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.

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Survive & Thrive: Persuading, Negotiating & Influencing

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

During a March 2021 PG Skills workshop, UoB PGR alum Rob Pilbrow provided a useful definition of each of these three inter-connected skills. Persuading is the ability to convince others to take a desired viewpoint or action; negotiating is the ability to discuss and reach a mutually satisfactory agreement; and influencing is the ability to effectively persuade and negotiate.

A peacock fanning his tail
The peacock “persuades” the peahen he is a good mate

It is also important to emphasize what these skills are not. Proper use of persuading, negotiating and influencing should NOT be confrontational or antagonistic. It is not about arguing, forcing your will, harassing, pestering or using a power imbalance. Applying these skills should result in a positive, supportive, beneficial and evidence-based discussion, underpinned by an understanding of the person or people being addressed.

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PhD Chats: (re)connecting with the PGR community

Faith Van Horne, a PGR in the Department of Theology and Religion and Diana Cruz de Oliveira, a PGR in Mechanical Engineering introduce PhD Chats, informal, guided conversations reconnecting PGRs.

When Faith started her PhD program, one of the first events she attended was a PhD Chat, an informal guided conversation to discuss some of the challenges associated with the often-lonely PGR journey. As Westmere Scholars, Diana and Faith are part of the team leading the current PhD Chat series. All of the sessions fit the theme of (Re)Connection. As pandemic restrictions lift, many of us are curious about how we will connect again with the PGR community (or for the first time, if we’ve had trouble establishing those connections already). Last week was the initial chat in the series. This was a very informal check-in, just to see how PGRs were doing, and their hopes and fears about (re)connecting with the larger community.

Diana (left) and Faith (right), Westmere Scholars
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Caring for PGR carers

This week, 7-13 June 2021, is Carers Week. Carers look after a family member or friend who has a disability, mental or physical illness or who needs extra help as they grow older. Carers make a significant contribution to their families, communities and society, so it’s important to recognise the valuable work they do, and to make sure they receive the support they need. This is particularly true for PGRs who are carers and are juggling the dual challenges of research and caring.

Carers Week logo

I cannot claim to have first-hand experience of the challenges of caring, but here are some of my thoughts on the ways in which we, as members of the UoB PGR community, can support our PGR colleagues who are also carers. Although Carers Week focusses on caring for those with a disability, mental or physical illness, many of the suggested actions here apply equally to parents or guardians of young children.

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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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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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Do I feel included? