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.
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.
‘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.’
‘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.’
‘Knitting and Lego.’
‘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.
‘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.’
‘I go to yoga class.’
‘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.
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 email@example.com.
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
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.
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.
As 2017 draws to a close, we thought it would be fun to look back over a fast-paced twelve months and select (in no particular order, honest) nine highlights that reflect the sheer range of activity within the Bristol Doctoral College (BDC) team.
Of course, as our work is all about Bristol’s postgraduate researcher (PGR) community, we also want to know what your highlights have been.
Feel free to share them in the comments — or, better still, pop over to our Facebook page and add them to our competition post for a chance to win 10 Bristol pounds. (The competition will end at 5pm on Saturday 30 December 2017.)
1. Bringing research into the heart of Bristol
May’s Research without Borders wasn’t the first festival of postgraduate research coordinated by the BDC — but it was the biggest and best yet, showcasing the work of almost 100 postgraduate researchers through an evening discussion series, an afternoon showcase exhibition at Colston Hall and the finals of the prestigious Three Minute Thesis (3MT®) competition.
Afterwards, PGR Katiuska M Ferrer told us how event had helped her to make connections: “On a personal level, I had the opportunity to make friends with engineers, vets, and biologists — a crowd that, as a sociolinguist, I do not normally mingle with.”
Interested in taking part in the 2018 festival? Keep an eye on our Facebook page during January.
OK, so November’s researcher inauguration event wasn’t just about the free scarves; it was also an opportunity to get over 300 new PGRs together, encourage them to explore connections between their chosen topics and give them a warm welcome them to Bristol’s vibrant researcher community.
But yes — the scarf-waving moment, prompted by BDC Director Dr Terry McMaster, is a 2017 highlight in itself. Thankfully, as you can see from the video above, we were in the right place to capture it for posterity.
3. Sharing your stories
Bristol has an amazingly vibrant researcher community — and, throughout the year, we’ve had the privilege of being able share some of your stories on Facebook, Twitter and the BDC blog.
The video above — Astronauts star Tim Gregory reflecting on his final frontier — was just one of the PGR profiles that we posted during 2017. You can watch our other interviews, including Alfie Wearn on his well-earned place in the UK Three Minute Thesis final and bio-archaeologist Cat Jarman on her BBC Four appearance, on our Facebook page.
What’s so significant about this new Bristol-Macquarie Cotutelle programme? For one thing, it’ll offer PGRs access to state-of-the-art facilities at two universities renowned for their research excellence — and enable them to receive a PhD from both. It’ll also act as a model for future collaborations with institutions around the world.
The BDC conceived and co-managed the project with Macquarie University, so we’ll be sharing much more about it during 2018. Look out for details!
5. A zinger of a session with Inger
In December, we were lucky enough to welcome the renowned Thesis Whisperer herself, as Inger Mewburn visited Bristol to hold a special ‘What Examiners Really Want’ seminar with PGRs.
For Sabrina Fairchild, the BDC’s PG Researcher Development Adviser, helping to coordinate the seminar was her professional highlight of the year. As she noted afterwards: ‘de-mystifying the viva is crucial to decreasing the anxiety of research students and Inger did that with Star Wars-themed flair.’
For one thing, it was the first time we had actually run a Thesis Boot Camp. For the BDC’s Paul Spencer and Anja Dalton, this meant creating an environment where PGRs could spend an entire weekend writing — without even having to think about making their own meals — and encouraging them to put aside perfectionism so they could push ahead with that all-important first draft.
Did it help the PGRs, though? Well, the tweets about ‘#bdctbc’ were certainly encouraging.
The special celebration that we held for the current group of China Scholarship Council PhD scholarship holders was very recent — literally in the last week — but it was such a fine, festive occasion that it easily makes our list of 2017 highlights.
Although the mince pies and mulled wine were fantastic, the real treat was the positive feedback that we got about UoB, the city and the scheme itself. As one PGR put it: “I hope more students will come to Bristol and enjoy their life as a researcher as much as me.”
Interested in finding out more about the China Scholarship Council-University of Bristol Joint PhD Scholarship Scheme? Pop over to the CSC-UoB page.
8. A pilot programme for industrial-strength skills
Did you know that we launched apilot Industrial PhD Professional Development Programme in 2017?
If you’re a doctoral researcher who’s funded by the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC) Doctoral Training Partnership, you’ll be able to build your skills and expand your future career options by signing up for entrepreneurial training, industry placements, a summer school — and, as we announced a few weeks ago, a skills development workshop on 23 January.
The pilot programme came about after the EPSRC awarded the UoB funding to support new and current PhD studentships in science and engineering (as part of the National Productivity Investment Fund).
It’s perhaps more of a theme than a specific highlight — but, for the BDC, 2017 was all about expansion.
A huge part of our work centres on enhancing the environment for our PGRs, and on that front we welcomed Paul Spencer (PGR Environment Development Manager), Anja Dalton (PGR Development Officer, covering for Loriel Anderson), Sabrina Fairchild (PGR Development Adviser), Patrick Ashby (BDC Administrator) and Robert Doherty (Communications & Engagement Assistant).
The work that we do to support the growth of our PGR community is equally important, and new team members Kevin Higgins and Aby Sankaran joined the team during 2017 to lead on, respectively, the Global Bristol PhD Programme and the Industrial PhD Programme.
Of course, it would be remiss of us not to mention the esteemed colleagues who moved on this year — and who played a huge part in making the BDC what it is today. So thanks and best wishes to Bea Martinez Gonzalez and Charlotte Spires. (The much-missed Loriel Anderson will be back with us in summer 2018.)