the changes taking place in Senate House and the Campus Heart programme, visit their website. 

7 gifts the PGR Hub gave us in 2018

The PGR Hub with floating text: '7 gifts from the PGR Hub'

As the staff of the BDC reflect on the joys and tidings 2018 has given us and our wider PGR community, we can’t help but return to the one gift that has kept on giving: our brand-new PGR Hub space. It’s only been open since October, but it’s already had a huge (and positive) impact on Bristol’s PGRs.

Here are seven of our Hub highlights — and some ideas on how you can make the most of this new space in 2019.

1. Putting PGR personal and professional development front-and-centre

The University’s Personal and Professional Development (PPD) programme for PGRs is now based primarily in one central location, thanks to the establishment of the PGR Hub. Our research students can come along to one consistent space to find out what’s coming up in our schedule of over 100 free workshops, seminars and courses run around researcher development.

Since the Hub opening in October earlier this year, over 45 courses, workshops and groups in total have taken place in one of our dedicated training rooms. Highlights include brand new courses that focus on different stages of a research degree: ‘Getting going’, ‘Maintaining momentum’, and ‘Finishing up and forging ahead’ help you plan and manage your degree according to which stage you find yourself in. ‘Thesis Boot Camp’, a residential writing programme for those writing up, also took place over three days in November. Check out upcoming PPD courses through our online catalogue.

2. Not one – but two! – seasonal Hub Quizzes

The Hub isn’t just about training and development, though. Bringing together PGRs from different parts of the University to meet one another and have fun is a big part of the Hub’s mission. The BDC hosted two ‘Hub quizzes’ themed around Halloween and the winter festive season — opportunities for PGRs to take a break, tackle our trivia-tastic questions… and endure some truly terrible puns

As we enter 2019 and look ahead at our upcoming seasons — Valentine’s Day, the Easter break, maybe even an April Fool’s themed quiz — we’re asking our PGRs to volunteer themselves as host! Get in touch with us if you think you can outpun our punstoppable punchlines so far.

3. WriteFest

WriteFest 2108 logo | cartoon person typing on a laptop

November saw researchers and research students alike join in with Academic Writing Month (#AcWriMo). The University joined in for WriteFest, a month dedicated to support around writing for academic purposes. Altogether, our PGRs who took part wrote a total of 349,229 over the course of 30 days — an astounding figure! A big part of how we achieved this was through hosting Thesis Boot Camp, Writers’ Retreats, and Drop-in writing days in the Hub.

Of course, WriteFest wasn’t just about hitting targets – but about developing healthy, professional writing habits. Check out our WriteFest roundup for our most important takeaways and tips. From January, we’ll be hosting regular drop-in writing retreats every Friday in the Hub.

4. Calming Crafternoons

One of our favourite activities going on in the PGR Hub is the ‘calming Crafternoon’ – an afternoon dedicated entirely to mindfulness activities such as knitting, colouring, jigsaw puzzling or sketching. We provide the supplies, and our PGRs supply themselves! Even if you don’t want to take part in a specific activity, there’s free tea and coffee on hand to help you relax and unwind.

Do you have an activity you’d like to bring, a skill you’d like to share, or an idea for supporting mindfulness? Get in touch with us and let’s make it happen!

5. The introduction of our TA Talk series

A huge part of supporting our PGR community is to support doctoral researchers who teach. The Hub is host to the newly established ‘TA Talks’ series, which consists of loosely-themed sessions designed around peer-networking, support resources and development opportunities around the University. The first two talks featured appearances from the Digital Education Office and the Bristol Doctoral College.

The next TA talk takes place on 22 January, and invites early career academics from the Bristol Institute for Learning and Teaching (BILT) to discuss how their own teaching experiences influenced their research and career pathways. Sign up via Eventbrite.

6. Sharing PGR experiences in working with industry

PGRs Sam Brooks and Robert Dibble shared their experiences on placements they undertook this summer as part of the National Productivity Investment Fund. PGRs interested in learning more about the benefits of placement opportunities were invited to hear them speak and ask questions over free pizza in the Hub. The value of getting established in industry settings are that they open employability doors beyond the world of academia. Placements broaden your skill set, complement your research, and provide experience in a professional setting.

Our next discussion about placements features a special guest from Aardman Animations to share her experiences of working in Creative Industries. Join us in the Hub on 22 January.

7. Welcoming new PhD scholars to Bristol’s PGR community

China Scholarship Council – University of Bristol (CSC-UoB) Joint PhD Scholars

The Hub provided an ideal location to welcome to Bristol our new cohort of China Scholarship Council – University of Bristol (CSC-UoB) Joint PhD Scholars. Returning students were invited to share their experiences of Bristol both as a city and a research-intensive University, and new students were encouraged to share their hopes and ambitions for the next few years.

