#PROWSS2020 in pyjamas: this year’s writing summer school

Two weeks ago today, the Postgraduate Researcher Online Writing Summer School 2020 (#PROWSS2020) began.  Find out what went on from Kathryn Twigg, a PGR from the Shakespeare Institute.

PGR Writing Summer School logo
To access the links in this post, self-enrol on the #PROWSS2020 Canvas module

#PROWSS2020 was an invaluable research experience. It comprised a week of workshops targeting different areas of postgraduate writing and was accompanied each day by a 2-hour Shut Up and Work. After hearing wonderful things about previous Writing Summer Schools (and attending last year’s myself), I was an eager participant in the 2020 sessions.

COVID-19 has affected us all (for better and for worse) and university life has not escaped the dramatic changes the pandemic has triggered. With libraries and study spaces closed and opportunities to work from home being sporadic at best, #PROWSS2020 provided a much-needed opportunity for focused work. Continue reading “#PROWSS2020 in pyjamas: this year’s writing summer school”

Spotlight on the RDF: “Responsiveness to change”

In one of our occasional series of spotlights, we take a closer look at a specific descriptor from the RDF.

In this series of “Spotlight on…” posts, we’ll be delving into the detail of the descriptors in Vitae‘s Researcher Development Framework (RDF).  Each one of the sixty-three descriptors is a characteristic of an excellent researcher, and we’ll be looking at how UoB PGRs can develop these characteristics.

Embed from Getty Images

In 2020 so far, we have all been responding to changing circumstances as the global pandemic unfolds and lockdowns are imposed and eased in different locations around the world.  Over the last 17 weeks or so, this blog has featured a number of posts from PGRs responding to this change so this feels like a good moment to take a look at the RDF descriptor responsiveness to change.  Rather than thinking about further development in this area, I want to recognise how far we have all come. Continue reading “Spotlight on the RDF: “Responsiveness to change””

How to organise an online conference and live to tell the tale

Continuing our recent mini-theme of online conferences, Lluís Jerez i Bertolín, a PGR from the School of History and Cultures, shares with us his experience of organising one.

Lluís Jerez i Bertolín
Lluís Jerez i Bertolín

In late April of 2020, the COVID-19 pandemic was wreaking havoc around the world, which was not good. I stepped from assisting the organisation of the Classics, Ancient History and Archaeology Colloquium (CAHA Colloquium) to being its sole organiser, which was also not good. As the Colloquium could not be postponed to the next academic year, it had to take place online, which at the time I saw as a complete disaster.

In this post I want to share three guiding principles that allowed me to navigate this situation and turn a perfect storm into an enjoyable conference. These principles are: communication, decision-making tempo, and accessibility. Continue reading “How to organise an online conference and live to tell the tale”

Presenting virtually

We’ve recently heard about attending virtual conferences, but what about presenting your research online?  Ciara Harris has recent experience of this, for the 3 Minute Thesis (3MT) competition and her Annual Progress Review (APR).  Here, she shares her experiences.

First things first, presenting virtually might have some additional challenges compared to ‘traditional’ presentations, but it has advantages too – there’s no travel time, so you can go straight from another project into your presentation (maybe grabbing a cup of tea in between), you can practice your presentation in the exact environment you plan to present in, and you can have chocolate on your desk ready for as soon as you turn your camera off after presenting!

 

Ciara’s 3MT – see all the finalists and vote for your favourite!

There are, however, some additional challenges. Continue reading “Presenting virtually”

Life enclosed – creativity for wellbeing

PGRs Matthew McKenna and Chee Man Tang (Michael) from the Institute of Local Government Studies and the Department of Theology and Religion respectively, have been turning to music to support their mental health and wellbeing through the lockdown.

Matthew writes:

At the risk of sounding ungrateful for the privileged position I find myself in, it seems to me that I have experienced a double whammy of irony in the past few months. I finally moved out of the family home and moved to Birmingham to begin my PGR career into the study of public policy failure and just as I was beginning to settle into life at UoB, the world enters into the biggest global public policy failure seen in generations and I am back in the family home.

This has led to a drastic (and maybe permanent) restructuring of my daily routine and has required me to adapt and make peace with the psychological demands of sleeping, eating, researching and relaxing within the confines of a small selection of walls. A sense of hopelessness engulfed me to begin with (because who wants to conduct a three year PhD from their bedside desk?) but this has been mitigated through balancing my vocation as a researcher with my passion as a musician. Together with my good friend, Michael, who is also a new PGR at UoB and a talented producer, we have created the track Life Enclosed.

Continue reading “Life enclosed – creativity for wellbeing”

How to Navigate an Online Conference

Kish Adoni, PhD student in the School of Biosciences, recently attended a two-week online conference hosted by The American Society of Mass Spectrometry (ASMS).  He shares his experience in this post.

What do you think about online scientific conferences?

