Imagining Career Possibilities through Guided Imagery

Last year, Faith van Horne, a PGR in the Department of Theology and Religion, led an activity with Careers Network on guided imagery for career decision-making.

Many career exercises focus on cognitive, logical activities. These ‘left-brained’ approaches include making lists of one’s strengths and experience, applying them to different careers, and so forth. Guided imagery, on the other hand, is a ‘right-brained’ activity, stimulating non-cognitive responses such as those produced by art, music, etc. By engaging your creative mind, guided imagery can stimulate career ideas you might not have otherwise considered.

The American Psychological Association defines ‘guided imagery’ as ‘a mind–body technique involving the deliberate prompting of mental images to induce a relaxed, focused state with the goal of achieving such varied purposes as managing stress or pain, promoting healing, or enhancing performance.’ In the case of career decision-making, the goal is to stimulate creative images and ideas around potential careers. Other aspects of life and well-being can arise as well. For example, one workshop participant noted the presence of a particular family member in the scene they imagined, prompting them to take into account geographical distance from family as they thought about their career. Creative engagement through guided imagery opens up all kinds of possibilities when thinking about potential careers, including other aspects of life than work.

Continue reading “Imagining Career Possibilities through Guided Imagery”

2023: Happy New Year!

Welcome back after the Christmas break – I hope you had a restful one, and are feeling refreshed. Have you chosen your New Year’s Resolutions yet?

Photo by Engin Akyurt on

It’s traditional at this time of year to resolve to make positive changes to our lives – or at least, the media would have us believe this is what we “should” be doing. We’ve talked before about setting achievable goals, simply focusing on milestones, and how wellbeing is the bedrock of successful research resolutions. This year, I’d like to think a bit about deadlines.

One of the reasons I think New Year’s Resolutions are both so appealing and so intimidating is the timescale – you have a whole year for this. “I’m going to re-decorate my whole house” seems totally manageable when you’ve got 12 months to complete it (despite you knowing full well you didn’t manage to find the time or inclination to re-decorate any of the rooms last year). On the flip side, “I’m going to do full meal planning every week” quickly seems like a mountain when you realise you’re going to have to keep it up for 52 consecutive weeks.

This illustrates nicely the power of taking timescales and deadlines into account when you’re planning – whether that’s putting together a short or longer term research plan, or thinking about changes to your lifestyle or wellbeing. Be realistic about what you can achieve and set yourself clear timescales with interim deadlines to help you monitor your progress. Ideally, share those deadlines with others so you can be held accountable, or make sure you establish a monitoring process to hold yourself accountable (don’t break the chain!).

So whether you are a keen resolution-setter, or a reluctant research planner, take your time to set realistic, achievable goals with clear timelines and accountability to help keep your 2023 on track.

Or maybe the most appropriate approach for you is to timetable another date on which to think about these kinds of things, when there’s a bit more light in the sky and fewer chocolates in the house.

Crisis And Repair: Our Small Act of Reuniting the Academic Community

Matthew Bruce, a Part-Time PGR in French Studies at the University of Birmingham, describes organising the University of Birmingham Languages, Cultures, Art, History and Music (LCAHM) Postgraduate Conference, which took place in May 2022.

At the start of the 2021-22 academic year, a fellow postgraduate, Ben Griffiths, asked if I would be interested in participating in the team which would run the University of Birmingham LCAHM Postgraduate Conference 2022. I was used to seeing swathes of students populating campus and participating in various events and functions in those now mythic pre-pandemic times. However, despite lockdown measures having ended, campus still seemed fairly inert as many people were still remote working/distance learning, and other students who were in situ were still understandably cautious about social mixing. Looking ahead to a brighter academic year, I jumped at the chance of participating in the organisation of a conference which would hopefully take place physically.

Matthew is pictured standing in front of a whiteboard and behind a lecturn with two screens.
Matthew presenting at the LCAHM Postgraduate Conference in May 2022

Over several months, our team had Zoom meetings, during which we set up a call-for-papers with the theme, “Crisis and Repair”, which appropriately reflected the times we were still living through. We sought to publicise this call-for-papers through social media, as well as physical notices on campus (still a tried-and-true method in this day and age). My team and I had also decided to make this conference a ‘hybrid’ event, so as not to exclude anyone.

