Shut up and focus on mutual encouragement

In this post, Mustafa Coban, a PGR from the Centre for Byzantine, Ottoman and Modern Greek Studies in the College of Arts and Law shares his experiences of Shut up and work.

Shut up and work was for me initially, Shut up and write, though I’ve come to appreciate the ‘work’ phrasing is much more apt since there is all sorts of work involved in study and research before, during and after the writing process. It was, and still largely is, a time dedicated to writing, editing, and proofreading. A friend who was leaving the university after completing her studies told me about Shut up and work as I was starting my PhD programme. It took me some time to seek out a session, but once I found one, I found it immediately useful.

University of Birmingham University Graduate School. Shut up & work co-working sessions for PGRs. Weekly Thursdays 1pm-4.30pm; Monthly Mondays 10am-5.10pm. Tackle your to-do list and get more done!

I wasn’t entirely sure of what I expected. But I knew I wanted a time dedicated to writing and only writing. I imagined it as time free not only from reading, but the endless loops and interesting dives into reading, that only seemed to snowball as I chased one footnote, idea, or curiosity after another until I had a folder of pdf articles becoming too big to manage. That was in the early days of my programme, and while I still chase footnotes, through “shutting up and writing” I’ve become better at not trying to cover everything I’ve read.

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Building your research community

In this post, Raeni, a PGR in the Department of Accounting, and Isbahna Naz, a PGR in the Department of Management, share some tips that they found beneficial in developing their sense of community during their PhDs.

3- 4 years doing a PhD is a long time. Some may say, “Life is on hold while doing my PhD”.

We are, of course, all on different journeys but with the same aim. Before COVID-19, we have a study space in the Muirhead Tower, where we could meet, interact and create a community within our cohort even though we are from different research interests. Having a sense of belonging with our peers alongside the journey is essential in numerous ways.

A pre-COVID-19 reading group session – Raeni is at the far right.

Being a member of a research community allows us to stimulate research progress, access an excellent seminar programme, discuss opportunities, and recognise other organisations beyond the campus. The community also sometimes directs us to get opportunities, for instance, acting as teaching or research assistants. Keeping us busy while engaging with others also helps our wellbeing.

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Survive and Thrive: Leadership

Continuing her occasional series, “survive and thrive”, Katie Hoare from Careers Network explores a key skill sought after by employers in the post-COVID-19 world.  It’s likely that you are already developing and using these highly transferable skills in your research.

What

When most people hear the word “leadership” they think ‘management of staff’ or ‘being the boss of an organisation’.  Whilst these positions do definitely require leadership ability, they are not the only scenarios where leadership skills are required.  You can and should be developing your leadership skills regardless of whether you are supervising others.

Photo of a lionLeadership is not one skill, your ability to lead requires a variety of skills including self-awareness, accountability and communication.  Consultancy firm McKinsey have a conceptual framework for leadership and split it into three levels; 1) leading yourself, 2) leading others, 3) system leadership.  People often move from level 1 to 2 during their career, but not everyone ends up at level 3.  System leadership goes beyond leading one organisation to transforming whole systems and often involves connected organisations addressing multi-faceted problems.

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‘Non-academic jobs’: more ‘academic’ than you think?

In this post, PGR Careers Adviser Dr Holly Prescott shows us how academic research and teaching aren’t the only jobs that can let you ‘keep’ the bits of academia that you really enjoy. You can find a more detailed post on this on Holly’s PhD Careers Blog, PostGradual.

In academia, we’re often taught to value our ‘outputs’ (papers, theses, grants etc.) over the processes that went into achieving them. Saying that we ‘do research’ or ‘do teaching’ can often ‘hide’ the things we actually do to manage and execute those things, and the things that we get good at in the process. Hence, we can often forget this important nugget that Australian geneticist Joel Huey tweeted a few months ago:

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Online groups for international networking and collaboration

In this post, Joanne McCuaig, a distance learning PGR in the College of Arts and Law, explains how and why she set up online discussion groups using Twitter.

I’m a part-time, distance student in my 2nd year, in the department of English Language and Applied Linguistics. I’m a Canadian, living in South Korea, studying with a UK institution; I wanted to take advantage of any networking opportunities. First, I set up my Academic Twitter account – regular Twitter but used as a research profile to share about your skills and work.

Joanne McCuaig's Twitter profile, @JoanneMcCuaig3. 🇨🇦 in 🇰🇷 PhD student 🇬🇧. #Linguistics research, how medical terms are used by academics, media, & the public #CorpusLinguistics and #DiscourseAnalysis

I then decided to start two different student groups. I got the idea after attending an online conference that had breakout sessions for PhD students. It was energising to be able to share about our research, ask questions to others, and offer suggestions for literature, methods, or approaches.  A few months after the conference I contacted, via Twitter, a few of the students I’d “met” at the conference to ask if they wanted to continue the conversation. 

