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

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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.

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)

Is Ada Lovelace Day a paradox?

For Ada Lovelace Day, Dr Aby Sankaran of the Bristol Doctoral College reflects on the characteristics that have helped her as a PhD student, during her career as an engineer — and beyond.

Today is Ada Lovelace Day, an international celebration of Women in STEMM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Maths & Medicine). It is held on the second Tuesday of October each year and this year I have been invited to write my very first blog about it by the Bristol Doctoral College!

The invitation is bittersweet; on the one hand I am pleased to have been asked to write about this topic, but on the other, I feel uncomfortable that in this day and age we still need such occasions to mark and highlight female accomplishments.

To me, celebrations like this are a paradox — they propel women forward and showcase their achievements but simultaneously highlight a society where women are not considered equal.

I also feel unqualified to write this blog as I don’t think of myself as an appropriate role model. But this is perhaps my mistake, not celebrating my own accomplishments or valuing my self-worth. I would be doing myself a disservice if I said my career was a product of serendipity, but in reality, it has come about as a result of feeding my curiosity.

I am therefore going to focus on certain key characteristics that have helped me along my career, and hope they will help the future generation of female (and male) researchers too.

Blood, sweat and PhDs

Being an Engineer and having done a technical PhD has meant that I was predominantly around male engineers, but I adapted to the circumstances. I enjoyed a supportive and nurturing environment (mostly) where I have learnt from my male counterparts. However, some women may find it necessary to see female role models as they provide inspiration and demonstrate that it is possible to overcome gender barriers.

I have yet to meet anyone who has had a trouble-free PhD and there is a key difference between failing at various stages of your PhD and failure. Without true grit, I would frankly have struggled to see the end of my PhD.

Back bone, wish bone and a funny bone

When things are not right, fix it. Don’t be afraid to stand your ground, if you see bias at work or demeaning behaviour — call it. It can be as simple as hogging time using equipment in the lab or authorship over publication (male or female).

Most PhDs are at the brink of the unexplored and a motivated, blue-sky approach is needed to see the day. And when things don’t work out as planned, learn to roll with the punches. This was a valuable lesson when I was facing redundancy a year into a new job in a new city!

Be an opportunist

Big goals and bigger picture. Ultimately everyone around you wants you to succeed. Call in favours, ask for help and work your network. There is nothing wrong with seeing an opportunity and seizing it. Being a female does not make you any less entitled to success or its extent.

It’s easy to live in the here and now and not pay attention to the long-term plans, but setting (realistic) long-term goals might exactly be the drive you need to propel yourself forward.

Find a hobby that empowers you

You don’t have to be chained to your desk or feel guilty about doing non-PhD things. Pursue a hobby that lets you de-stress, boosts your confidence and allows you to disconnect. It can be cycling, running or knitting — anything that you fancy.

For me, it was climbing. It has given me time to think (while clinging on for dear life on a rock face), tremendous confidence and at times a much-needed way to vent my frustration.

Dr Aby Sankaran climbing in the Cheddar Gorge
Dr Aby Sankaran climbing in the Cheddar Gorge

Be your own hero

Break the stereotype — we limit ourselves mentally more than we are capable of. Don’t create your own glass ceiling, pick yourself up and be the strong person you need to rely on to see you through difficult times.

In an ideal world, men and women would be equal and we would not need to emphasise female accomplishments — instead, every day would be a celebration of human accomplishment.

However, women are underrepresented in a number of sectors and, in order to address the imbalance, we need reinforcements like this to encourage progress.

Research without Borders 2017: check out the highlights!

It’s over a month since our Research without Borders festival of postgraduate research took place across the Univeristy of Bristol and Colston Hall – so these highlights are a good reminder of what fun we had, how much we learned, and how hard our postgraduate research students are working each day of the week!

Pick up on the buzzing atmosphere from our showcase afternoon finale and hear from participants about why they got involved and what they learned:

Open Access, or: The internet is not going away #openaccess

Dr. Paul Spencer is the BDC’s newly appointed PGR Environment Development Manager, whose role is to oversee the continued improvement and evolution of the Bristol Doctoral College support for all postgraduate researchers in enhancing the quality of their experience. He shared with us the below blog post on Open Access from his own blog, The Digital Doctorate.

I’ve been thinking about the Open Research agenda again recently; it would be fair to describe me as an advocate and I’ve written about this topic before on this blog here and here. This post though is more about the research culture that is often at odds with openess and why I think that needs to change.

I read an article on the Guardian Higher Education Network recently by Professor Stephen Curry entitled “It’s time for academics to take back control of research journals“. He writes about how the “Publish or Perish” culture of academic research has led academia to quite a difficult place in its relationship with the business of scholarly publishing. His article is a useful reminder of the history of scholarly communications and their purpose in disseminating and growing our collective knowledge.

I think there is an uncomfortable truth in that many researchers do not really understand the economics of journals and book publishers and their relationship with the academy. Back in January, Professor Martin Eve came along to a session organised by the UWE Library Research team to talk about open access and how the economics behind it operate in a talk he entitled “Open Access, or: The Internet is not going away“.

Martin is a professor of Literature, Technology and Publishing at Birkbeck, University of London. He is also the co-founder of the Open Library of Humanities (OLH) and his talk was a really good explanation of how academic publishing could and should work – even in the humanities and social sciences. I think it important to highlight that the model of open research is not the exclusive domain of science, it affects us across the disciplines although there are some particular challenges in humanities.

He started out by outlining the contradictory nature of scholarly publishing as it is now, on the one hand we publish to be read but on the other we publish to expose our work to assessment.

He framed this as researchers operating in a symbolic economy whereby they hand over their academic findings to publishers to package up and disseminate.  This content is given away and, in exchange, researchers hope that these outputs will translate, through assessment and ranking, into a pecuniary advantage in terms of promotion and progression (and therefore salary). There is a delayed benefit in this academic activity which exacerbates the precarious nature of academic research careers, especially those who are just starting out. Martin showed us how this symbolic economy maps onto a real economy of publishing.

We captured all of this on video that you can see below:

Click on thumbnail above to play video of talk – Open access, or: The internet is not going away

 

The challenge for early career researchers is to look past the rhetoric of “publish or perish” and understand the actual economics of scholarly publishing. It is for researchers themselves to push back – the status quo cannot be maintained because it is simply not sustainable and, worse, is undermining the most important aspect of publishing academic work in the first place – the need for it to be read.

The challenge for people like me who support the development of researchers is to keep pushing for the open research agenda to be embraced in institutional support for researchers, for example making it as easy as possible for postgraduate researchers to deposit their doctoral outputs in open repositories and reduce the barriers that are sometimes put in the way.

Find out more

1. Vitae Researcher Development Website on publishing your research (login required)

2. Why Open Research – new website for open researchers

3. JISC resources to help researchers with open access

4. Facilitate Open Science Training for European Researchers (FOSTER) – European-wide project supporting open research across Europe