For our latest competition, we’re asking PGRs a question: what’s the hobby or a creative outlet that’s been helping you to cope with the lockdown?
Whether it’s yoga, knitting or Animal Crossing: New Horizons, we want to hear about the activities and diversions that have been lifting your spirits during the COVID-19 situation. And taking part in our competition isn’t just a chance to win a prize (more on that below) — it’s also an opportunity to share your tips and insights with the whole PGR community.
How to enter the competition
To enter, just take a photo that illustrates a lockdown pastime 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 #PGRpastimes hashtag
as an Instagram post with the #PGRpastimes hashtag
We’ll pick three winners at random, and each PGR will receive a £20 Spotify or Netflix gift card. (The winners will be able to choose which gift card they’d like.)
Terms and conditions
The competition is open to current research students at the University of Bristol.
The closing date for entries is 11.59pm on Sunday 10 May 2020.
The winners will be chosen at random. As we’ll choose a winning individual rather than a winning entry, please note that submitting multiple photographs will not increase your chances of being selected.
The Bristol Doctoral College may share images from the competition in a future blogpost and on social media. Entrants who don’t want their images to be used are asked to notify the Bristol Doctoral College.
This competition is not held in partnership with either Netflix or Spotify.
The University’s ‘Regulations and Code of Practice for Research Degree Programmes’ is an important document — but, for busy postgraduate researchers (PGRs), finding the time to read it in detail can be a challenge.
Below, Chris Brasnett, Postgraduate Education Officer in the Bristol SU, highlights some of the items that he thinks all PGRs should know about.
Soon after starting my role as Postgraduate Education Officer, a mysterious brown parcel landed on my desk. Much to my disappointment, it didn’t magically contain a finished version of my otherwise completely unwritten thesis, but instead, a copy of the University’s Regulations and Code of Practice for Research Degree Programmes.
For the uninitiated, it’s pretty much what it says it is: a 124-page booklet about how research degrees at Bristol are governed and assessed, complete in 10 sections and 16 annexes. I immediately ignored and shelved it away.
I remembered it a while later after many difficult conversations with PGRs about their time studying, and the challenges that they’ve faced. The Student Union (SU)’s (free, independent, and confidential) academic advice service, Just Ask, is always on hand to support students through these times, but I am often contacted by students asking for advice or specific guidance beforehand.
Reading and memorising all those details is challenging at the best of times, let alone when it’s difficult.
So, what are the rights and responsibilities that the regulations guarantee you that I think are most important, now that I’ve had some time to digest them?
Know your rights as a PGR student:
1. To meet your supervisor regularly
You should be able to meet your supervisor at least once a month, and they should be providing feedback on written work and other queries within an agreed timescale. At the start of your studies, these meetings may be more frequent, and they should be looking to help you settle in to your research as much as carrying it out.
2. To have access to a supportive, developmental learning infrastructure and appropriate research environment
Make the most of the Bristol Doctoral College (BDC)! Every year they put on a great and varied programme of activity that is designed with your development in mind. Going to these courses can be a great way of getting to know students from other disciplines and how research works in other disciplines. There’s always something new to learn whatever the area, and they’re a great way of mixing up your day to come back fresh to what you’d otherwise have been doing.
3. To take your holiday!
You 👏 Are 👏 Entitled 👏 To 👏 Twenty-five 👏 Days 👏 Of 👏 Holiday 👏 A 👏 Year 👏 And 👏 You 👏 Should 👏 Take 👏 Them
Understand your responsibilities as a PGR student:
1. To take responsibility for the progress of your research, and personal and professional development
This can sound quite intimidating on the face of it. At the start of your research degree, you’re probably raring to go and feel confident in taking the lead on your research. A few months in and subsumed by the literature, and you may start to feel differently. Use your supervision meetings to address these issues head on, talk to other students and postdocs for help.
2. To manage your workload
Work will come and go throughout the year… but on average you can expect to work at least 35 hours a week. Learning to manage a workload can be really challenging, particularly when you’re really enthusiastic about your subject. I’m sure you don’t need reminding, but it’s still important to find that work-life balance. Make time to take part in sport or other activities, do some volunteering (the SU is here to help with both of these!), or just take some time out to relax and rest.