The Pro-Vice Chancellor for Research and Enterprise, Professor Nishan Canagarajah, welcomed the scholars with a heartfelt message about his own experiences as an international postgraduate scholar, and the importance of finding and building relationships and support systems within one’s wider research community.

Since this event, the PGR Hub has been a space dedicated to helping our PGRs build those relationships and establish those support systems for themselves and with one another.

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.

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.

6 reasons to apply for Research without Borders

By now, most Bristol PGRs will (we hope) have heard about Research without Borders, the University’s festival of postgraduate research.

You might not have heard, though, that there are a lot of good reasons why it’s worth your time — from communication training to making new connections.

So, ahead of the closing date for applications (11am on Monday 5 February!), we thought we’d share a quick round-up of the benefits of taking part. (Of course, if you’re ready to apply now, you can just pop over to our Research without Borders page.)

1. It’s a chance to showcase your work to potential employers

We’ll be welcoming a wide variety of visitors to both the Colston Hall exhibition and the discussion series — from academics and industry contacts to fellow PGRs and school pupils.

If you’re keen to share your research with the wider world, then, Research without Borders is an amazing opportunity to make connections with audiences that otherwise would be hard to reach.

Want to get a flavour of the festival? Watch this round-up video from the 2017 showcase.

 

2. You’ll get £30 to develop your display

We’re encouraging all our exhibitors to come up with creative and imaginative displays — above and beyond the standard academic posters.

We know that this kind of creativity comes with a price tag, though, so every PGR who takes part in the showcase event will get £30 that they can use for materials or equipment.

But what happens if you have a particularly ambitious idea for your exhibit? We’re keen to encourage innovative approaches — so, during the training phase, you’ll be able to apply for up to £200 to make it a reality.

3. You’ll sharpen your communication skills with free training

Every PGR who takes part — whether they’re exhibiting at the showcase event or presenting during the evening discussion series — will receive a bespoke package of training that’ll help them structure and communicate their ideas.

Alfie Wearn quote: “The training was very useful — especially on speaking with the public and making a potentially complicated topic into an interesting story.”

4. It can open up new opportunities

It’s not just a fun event in itself; Research without Borders can also be a springboard for PGRs who want to communicate their work to the world.

After last year’s festival, some of the participants went on to talk about their research on podcasts, at public events, conferences — and even on television.

5. It’s recommended by other PGRs

It’s no secret that we think Research without Borders is a fantastic opportunity for Bristol’s PGRs.

You don’t just have to take our word for it, though. Watch Jessye Aggleton, who took part in last year’s festival, share some of her reflections on the event.

6. You might win an iPad

Interested in taking part in the showcase event? If you do, you might win the coveted title of ‘Most Engaging Exhibit’ — an honour that comes with a free Apple iPad. Other prizes on the day will include money for researcher development activities.

You can find even more reasons to take part — and submit your application — by visiting our Research without Borders page.

Hurry, though! The deadline is 11am on Monday 5 February.

How Thesis Boot Camp helps PGRs to beat the block

Dr. Paul Spencer, the Bristol Doctoral College’s PGR Environment Development Manager, took some time during December’s Thesis Boot Camp to reflect on the aims of the weekend — and why it’s so beneficial for the postgraduate researchers who take part.

It’s a Sunday morning in mid-December, I can see great big flakes of snow falling outside the window to my right and I’m writing away along with 25 postgraduate researchers who are making stellar progress on writing that thesis. Why? Well, the Bristol Doctoral College (BDC) is running our first Thesis Boot Camp here in the School of Education this weekend. The BDC will run two more in the coming months, so I thought I’d take the time to explain what it’s all about.

What is a Thesis Boot Camp?

Dr Paul Spencer at December's Thesis Boot Camp

Simply put, it’s about getting late stage postgraduate researchers together in a peer group and setting them a seemingly impossible target of writing 20,000 words between Friday evening to Sunday evening.

Many postgraduate researchers find themselves writing alone, struggling to make progress on what can feel like an unreachable goal. Thesis Boot Camp turns that on its head and brings people together to harness the power of collective motivation and progress.

Why Thesis Boot Camp?

All creative ideas involve some sort of theft, and so it is with Thesis Boot Camp. There are many writing retreats that groups of authors often engage in and this is just an iteration of that. It’s really quite simple: provide some comfortable space, food, drink, an empathetic ear, plenty of opportunity for connection and just let the postgraduate researchers write.

What key things are we trying out here?

The key concepts that we ask the participants to experiment with are things that experienced writing tutors may be familiar with.

