Where has your research taken you this summer?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Terms and conditions

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

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

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

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

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

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

Picture this — a gallery of your PGR pastimes

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

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

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

The Great Outdoors

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

 

Making and mending

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

My doctoral pastime… #PGRpastime #PGRpastimes

A post shared by carolinagordillo (@carolinagordillo) on

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

 

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

Music and motion

Hobbies that are anything but … hum-drum.


Going for a spin (and flying through the sky)

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

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

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

How do you take a break?

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

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

5 Quick Questions for Conny Lippert, Bristol Doctoral College

In our new (occasional) series, we’ll be getting to know more about research students and Bristol Doctoral College (BDC) staff by asking them five quick questions.

Our first interviewee is the Bristol Doctoral College’s Dr Conny Lippert.

Interested in being featured in a future post? Email the Doctoral College today.

So, what’s your role?

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”.

Presenting posters to parliamentarians — Kate’s ‘STEM for Britain’ story

Kate Oliver at the STEM for Britain event
Kate Oliver at the STEM for Britain event [Photo: STEM for Britain]
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.

A new chapter for greenhouse gas emissions — how a Bristol PGR’s research had real-world impact

Eleni Michalopoulou (centre) with project partner Tim Arnold (left) and Prof. Mike Czerniak (right).
Eleni Michalopoulou (centre) with project partner Tim Arnold (left) and Prof. Mike Czerniak (right).

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!

8 things we learned from our PGR panel

As part of the University of Bristol’s fantastic Postgraduate Open Day on 22 November 2017, the Bristol Doctoral College brought together a panel of four PGRs — from a mixture of faculties and at different stages in the research degree experience — and asked them to share their insights and experiences with an audience of prospective postgraduate students.

Over the course of a stimulating half hour, chaired by BDC Director Terry McMaster, the panel reflected on how the PGR experience had changed them and offered some advice to others embarking on the research journey. The following is an edited transcript that stitches together some of the main points raised during the session.

But first, some introductions. The panellists were:

  • Sam Brooks, PhD candidate (Engineering)
  • Isabella Mandl, PhD candidate (Biological Sciences)
  • Jane Nebe, PhD candidate (Education)
  • Milo Rengel, MPhil candidate (Classics).

And, without further ado, here are their words of wisdom.

1. Even when you feel stressed out, you’re still picking up new skills

Isabella: “For me, researcher development basically means that you learn a set of new skills that you just didn’t have before starting your PhD. And you might not even notice that you’re learning them, because you’re stressed out or you feel inadequate — those are two totally normal things. But you are definitely going to learn a set of new skills that you didn’t have before. They could be research-based, you could get networking skills that you didn’t have before, you just get writing skills or talking skills.

“So if you end up with a research degree, you’ll end up with a unique set of skills that you’ll figure out that you got during that time. You might not notice it in the process of doing it — but, afterwards, you’ll be ‘oh, OK’.

“And I think that’s what ‘researcher development’ means for me: it’s basically gaining skills, gaining knowledge.”

2. Collaboration creates confidence

Jane: “One thing this PhD has taught me is the importance of collaboration, the importance of networking, the importance of engaging with people — because you cannot do it alone, you need people as much as they need you.

“It’s like acquiring skills to make you a better you; a better person than you were.

“So, I look at my journey over the last three years, and I see that I’m a different person, but in a good way. Not perfect, but in a good way. And there are things that I think that I could do today that I would not have been able to do three years ago.”

3. It’s good to re-learn old skills and break bad habits

Milo: “The other thing that I’ve found useful, even in just my short time here, is that you develop skills that you kind of already had but were maybe just a bit unsure about. So, particularly in terms of research, or in finding knowledge, using that knowledge, applying theories, all that sort of thing.

“I think the other thing is it helped me develop, because I became a little bit cocky and thought ‘yeah, I’m a great researcher, I’ll be fine’. It does take you down a peg — but definitely in a good way, because you unlearn the things that you kind of shouldn’t have learned before, or bad habits, and you re-learn them in a much more constructive way.”

4. Take opportunities to push yourself

Sam: “Like Jane said, the more you get involved, the more you push yourself to challenge yourself, the more you get out of it.

“It’d be easy to sit in your lab or your office and do research and not meet anyone — and go through your whole PhD doing that. And some people would do that, they’d be quite happy to do that.

“But I think you should to take the opportunities to push yourself, because they’re the ones that will help you develop and grow as a person or as a researcher — or just help you with life, basically.”

5. At the start, you won’t know everything you’re going to do

Jane: “Your proposal is supposed to give your supervisor a general idea of what you want to do. You could not know everything that you would do at that point, but it’s important that you have general idea of what you want to do.

“And along this journey, that proposal may change. For some that change may be quite big, for some it will be quite small — and then you have different degrees.

