Well, hello 2022

Happy New Year! And here we are in 2022, the third calendar year in which we are experiencing a global pandemic. The Omicron variant has moved the goalposts yet again, but excellent research has given us effective testing and vaccines to help us navigate our way through as best we might.

Happy New Year 2022

As usual at this time of year, the media is full of resolutions, diets, and gym memberships. Despite everything that’s going on, it seems we are expected to embark on a (short?) period of stringent self-improvement. If that works for you, then great – good luck! Personally, I find that January, with still only around 8 hours of daylight in Birmingham and the house full of left-over Christmas chocolate, is a terrible time to consider that type of thing. Instead, I prefer to focus on identifying some milestones (personal and professional) that I hope to achieve during the year.

A milestone is a major progress point on a route to success. It’s usually relatively substantial – it might take a decent amount of time or energy – and represents a step worth celebrating towards your overall goal. In a research context, a milestone might be completing a literature review, collecting the last of your data, or getting a thesis chapter signed off by your supervisor. In an ideal world, we might set out a project plan and timescale to achieve these milestones but to my mind, the start of January is for reflecting, choosing the most valuable milestones and laying the groundwork. Detailed project planning is best achieved at the time it’s most appropriate in the context of your project (at the start, when you’ve achieved a milestone, when things start to slip, and so on) rather than at a rather arbitrary change of the calendar.

Wishing you a healthy, productive and successful year in 2022.

A novel way to spend Christmas

With a lot of talk at the moment about the Omicron variant, reduced socialising, and potential lockdowns, it may be tempting to consider continuing with research work over the 2021 Christmas vacation and University Closed Period.

In this video, Professor Vikki Burns recalls advice given to her by her PhD supervisor in the first year of her PhD:

So wherever you are this Christmas period, and whoever you do manage to see, make sure you are taking time away from your research, tell yourself you should not be working at this time, and find something completely different to do. If you want to take Vikki’s supervisor’s advice literally, there are novels available to borrow from the Main Librarytry some from this list.

Remember, #takebreaksmakebreakthroughs. Prioritise coming back to your work in January refreshed and revitalised, and ready to take on 2022.

The only way out is through (part 2)

Sara Corpino is a distance learning PGR in the Department of Modern Languages and, following on from the first part of this post, she gives her tips on how to overcome difficulties and get through a distance learning PhD.

Residential event

Broad Street tunnel, Birmingham
Photo credit: Parrot of Doom

Many distance PhD students in the College of Arts and Law start their experience with the residential event. During the residential you meet the other distance PhD students and have the chance to share your thoughts, impressions, and opinions with them. The UoB campus is amazingly huge, and you can notice students from all over the world attending the event. I loved spending time in a multicultural environment. During your first residential, you also normally meet your supervisor(s) for the very first time and make a planning for the upcoming months. After my first residential, I came home full of enthusiasm and looking forward to starting to work on my research.

Continue reading “The only way out is through (part 2)”

Helen writes: #AcWriMo productivity vs procrastination

Writing Skills Advisor Helen Williams continues her occasional series during #AcWriMo with her thoughts on ways to deal with a tendency to procrastinate.

I recently read this column in The Guardian on procrastination – most likely when I should have been doing something else – and started thinking about the relationship between productivity and procrastination. When I speak to students about procrastination, they often seem to think they need to change a lifetime of habits, how they approach their work, and even the type of person that they are. Of course, this in itself becomes a mammoth (and impossible) task. Much more effective, as the article says, is to start changing the smallest possible habits that you can. If you’ve been taking part in Academic Writing Month (#AcWriMo), you may already have started to form a few new habits that can help with productivity, but if not, here are a few suggestions.

Baby steps: start by making small changes to your habits
Continue reading “Helen writes: #AcWriMo productivity vs procrastination”

Taking Part in #AcWriMo: Reflections and Responses

November is Academic Writing Month (#AcWriMo) and in this post, Liam Knight, a PGR in the Department of English Literature and a Westmere Scholar, reflects on his experience of participating in last year’s event.

Back in 2020, I took part in AcWriMo, a month-long writing event in which people working within academia set themselves goals to accomplish over the month of November (e.g. write X000 words, collect X amount of data sets, read X number of papers, etc.) and then use their local and online academic communities to keep themselves accountable and supported and ensure that they reach those goals (or come as close as is reasonably possible)!

