It’s not just all about the data

IMG_1192Emily Hicks joined the BDC as Postgraduate Research Data and Partnerships Officer in March 2014, moving internally from the Student Data and Information Team. Before that, she worked in local government. In her BDC role, she produces reports on all aspects of postgraduate research student data and information as well as administering the PRES survey, developing the PGR Directory, supporting the doctoral training partnership portfolio and generally getting involved in lots of different aspects of the BDC’s work.

Since joining the University in January 2013, my roles have always meant that I primarily deal with students as numbers in a spreadsheet. Obviously, this is not how I see students: for example a trip to Sainsbury’s at lunchtime definitely reminds me that this is not true!

As PGR Data and Partnerships Officer at the BDC, I have been able to look closely at the way students are recorded in the University’s database and create reports to find out more about the make-up of the student body. What strikes me is that our postgraduate research student profile is not easy to define in data terms, as there are so many different paths and journeys that you are all going through.

It would seem unusual for me to write a blog post without sharing a bit of data, so here are 5 facts about University of Bristol’s PGR student body in the 14/15 academic year so far:

  • 54% of PGR students identify as male
  • 37% of PGR students are not from the UK
  • 25% of PGR students are studying for an award in something other than a PhD
  • PGR students represent a total of 103 different nationalities
  • The Faculty of Science is the largest faculty with 29% of the student body, following by Social Sciences and Law (22%), Engineering (18%), Arts (13%) and Medical and Veterinary sciences and Medicine and Dentistry (9% each).

As much as I enjoy looking at these data snippets, I often find myself thinking about the people behind the numbers. No more so than these past few months where I have been privileged to administer the Postgraduate Research Experience Survey 2015. I say privileged because reading through the comments and results have given me a real insight into the issues, concerns, priorities and feelings that you have. Some of the comments have been really interesting and will shape how I think about the postgraduate research experience. I have not done a PhD myself – I would love to one day – but I feel a responsibility to learn about these issues and ensure that I consider them in all I do – even data reporting. There were so many comments about finding a sense of community, and looking to network academically or interact socially outside of usual research group or school. Bristol Doctoral College recognises this and it has been great to attend recent events such as the Festival of Postgraduate Research and the 3MT where students from all across the university could interact together.

This upcoming year is going to be very different for me as I am going on maternity leave at the end of July. This is an exciting, new challenge in my own life and career path. It got me wondering how many postgraduate research students also have children at home – or how many are expecting a baby throughout their studies? This may seem like a thought in the distant future for many of you, but for a number of students balancing books and babies is the norm. Despite the wealth of data available to me, sadly I am unable to get a percentage figure of the number of PGR parents we have at the University of Bristol.

Rather than just sit and wonder quietly to myself, I wanted to do something. What started with a small notice in the BDC Bulletin asking if there are any parents out there who may want to get together, now has become a ‘Google Group’. Its aim is to bring together postgraduate research students who have children: mothers, fathers, expectant parents or even those just thinking about it.  It is still early days and there is a lot of potential for it to grow. Anyone can join the group and post useful tips, ask advice and arrange get-togethers.  I see this as your group – I just happened to have set it up.

Please take a look and request to join:

Web link:

Or Google groups: Bristol-pgr-parents

It seems clear that everyone’s experience can vary from faculty to faculty, so having a shared forum will hopefully mean that you can get some friendly advice from those who have gone through a similar time. One of the things I have achieved, working with the Equality and Diversity team, is widening Maternity Connections to PGR students. This is an initiative whereby staff, and now PGR students, can contact those who are prepared to share their experience of life as a working parent. There are some academics, breastfeeding experts, as well as professional staff who have undertaken postgraduate research study involved as well. This has only recently been opened to PGR students and I hope this can be a useful source of information for you if you wish to use it.

If you are curious, then please request to join and hopefully this will continue to grow and develop.

So, as I approach my final few weeks before maternity leave, I would like to say thanks to the Bristol Doctoral Team for being great colleagues, and good luck to everyone for the next academic year.