“What I’m trying to say is: just have general idea of what you want to do and understand what has been done around it before, and you’ll present a strong argument when you submit your proposal.”

6. Academics are there to help you

Milo: “I did apply with a particular research topic — and then, about two weeks before I’m supposed to start my course, completely changed it to something absolutely, completely different.

“It was an area that I’d never really looked at before, and I went to my proposed supervisor with this new topic that I was completely unfamiliar with, but he still looked at it and said ‘there’s a lot of promise here, we’ll develop the bits we need to, we’ll cut out what doesn’t need to be in here, but there’s a lot of promise’.

“And I think academics look very scary from the student perspective, but the more you kind of associate with them you realise that they’re there to help you and they want to help you, and so they will look at the ideas and they’ll try and guide you the way you want to go. So you have some autonomy as well, you can say ‘no, I want to do this thing’.”

7. Being challenged isn’t bad — and will help you grow

Sam: “When I was an undergraduate, I was quite successful. I got a first, I was doing quite well. I went to do a PhD and thought ‘oh, this is going to be easy, I’ll walk through this’. And there’s a lot of people who are the same level as you — or smarter. And you’re interacting with them a lot. And you do find times when your ideas will be challenged. A lot of the time you’ll be surprised how often you aren’t challenged. But if you are challenged, you will find that it’s not as bad as you think.

“I think some of the situations where I’ve grown the most are where — with my research, or papers I’ve published, or conferences — I’ve been questioned thoroughly about what I’ve done and had to justify it. And sometimes I can’t justify it 100%. But if you can justify it 80–90%, that’s still good. Especially in academia, you’re never going to be able to satisfy everyone.

“You have to satisfy yourself, I think, and that’s the important thing.”

8. Be open to new input — because research develops quickly

Isabella: “I think one of the main obstacles [for PGRs] is if you learn something differently and then you kind of hold on to that too much. And research develops quickly, so you might hold on to something that’s old, that’s outdated — but, because you’ve learned that and you feel like you’re in control of that, you hold on to it.

“So I think that’s one of the main obstacles, if you’re not open enough to input. Because you’re there to learn. You’re not there to know everything. You’re not there to end up with a PhD but say ‘oh, I could’ve got the PhD at week three because I know everything I know now’.

“You’re there to learn. You’re there to be taught, and to be guided. And I think that’s probably one of the great things, that you have to be open for it as well. Otherwise, you’ll probably run into some quite severe difficulties pretty soon.”

Researcher reflections — how working with young offenders changed me

This guest blogpost is a personal reflection by Adeela ahmed Shafi, a PhD candidate in the School of Education. Adeela is also Senior Lecturer in Education at the University of Gloucestershire and Vice-Chair of the Avon & Somerset Police Powers Scrutiny Panel.

If you’re a researcher, there’s plenty of literature available on how to be ethical; how to reflect and acknowledge your presence in research, in terms of research design, data collection, analysis and indeed the claims made.

However, there’s not much out there on how the research process actually impacts on the researcher.

My research contributes to the intense political debate on youth justice by exploring the nature of disengagement in young offenders in a secure custodial setting and how this group can be re-engaged.

What I would like to do here, though, is talk about the challenges — methodological, ethical and personal — that I needed to navigate in order to get to the findings.

Challenges, dilemmas and adapting your approach

For me, there were many personal and methodological challenges in working with incarcerated young offenders.

For example, I had prepared all manner of interview aids to help me elicit data from my participants — all derived from the literature in terms of the best way to interview children and vulnerable participants. However, I ultimately found that these were all quite superfluous and in themselves made many assumptions about my participants.

In the end, then, I found I had to ditch these and just use myself as the main resource. This involved having to reveal some of my own vulnerabilities and weaknesses, and in doing so redress the power imbalance between myself as a researcher and the incarcerated participants, who had very little power or autonomy. I hadn’t actually planned that in my data collection prep work!

Having got myself in a position where my participants were willing to trust me and open up, I felt myself amidst an array of ethical challenges and dilemmas. Not least of these was that I was now in a privileged but weighty position of responsibility, with a duty to tell the story of a ‘doubly vulnerable’ group who had little voice in a society that had already passed judgement on them.

Retaining and representing what’s been shared

Because of this sense of responsibility, I felt that the handling of the data had to avoid fracturing the essence of what had been shared. I found my memory, emotions and the field notes of each interview were essential in this, because I could recall the additional aspects of the interview not recorded in transcriptions to enter the analysis — in particular, the body language and the atmosphere in the room during the interviews. Even now as I write this, I find myself transported back, and I remember how riveted I felt when listening to them.

My experiences also reinforced the criticality of the researcher in the generation of data, and in ensuring that this data was represented in a way that captured the richness of it. I didn’t see it as data ‘waiting to be gathered’, because my participants indicated they’d never had the space to give thought to their educational experiences in the way that engagement with the research had enabled them.

In short, working with these young people meant I was able to get a glimpse of their potential.

But I feel guilty.

In participating in the research, I was showing these vulnerable participants what could be — but what was not to be. Being unable to facilitate the potential I witnessed beyond the scope of my research stung.

I realised then that research can change you.

Being open to the idea of open

In the run up to International Open Access Week, Dr. Paul Spencer, the BDC’s PGR Environment Development Manager, shares his thoughts on why openness matters.

I’m an enthusiastic advocate of Open Access — the free, immediate, online availability of research articles coupled with the rights to use these articles fully in the digital environment. I believe this paves the way for positive changes to how research is conducted and disseminated that facilitate breakthroughs making tangible differences as we face challenges in modern society.

But I realise that not everyone thinks the same way I do. There are some folks in academia that baulk at the idea of transforming a long established model of scholarly publishing for fear that it destabilises the way that academics are recognised and rewarded for their contributions in research. I think this is particularly difficult for postgraduate researchers who often receive conflicting advice on how to take the first steps in getting published.

In a few days it will be Open Access Week (23–29 October 2017), an international celebration of the progress made in open access. This year the theme is to highlight the facilitative nature of open access by asking people to complete the sentence “Open in order to_______”.

What follows are my responses to that call.

Open in order to establish yourself as a researcher

The academic research environment is undeniably a crowded and competitive space. It is imperative for those who are taking their first steps into this arena to leverage all they can to establish themselves as researchers in their speciality.

I believe that having a strong digital identity is immensely helpful. The first place is to set up a digital identifier for yourself as a researcher so that you can ensure all of your outputs are connected to you and your digital identity. It’s called ORCiD and it’s very simple to set up. Do it now.

Open in order to make a difference

I believe that most researchers do what they do not because they want to be rich and famous, most do it because they want their ideas, research, suggestions, theories to make some sort of difference to the world.

This is in essence what a doctorate is all about, producing an original contribution to knowledge and therefore furthering our understanding about how things are. Therefore it becomes really important that we do what we can to ensure that our outputs are not placed behind restrictive paywalls.

Open in order to further your career

“Publish or perish” is a well worn phrase when it comes to progressing an academic research career. One school of thought on this is to only target the most prestigious journals in your field and publish there at all costs. The downside of this approach is that it is a risky game to play, especially when you are an early career researcher as what you really need is quality outputs that are visible and are being cited.

Making your research articles open access increases your citation rates and is therefore good for your career!

Open in order to make connections

Establishing your reputation as researcher is a key element in a digitally connected world and there is good evidence that being able to write and share work that is in progress or in print via a number of social media platforms is now part and parcel of a modern academic’s scholarly life.

Open in order to agitate change in scholarly publishing

A little further up this post I linked to an article entitled Untangling academic publishing: A history of the relationship between commercial interests, academic prestige and the circulation of researchI think it is important to understand how the scholarly publishing landscape has evolved over the past 25 years (and why) so that researchers who are starting out understand just how it works, especially when it is your labour that is being profited from.

Most of the economics of publishing are largely hidden from the academic community and is increasingly under the control of four very large commercial organisations. But it doesn’t have to be this way – the power to influence and change is your hands, the early career researchers who will be the research leaders of the future.

So, there are a few things to start you thinking. Are you being open to the idea of open?

The Bristol Doctoral College would love to hear your thoughts about this.

 

Header image: ‘Open’ sign — CC BY-NC 2.0, Niklas Morberg (bit.ly/2xQlggD)

Putting Bristol’s postgraduate researchers on the map

We asked you to tell us where your research took you this summer — and your tweets, Instagram pics and emails didn’t disappoint, with tales of dashing to Denmark from Honolulu and popping to Patagonia for PISCES (a project to measure the impact of ice field shrinkage).

But who has won the (rather striking) University of Bristol scarf?

The pins on this Google Map show that some of our postgraduate researchers travelled pretty far indeed, with entries about journeys to Canada, China and Japan.

 

However, when Kacper Sokol told us about his trip to the International Joint Conference on Artificial Intelligence in Melbourne, we knew that this would be difficult to beat. (According to Google, Melbourne is 10,599 miles from Bristol — giving it a 2,000 mile lead over our next-best entry, Sarah Tingey’s terrestrial work in Chile.)

Although it’s fun to see the pins on our map, the most impressive part of the competition has been the fantastic photographs that PGRs sent along with their entries. Some of our favourites are in the gallery below.

Thanks to everyone who took part in the #PGRtrek competition. Even if you didn’t win, you’ve helped to show that life as researcher really can (ahem) take you places.