And finally …
3. To give the University your feedback
It’s not just undergrads who have student representation! As the Postgraduate Education Officer, I spend all my time working in partnership with the University to improve the experience and opportunities for postgraduates — but I couldn’t do it without the many conversations that I have with student representatives from across the University on a regular basis. The SU runs a system of representation for PGRs as well, and they can influence your experience within your school, faculty, or at a whole University level. Getting involved can be a great way to make changes to your own environment as a PGR, whether at school, faculty, or University level. Contact your current rep with your thoughts, feedback and ideas — and look out for the SU elections soon to get involved yourself!
These are just some of the highlights that I think it’s really worth knowing not just at the start, but throughout your research degree. Understanding what’s expected of you — and more importantly, what support you can expect along the way — are the keys to having a great time as a PGR.
As part of the University’s Postgraduate Open Day on 20 November 2019, the Bristol Doctoral College brought together a panel of PGRs — from a variety of faculties and at different stages in their research degrees — and asked them to share perspectives with an audience of prospective postgraduate students.
The session may have been brief, but it provided plenty of insights into the PGR experience. So much so that we’ve decided to round up tips and advice that might be useful to a wider audience — such as our new and existing PGRs.
However, before we begin our list, we should introduce our panellists properly. The four PGRs who took part in the event were:
Arsham Nejad Kourki, PGR in the School of Biological Sciences
Blanche Plaquevent, PGR in the School of Humanities
Angela Suriyakumaran, PGR in the School of Civil, Aerospace and Mechanical Engineering
Trang Tran, PGR in the School of Education
The session was chaired by Professor Robert Bickers, Associate Pro-Vice Chancellor (PGR).
And, without further ado, here are their words of wisdom. (Quotes are verbatim wherever possible, but have sometimes been shortened or edited for clarity.)
1. Support, encouragement and fresh perspectives are vital
“In terms of support, my supervisor has played a key part in that role. Because I have a background in Chemistry and now I’m moving over to Mechanical Engineering, he’s helped me a lot to fill in the holes — fill in my knowledge base, basically.
So he’s been very supportive in terms of giving me the tools to work with my PhD, as well as encouraging me to go and try other stuff, such as going and doing outreach, placement opportunities — so actually helping me gain other skill sets.
“You need that support for four years, to be able to have someone there and some people there to count on — and to be able to say ‘you’re on the right track’ or ‘you’re not on the right track’, ‘maybe you’ve thought about this?’ and ‘maybe try other things’ as well.”
“Things you might be facing at the moment, a lot of postgraduates experience. It happens to everyone.
“Other postgraduates, especially ones in the years above you, as well as staff members, are a very good source of support.”
2. Working together can help create a sense of community
“I’ve found a very strong feeling of community among my peers. I think I wasn’t really expecting that, as I was doing a PhD in History. So I thought: ‘it’s probably even more solitary than any other kind of PhD, because you don’t work in a lab, you don’t need to necessarily all be in the same place of work.’
But actually, there’s been space provided for Arts and Humanities [PGRs]. It’s been a bit changing, but when there is this kind of space, connections get created very quickly and it really makes you feel supported. And I think it has enabled me to treat my PhD as an actual job — where I go every day, and go into a building and work. And that’s not really what I was expecting.”
3. Listening and presenting can help you see the big picture
“Get on to any reading group or any presentations that enable you to listen to other people’s work or present your own. Because one thing that happens in a PhD is that you lose your confidence a lot. Because you want it to be perfect, and when you’re with it in your head everything will go wrong compared to what you had in mind.
“So you really want to present where you are at the moment so that everyone else in your community will be able to say ‘oh, this is great — but this is how it could get better’.
“You also want to get on to those groups so that you can hear, right at the beginning, what other people’s work is about — so you can then say ‘OK, there’s a bigger picture. I have re-calibrated what my work should look like’.