Continue reading “Crisis And Repair: Our Small Act of Reuniting the Academic Community”

#AcWriMo: The Big Conversation

In our final blog post for #AcWriMo 2022, Kate Spencer-Bennett, an Academic Writing Advisor in the Academic Skills Centre, thinks about how writing fits into the landscape of the literature.

Becoming familiar with the literature in your field can be a daunting task. Where should you begin with your reading? Where should you end? How can you make sense of the connections between the different pieces of research?

I believe that it’s useful to think of the literature on a topic as a big conversation. With #AcWriMo upon us, I’ve been thinking about how this analogy could help us to think about our writing.

‘The Big Conversation’ goes like this. The scholars working in a particular field are sitting around a table having a conversation about a topic. Somebody says something – they write an academic article, a book chapter, or a report. Somebody else hears what they say and joins the conversation to say, ‘yes, good point,’ or, ‘that’s interesting and also…,’ or, ‘but have you thought about?’ In this vein, the conversation continues with a bit of back and forth between the people at the table. People arrive at the table and listen for a while and have a say. And, as in any conversation, there is agreement, disagreement, and everything in between.

Viewed in this way, the literature is a series of ‘turns’, and each new piece of research published represents a new ‘turn’ in the conversation. This has consequences for how we view our own writing. Our thesis chapter, conference presentation, or academic article becomes a response to what we have heard in the conversation. And, like any other scholar, when we plan our writing, we are planning our own turn. If what we are saying is a response to what has come before then some important questions emerge:

  • What has been said already?
  • What hasn’t been said?

And perhaps most importantly:

  • What would I like my turn to be?

So next time you sit down to write, think about what you want to say at the table. How are you responding to what has come before? Which contributions do you want to highlight? What gaps in the conversation are you trying to fill? What do you want others to take from your contribution? Perhaps you’ve heard the debate at another table and want to bring different conversations together.

And, if nothing else, thinking of your writing as a turn in the big conversation means you’ll be ready for that classic viva question – ‘What is your unique contribution?’

#AcWriMo & online writing communities for off-campus PGRs

In this post, Freya Watkins, a PGR in Psychology, shares her thoughts on the value of #AcWriMoatUoB.

Doing a PhD is often an isolating and alienating experience. You’re responsible for creating your own structure, often left to your own devices while you muddle through the ups and downs of research. PGRs with office space may still only see their peers or colleagues occasionally due to our varied individual schedules. Even that minimal in-person interaction on campus disappeared for PGRs for some time when the COVID-19 hit.

But for many of us, not being on campus was the norm long before the pandemic: disabled and chronically ill PGRs, parents and carers, distance learners, and working-class PGRs who must work alongside their research. A lot of PGRs are also part-time, working from home alone, and on a longer journey than the average doctoral candidate. The system is so broken that we end up working for free, writing up on evenings and weekends because PhDs aren’t funded/paid properly. Online events earlier in the pandemic provided off-campus PGRs with unprecedented access to conferences, webinars, workshops, lab meetings and co-working. But as universities rush back to in-person events, showing that lessons about accessibility haven’t been learned from COVID-19, PGRs working off-campus face a return to WFH loneliness.

screenshot from a office showing 3 avatar figures sitting at 3 computers next to each other in a row
Screenshot of Freya’s virtual PGR office

One way that has helped reduce this isolation for me is using online co-working spaces to get a sense of solidarity, community and accountability with other PGRs. Over the past few years I’ve tried various different platforms and groups: regular writing sessions with friends over Zoom, the UGS Shut Up & Work sessions on Teams, and the always-open PhDForum Online Study Room. My cohort even re-created our office space on to get that communal office feeling during lockdowns. The Monday evening work sessions on the Common Room Discord are still going strong, and PGRs on the UGS Teams channel are increasingly autonomously organising their own ‘drop-in & work’ sessions. Some PGRs who are on campus even join live from the library, but just prefer to have some online company and accountability to work, which is great too! Over the years I’ve met PGRs across different departments who I wouldn’t otherwise have had contact with, whose co-working company is just as important to my progress as my supervisors and lab members.