  1. That writing in a group, especially of like-minded individuals, can be hugely productive.
  2. Often the sense of perfectionism that doctoral researchers aspire to can get in the way of writing productively, so neatly described in Katherine Firth’s blogpost on ‘The Perfect Sentence Vortex’.
  3. To be productive, you first need quite a lot of material to begin with — make a big mess first and then tidy it up!
  4. Preparation is crucial, so participants are given lots of ideas and suggestions on how to plan and be ready for Thesis Boot Camp before it happens. This involves a bit of planning — to really think about what each chapter is trying to achieve and how it fits into an overall argument or thread that forms the backbone of the original contribution claim in a doctoral dissertation.

So, how is it going?

The first thing that has really struck me this weekend has been the overall enthusiasm and positive approach from the postgraduate researchers on this Thesis Boot Camp.

The willingness to lean into the discomfort of trying out unfamiliar approaches to writing, the collegial nature of the interactions, the supportive conversations that I’ve witnessed. It really drives home the absolute key ingredient for me, and that’s the importance of a community of writers/peers who offer each other encouragement and support collectively whilst pursuing their own writing goals.

Key ingredients

Here are a few things that really help make a Thesis Boot Camp work.

  1. A good, flexible venue. In this case the entire top floor of the School of Education in Berkeley Square — self-contained and able to support a DIY approach to the provision of copious amounts of tea/coffee (essential!).
  2. Regular meal times. A good range of wholesome food — and being able to eat together without effort — is crucial for the community dynamic. Plenty of snacks in between is also essential. Boot Camp runs on biscuits!
  3. Taking regular breaks. We took full advantage of our great location and went for a walk to the Cabot Tower on Brandon Hill on Saturday afternoon, and on Sunday with the sleet and snow falling, it was easy to pop over the road to the Bristol Museum & Art Gallery. As one participant said, viewing the dinosaur bones certainly brought a sense of perspective to the thesis writing.
  4. The rewards! I know it seems silly, but squeezy coloured Lego bricks at regular word-count milestones (5,000, 10,000, 15,000 and 20,000) are a real symbol of progress and productivity and the participants really took to the concept. The real magic of these is that you take them home, pop them on your desk and they serve as a reminder of your achievement to inspire you during the writing times to come.

And that of course is the most important part of Thesis Boot Camp: the legacy. Creating ways for postgraduate researchers to remind themselves and each other of their progress during just one weekend helps inspire them to continue to meet, talk, write and encourage each other to get to that dreamed of finish line. Being part of that is something pretty special.

The next Thesis Boot Camp will take place over the weekend of 23–25 February 2018. To find out more — and submit an application to take part — visit our Thesis Boot Camp page

Thought on the landscape — how a ‘disruption’ symposium stimulated debate

Our PGR Ventures Fund supports grassroots innovation, creativity and leadership in the University of Bristol’s postgraduate researcher community.

This year, the Literary and Visual Landscapes Seminar Series received funding from the Ventures Fund and the School of Modern Languages to host a half-day symposium on the theme of ‘Disrupted Landscapes’.

The Literary and Visual Landscapes team took some time to tell us about the event’s success.

Our Disrupted Landscapes Symposium, which was held on 14 June, was an opportunity for postgraduate researchers from all disciplines to explore the concept of ‘disrupted landscapes’ across all geographical and chronological time spans.

In our call for papers, we invited speakers to explore the concept of landscapes in both the traditional sense — as geographical and pastoral spaces — and also as figurative sites of conflict and uncertainty.

We also encouraged speakers to question the dual relationship between humans and their environment. For example:

  • What does it mean for a landscape to be ‘disrupted’?
  • How might we measure this?
  • How might a ‘disrupted’ landscape affect its inhabitants, and how might these individuals contribute to the disturbance of their physical surroundings?

The greatest success of the symposium was how our broad call for papers brought so many different areas of research together, enabling us to really promote the interdisciplinary ethos of the Literary and Visual Landscapes Seminar Series.

The speakers came from our own postgraduate research cohort, including some new faces, as well as the University of Sheffield and Goldsmiths (University of London). Our audience was even more varied.

Our panels — ‘Disrupted Victorian Topographies’, ‘Digitised Landscapes’ and ‘Memorialising Landscapes’ — overlapped in more ways than we could have foreseen, such as Andy Day and Doreen Pastor’s discussions on memorials in the landscape, and Joan Passey and Sophie Maxwell’s references to the landscape paintings of J. M. W. Turner.

Tamsin Crowther kicked the afternoon off with a fascinating look at the anxieties of the Victorian suburbs, and Richard Stone commenced our final panel with a lively debate on the urban representation of Bristol’s connection to slavery.

It was exciting also to see how the papers linked back to our seminar series — particularly James Watts’s discussion of colonial landscapes.

Thank you again to the Ventures Fund for such a great opportunity to gain experience organising and coordinating a symposium and to meet so many great postgraduate researchers and learn about such a wide variety of projects.