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Taking on a challenge

The Universitas 21 & PwC Innovation Challenge is an annual international competition exclusively for postgraduates. PricewaterhouseCoopers set a current workplace challenge and participants record a 3 minute video pitching their solution. In 2020, University of Birmingham Philosophy PGR Eugenia Lancellotta did fantastically well, getting into the top 10. Her video was judged by high level staff both within PwC and their client companies, and she won careers training and mentoring from PwC. Here, she tells us about her experience.

Eugenia Lancellotta – University of Birmingham from Universitas 21 on Vimeo.

It felt great and completely unexpected to be in the Top 10, especially because I realised I was one of the few students of Humanities there! I felt really proud of representing the category and of doing it for the University of Birmingham.

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ReproducibiliTea at the University of Birmingham: Embracing Open Science in Lockdown!

In this post, Catherine Laverty, a PGR from the School of Psychology, tells us about her experiences of open research and the ReproducibliTea initiative.

Back in early 2020 I was approaching the midpoint of my PhD (and as it turned out the start of a global pandemic!) and found myself in a place where I was questioning how to make sure my research was as rigorous and open as possible. I had heard of the open science movement and seen various bits of advice on twitter about how to be a better scientist but in all honesty had no idea where to start. I knew the replication crisis was on the horizon and wanted to make sure I was doing my upmost to make positive steps towards good scientific practices but was admittedly a little lost.

Around the same time, I began to speak to two other early career researchers (ECRs) that were in exactly the same position – Mahmoud Elsherif & Sonia Rishi. Together, we decided to navigate the landscape of open science and establish the University of Birmingham’s ReproducibiliTea Journal Club as a place where others could join and learn alongside us.

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We need to talk… about PhD student mental health

Just in time for Time to Talk Day on Thursday 4 February, Samantha Sandilands, a PGR from the School of Management, talks about some of her early warning signs and the value of support networks in matters of mental health.  A fuller version of this post can be found on LinkedIn.

The PhD process has been amazing in so many ways. What nobody can prepare you for however, is how much it challenges your mental health.

Concrete shaped and painted to look like a pumpkin
Samantha’s concrete pumpkin

Eight months in, I attended a session for PhD students at a conference, delivered by the amazing Beth Patmore, about mental health during your doctorate. I could relate to so much of what she was saying, but I never really associated it with poor mental health. Procrastination, strange sleeping patterns, putting on weight, overeating, feeling guilty for having a day off… in my group we all agreed that we could relate. As Beth read out some of the signs, ripples of agreement travelled through the room, some uncomfortable laughter, nodding, awkward silences. Even at that stage, the signs were there but I brushed it off… “I’ll be fine”.

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Developing Consultancy Skills in Practice

Ahead of running the Virtual Consultancy Challenge in 2021, Katie Hoare from Careers Network spoke to some of the previous participants to find out what they learnt and whether they enjoyed it.

In spring 2020, as lockdown hit, postgraduate researchers from across the University and the globe were gaining valuable professional skills as well as work experience as consultants, and they were doing so completely online via the Virtual Consultancy Challenge. The Virtual Consultancy Challenge is an online self-access training programme and competition where inter-disciplinary teams of postgraduate researchers work together in virtual teams to solve their “client’s” real-life challenge.

The 2020 Virtual Consultancy challenge winning team (clockwise from top): Francesca Lewns, PhD Dentistry; Taiwo Hassan Akere, PhD Earth & Environmental Sciences; Paris Lalousis, PhD Psychology.
The 2020 Virtual Consultancy challenge winning team (clockwise from top): Francesca Lewns, PhD Dentistry; Taiwo Hassan Akere, PhD Earth & Environmental Sciences; Paris Lalousis, PhD Psychology.
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New year, new lockdown

Happy New Year! This isn’t where we’d hope to be at the start of a new year, but there is relief in having got through 2020 and in knowing that vaccines are on their way. While we wait, 2021 will have to be about being kind to ourselves, leveraging the self-knowledge we have gained in 2020 to cope with local restrictions, protecting our mental health, and taking steps forward with our work.

A family in a house cradled between hands, surrounded by coronavirusEngland is in the process of entering a third national lockdown. Those of us living on or near campus must stay at home except where necessary (necessary activities include work, grocery shopping and exercise). We’ve done this before, and the familiar rhythms of daily exercise, meal planning and Zoom calls are already established. Think about what worked and what didn’t work for you during previous periods of restrictions and use that knowledge to get through this one as best you can. If you’re not in England, check your local restrictions.

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