ASMS 2020 Conference logo
Logo for the ‘Rebooted’ edition of the 68th ASMS Conference on Mass Spectrometry and Allied Topics

It’s weird! That’s the first thing I’d say. No more loitering around the confectionary section of a big hall, waiting to speak to a professor from another university whose papers sprawl across your office desk. There is also no chance of having one too many pints of Guinness and spilling your latest confidential scientific idea to another academic in your field. I suppose whether those things are a positive or a negative depends on personal preference, but one thing is for sure: online conferences are going to become more normal and the chances are that you will attend one.

So how do online conferences work?

Take away the need for expensive flights, food, hotels and transport and you are basically left with the bare essence of what a conference is for: exchanging knowledge with experts that work in the same spheres as you. Continue reading “How to Navigate an Online Conference”

My virtual learning

In this post, Amelia Rouse, who graduated from her PhD in Civil Engineering in December 2019, shares her experiences of online learning.

Amelia Rouse's LinkedIn profile picture
Amelia’s LinkedIn profile picture

I’ve always been an avid virtual learner; it is just part of the life of a PhD student. During the ongoing pandemic, I started learning basic video editing. I’ve been a film enthusiast for as long as I can remember but I also needed to solve a problem. The lockdown caused many businesses and schools to halt their regular activities. My mum’s primary school violin classes had to stop as part of the lockdown in Barbados. She wanted to find a way to continue teaching. Videos were a simple solution. My sister could record the lessons, send them to me for editing and then distribute them to the students.

Virtual learning has allowed me to improve my skills for little to no cost. I wanted to learn Adobe Premiere Pro and After Effects. The main platforms I used were Skillshare and YouTube. Continue reading “My virtual learning”

Virtually the same – communal productivity at home

In this post, Sarah Chung, PGR in the School of Education and Westmere Scholar, tells us about the value she finds in running and attending Virtual Shut Up and Work.

As a mother of two young children, who was working as a full-time primary school teacher and school governor, I very enthusiastically started my part-time PhD in Education in 2018.  Sarah in the Westmere GardenI planned to work in the evenings and at weekends, only venturing onto campus as needed.  On a regular basis I would receive e-mails which would tell me all about the opportunities that were available for PGRs and one always stuck out – Shut Up and Work.  As an initiative, I thought it was great but I couldn’t join in as I was at work.  It made me realise that there was a lot I couldn’t attend as a part-time PGR.  When I became a Westmere Scholar in 2019, I had the opportunity to attend the Shut Up and Work sessions organised by the PGR Community Engagement Officer (then Eren Bilgen) and I immediately noticed how supportive the environment was with everyone sharing goals and next steps. I also noticed how much more productive I had been!

Reflecting on the session, I realised that it would be great if we could include other PGRs that were part-time, distance learners, PGRs with parental/caring responsibilities or even a combination of all three!  Eren and I discussed how we could do this, and we decided to offer an online version – ‘Virtual Shut Up and Work’ – via the Westmere Facebook group for distance learners and part-time PGRs. Continue reading “Virtually the same – communal productivity at home”

Research during COVID-19: ‘Fall forward’ and not ‘fall back’

In this post, Eric Ngang, a PGR in Law discusses the impact COVID-19 has had on his research.  Eric’s research area is in the discipline of Environmental Law with a special interest in Climate Change Law Making.  Eric has previously written about the PGR Writing Summer School.

The year 2020, which is still in its second quarter, has been an emotional roller coaster for me. The year ushered in the global spread of COVID-19 from its point source leaving no one in the world indifferent. While it reveals the glaring inequalities amongst humanity and the uncertainties associated with disasters, it is at the same time enabling the best from humanity and nature.

Eric Ngang
Eric Ngang

On a personal level, being separated from my family and having to adjust to the new norm puts on an added layer of complexity to already difficult scenarios. I constantly think about my family and several others in Africa that have to cope with our governments copied-and-pasted measures.Such governments like mine have been quick adopting quarantine, self-isolation, and lockdowns from the west while forgetting accompanying measures to quarantine poverty, inequalities, and justices to ease the suffering of the masses. Continue reading “Research during COVID-19: ‘Fall forward’ and not ‘fall back’”

Helen writes: spring-clean your thesis

In the next of our occasional series, Writing Skills Advisor Helen Williams talks about refreshing existing writing as a rewarding and important step on the road to your thesis.

In these uncertain times it’s nice to have a few constants and, whilst working at my desk overlooking my garden, I’ve been reminded that the changing of the seasons is one of these.

Helen's garden
Spring in Helen’s garden

As always, spring has sprung, and this put me in mind of other spring-related traditions that roll around each year. One of these that feels quite apt right now is spring cleaning; what better time than now to do all those tasks that get pushed to one side and ignored in favour of more ‘urgent’ ones?

You may be using this time to charge ahead with writing up and churning out new chapters, which is great, but if you’ve ground to a bit of a halt or want some variety, the following are some good ‘housekeeping’ activities that will pay dividends later on when your schedule may be getting back to normal (most of these assume that you have drafted some work already; if you need to start writing but are struggling, check out my previous post on this). Continue reading “Helen writes: spring-clean your thesis”