4. Teaching can enhance your skills
“Teaching comes in very different forms. For example, I’m teaching in labs rather than going and helping with the workshops and stuff like that. And you gain a lot of skill sets from doing the teaching. You’re mentoring students, you’re helping them solve problems, etc.
“[They’re] quite good skill sets to build on — and for your future career path as well.”
5. Your research project will evolve — and that’s fine
“Don’t worry too much about the specifics of your project — even by the end of your first year.
“As long as you have an idea what it’s roughly going to be about, and as long as your supervisor is on board with that, you can generally make it happen.
Because a lot of it will change. Projects evolve.”
As well as holding relaxing events and activities in the PGR Hub, we used the occasion to ask Bristol’s postgraduate researchers a simple question: how do you look after yourself?
We received a range of insights into how you take breaks — from stretching to strolling to socialising — but the clear theme that emerged was the importance of giving yourself time to relax and wind down. And, if you’re keen to cut down on your screen time, bathtime can make for a perfect phone-free zone. (Bubbles and browsing don’t really mix, especially if your handset isn’t waterproof.🛀📱😧)
So, without further ado, here’s what helps you unwind, de-stress and step away from your research.
For me the best way to relax is yoga! I go to a weekly yoga session, and it’s heaven! It’s where I can be me, I am not a mum, or a daughter or a teaching assistant. I am able to forget about the outside world! Yoga forever!
I leave my office every day and go for a thirty minute walk. It always helps me to relax though it’s a bit less fun in this weather. 🌧
Got to say clean fresh bedding. Having to be clean getting in and reading or listening to a book.
Joan Getting into a freshly made bed after a hot bath is the absolute definition of heaven. I’ve also become very reliant on starting the day with a cup of coffee and ‘morning pages‘. Getting all my thoughts out at the beginning of the day sorts me right out.
I second Joan’s comment about baths! I find it’s really hard to keep away from my phone, but I’m always afraid that I might drop it into the bath, so having a bath becomes, of necessity, a phone-free zone! That makes it a great chance to get some quality time with a (non-work related) and keeps me blue-light free, which is really important for sleep hygiene.
I realise sleep hygiene sounds made up, but when I’m anxious I often suffer from badly disturbed sleep and following a sleep hygiene routine works (a bit). Whether that’s just because I’m doing any routine or because the specific “sleep hygiene” stuff actually works, I can’t say.
I have a nice hot bath.
Ensuring I give myself a good amount of time to wind down in the evening before bed. Watch TV/read/have a bath — strictly no work!
Talking and having a laugh with all of my doctorate course mates! We are all in the same boat and if it wasn’t for them I don’t know what I’d do!
In early September, the Jean Golding Institute announced that its 2019 Data Challenge competition, held in partnership with the Office for National Statistics, had been won by Nina Di Cara and Tiff Massey.
Nina, a PGR in the Bristol Medical School, reflects on what she learned from entering the competition — and what it meant to win it.
Earlier this year, the Jean Golding Institute (the University’s centre for data-intensive research) and the Office for National Statistics announced a joint ‘Data Challenge’, inviting teams to find out if loneliness was associated with movement for the purpose of education using ONS open data and their newly created ‘Loneliness Index’.
The entry had to lay out the analysis you had used in the form of a blog post. My PhD research focuses on applying data science methods to data about mental health, so I was keen to get involved!
Planning our entry
Following the initial information session, my friend Tiff and I decided to enter — though with her living and working in London and me living in Wales, we knew it would be a bit of a challenge to find opportunities to actually do the work.
In the end, we both worked remotely to decide on which datasets we would use and how to analyse them, and then came together for a weekend to do the actual analysis we had planned.
After a couple of late nights working on our entry, we were pretty pleased with what we’d achieved in the time that we had. We both learned a lot about working with government data, and both of us picked up a lot of R tips and tricks from each other; Tiff knows a lot about data manipulation and interactive data visualisations, whereas I knew more about the statistical modelling side. What I learned from Tiff also ended up helping me out with some data dilemmas I had been having in my research.
What happened next?
Finding out we had won was very exciting for us both — we had had a lot of fun working together on our entry (as someone has since said to me, only two mathematicians would call a weekend of data analysis ‘fun’), so were really pleased that the JGI and ONS liked what we came up with.