A great introduction to co-writing community is Academic Writing Month (#AcWriMo), which offers an opportunity for PGRs to set themselves a ‘SMART’ writing target for the month and focus on achieving that goal together with others. Last year, UGS organised three SU&W online sessions a week on the Teams channel, hosted by the UGS Scholars. The particular focus on getting words written rather than just ‘co-working’ helped me to achieve specific writing goals, like drafting sections of a thesis chapter. I remember one particularly inspired session where I got 1,000 words done in four Pomodoro sessions. There was a great sense of community last November, with more faces than at the usual weekly sessions, and knowing everyone had a writing goal helped us motivate each other mutually to achieve that target.

For #AcWriMoAtUoB 2022, UGS have organised a diverse program of writing sessions and workshops. Whether online or in-person, have a go at setting yourself a writing goal, and you might surprise yourself with how much you achieve! You may even discover that the routine, accountability and camaraderie of co-writing sessions are helpful for getting PhD work done beyond November, even if you do most of your work in the library or office. And for those of us off-campus, we’ll keep plugging away in our online writing rooms, organising our own access and community, going at our own pace.

#AcWriMo: why take part and what’s happening?

Natalia Hartono is a PhD student in the Mechanical Engineering Department. This time last year marked the beginning of her third year, and tons of to-do lists! Here, she shares how #AcWriMo 2021 helped her. And read about how you can get involved with #AcWriMo 2022.

Natalia writes

I signed up for AcWriMo in November of 2021. I’ve been a member of PGR Shut up and Work ever since the pandemic, and the first one I attended was conducted online. To me, attending these sessions, whether they are held in person or online, is a fantastic opportunity.

The announcement of AcWriMo 2021 made me happy because I gain a lot from these meetings. Shut up and Work only takes place once a week, but in the month of November, it happened three times a week! I’m glad there were more schedules to join in because November was a busy month for me. I’m trying to balance my time between studying, meeting deadlines, working as a PGTA, and taking care of my child.

The benefits of #AcWriMo: Focus, Get things done, Integrity, Buddy, Celebrate.
Continue reading “#AcWriMo: why take part and what’s happening?”

Careers beyond academia: What ‘level’ of job can I apply for as a PhD?

In this post, PGR Careers Adviser Dr Holly Prescott discusses how to work out what ‘level’ of job to aim for as a PhD looking to transition into careers beyond academia. You can find a more detailed post on this on Holly’s PhD Careers Blog, PostGradual.

As someone who spent time in an entry-level job post-PhD, seemingly endlessly being rejected from more senior positions, I get that plotting your transition from PhD to a career beyond academia can feel daunting. Not only do you need to get a handle on what the options are and what you want to do, there’s a whole new world of job titles and workplace structures to get your head around. Hence, something I’ve spoken to so many PGRs about over the past five and a half years has been:

What level of job can I apply for outside of academia if I have a PhD…?

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It’s no wonder that this scoundrel of a question pops up as often as it does. In academia, the next level up from PhD is postdoc. Easy. The clue’s in the name. But what about beyond academia? What level should you be aiming for then?

Continue readingCareers beyond academia: What ‘level’ of job can I apply for as a PhD?

Taking Stock

As we set out on a new academic year, Kate Spencer-Bennett, an Academic Writing Advisor in the Academic Skills Centre, reflects on her experience of taking stock at the start of her research programme.

Will you be ‘taking stock’ at the start of this term? Whether this new academic year finds you starting out on your PhD or continuing your studies, could it be useful to take stock?

The Yellow Books, 1887 (oil on canvas) by Gogh, Vincent van (1853-90).

In the autumn of 2014, I had my first PhD supervision meeting. Having just tied up the loose threads of my Master’s dissertation, I was now wondering how I go back to the beginning. What I should be doing with my time? Where should I begin? Friends setting out on the same path reported leaving their first supervision meeting with long reading lists and longer to do lists. To my relief, I recall my supervisor telling me in that first meeting that the run up to Christmas should be a period of ‘taking stock’. I liked this phrase and, despite – or perhaps because of – its lack of any sense of urgency, I found it very motivating.

Continue reading “Taking Stock”
Helen Kara

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