Join the University Graduate School for Shut up and work sessions every Tuesday (09:30-13:00), Thursday (13:00-16:30) and Saturday (10:00-12:30) during November 2021, Academic Writing Month.
Details of this year’s #AcWriMo at UoB, hosted by your Westmere Scholars
Continue reading “Taking Part in #AcWriMo: Reflections and Responses”

The only way out is through (part 1)

Sara Corpino is a distance learning PGR in the Department of Modern Languages and in this first part of a two-part post, she gives her tips on how to overcome difficulties and get through the PhD.

If I only had listened…

I have thought about applying for a PhD in Modern Languages for years before being brave enough to send my first proposal. I remember my academic colleagues telling me how difficult it would have been doing a PhD, but I was really motivated. Plus, I was not scared, as I thought that obtaining the PGCE in Modern Languages – which I had just finished – would have been the toughest experience in my life, until…I started my PhD first year. If I only had listened to those people preparing me, would I have changed my mind? Not at all! And would I have been more psychologically prepared? Possibly yes, but I could have been even too scared to take my first step into what has been the most rewarding – and of course challenging – experience of my life so far.

Continue reading “The only way out is through (part 1)”

The Value of Research Placements for PGRs

In this post, Laura Clark, a PGR in the Centre for Byzantine, Ottoman and Modern Greek Studies, shares her experience of undertaking a placement in the Home Office during her PhD, and the skills she developed as a result.

I began my PhD with a vague idea that I would look for a placement without any specific thoughts about what, where, or the things I would like to get out of the experience. After a year of trying to find something suitable, I came across the URKI Policy Internships Scheme, a three-month placement at an influential policy organisation in a parliamentary department, government department, or non-government body. It was based on the needs of the department, which meant I did not need to spend a lot of time planning out the placement, and my research topic was irrelevant providing I could demonstrate I had the required skills. I applied and, after a long process, was offered a placement with the Home Office.

The headquarters of the Home Office, in London, which Laura didn’t visit because her placement took place during COVID-19 restrictions.
Photo credit: Steve Cadman
Continue reading “The Value of Research Placements for PGRs”

First, recruit your team

When you’re at the very beginning of a research programme, it can feel like there’s an overwhelming amount of stuff that you are encouraged to engage with (including induction and Welcome) on top of getting started on your research.

Image credit: Montclair Film

My advice? Prioritise the activities that will help you build relationships with people. Yes, sometimes even over your research activity. It’s the people around you who can make all the difference to your PGR experience.

Continue reading “First, recruit your team”

Resilience during a pandemic

In this post, Simona Scanni, a distance learning PGR from the Department of Modern Languages, shares her challenges and the ways in which she has built her resilience during the COVID-19 pandemic.

You will feel alone. Nobody will understand your research work, nobody will ask you about it. So be prepared to feel alone as a part of the journey.

A photograph of Chancellor's Court at the University of Birmingham, showing the entrance to the Aston Webb building.

This was, more or less, the advice we were given by some PGR fellows during the very first residential week in September, on my first year as a PhD student. At the time, I opted for the distance learning programme, so I was already prepared about the idea of being far away from the campus and university services, and somehow isolated from the campus life. My research is about online learning which, ironically, was something existing but still “remote” for many people. The pro was that I could actually conduct my research from home or from any part of the world.

Continue reading “Resilience during a pandemic”

The changing Open Access landscape

In this post, Mike Dainton, Head of Scholarly Communications Services, brings us up-to-date on the Open Access landscape – an essential area of knowledge for anyone hoping to publish their research. For a basic introduction to Open Access, see the Library Services webpages.

The announcement of Plan S in 2018 heightened discussion about Open Access (OA) amongst research communities.  A key tenet of Plan S is to cease using public money to publish OA in journals that also charge a subscription fee to libraries (so called ‘hybrid journals’).

It is acknowledged that flipping to Fully OA will take time, so an interim option for publishers is the ‘Transformative Agreement’ (TA). These should allow libraries to move spending from subscriptions to OA. Typically, an upfront fee provides read access and covers the cost of OA publishing, across a publisher’s complete journal portfolio. We’ve entered into many such agreements over the past year, significantly expanding options for all researchers, including PGRs, to publish OA. You can find further details here.  Currently, Wellcome funded authors must abide by a Plan S aligned OA policy and a new UKRI (UK Research and Innovation) policy will come into force in April 2022.

Continue reading “The changing Open Access landscape”
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