Later, we were told that they particularly liked the novel metrics we had created with the data, and that we had presented the results as reader-friendly for a non-expert audience. The outputs from the competition have been passed on to the team in the ONS working on this project, so hopefully some of our ideas will be taken forwards.
Of course, the prize money was very exciting for us both, but we also got the opportunity to visit the ONS Data Science Campus for the day and give a presentation about our results (I was very thankful for all the presentation practice I’ve been making myself do this year). On our visit, we also met with staff working at the Data Science Campus and got to hear about some of the cool projects they are working on, with a view to using data science for public good.
Would we do it again?
Definitely! I would really recommend getting involved next time if it’s something you are considering — sometimes it’s just nice to have a project outside of your PhD research to give your brain a chance to work on a new problem for a while, and I think that’s one of the main benefits I personally got from taking part.
If you’re interested in seeing our entry, it’s currently on our GitHub page and is also due to be published on the ONS website shortly.
We asked postgraduate researchers at Bristol for their top tips for new PGRs. Here are their words of wisdom…
1. Work on campus as much as possible
“Just being among other PGRs makes a great difference.”
Trang Tran, PGR in the School of Education
2. It’s good to socialise and network with PGRs from across the University
“This is important! A PG course isn’t all about research, it’s about learning how to be an academic, and socialising is a huge part of that. I would advise new PGs to take this seriously. The BDC and the SU provide ample opportunities beyond your department, so don’t miss out on them!”
Arsham Nejad Kourki, PGR in the School of Biological Sciences
3. Make friends in your department/school
“PGRs who are above your cohort have valuable advice from their own experiences which you can learn from. Making friends with people finishing at the same time as you is great — these people will be dealing with the same pressures as you at the same time so will be most understanding (and probably in the same boat!).”
Helen Rees, PGR in the School of Biological Sciences
4. Do something outside of your research that you enjoy
“Having something to look forward to such as a sport, volunteering or activity with friends really helps if you are having an ‘off’ day with research. It also gives some balance to your life and allows you to de-stress and focus on something else.”
Angela Suriyakumaran, PGR in the School of Chemistry
5. Think about outreach and options beyond your studies
“Seize the opportunity for outreach events (Research without Borders is worth doing at least once), placements, etc. Also look for Quickfix events from the Career Services, especially the Careers beyond Academia, and CVs for non-academic and academic careers.”
Dr Eve Benhamou, recent PGR graduate from Department of Film & TV Studies
6. The BDC’s events and opportunities can help you connect with other PGRs
“Get involved with Bristol Doctoral College training sessions and events. The BDC sessions and the PGR Hub will help you to overcome the isolation and ‘impostor syndrome’ that are all too common among PGRs. Connecting with people from different disciplines and finding your mutual interests makes you feel like you’re part of one big doctoral community.”
Kit Fotheringham, PGR in University of Bristol Law School
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.
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’re excited to announce the opening of a new space this October that is dedicated solely to the postgraduate research community. This new physical space in the refurbished Senate House (as part of the Campus Heart project) will offer a programme of events and activities designed to support, develop and connect our 3,000-strong body of postgraduate researchers, regardless of your faculty, funding, part-time or distance learner status.
Acting as a hub for all research students, this new space will offer:
Personal and professional development training
Bookable spaces for small research groups and cross-disciplinary meet-ups
A quiet space to escape from the hubbub of campus life
Wellbeing support and resources
And more – we’d love to hear your suggestions about how we can make this valuable for you.
The new PGR hub is a space dedicated to you and informed by you. Have your say and tell us how we can #MakeThisYours.
We invite you to #MakeThisYours before the space even opens by submitting a possible name for our new hub. Are there any famous research alumni who have inspired your journey? Could Hub-McHubFace be a serious contender? Send us your suggestions on social media or via email, and you’ll be entered into a random prize draw for one of two £25 Amazon vouchers!
We’ll put our favourite submissions to the vote in our next BDC Bulletin, due to land in inboxes September 14th.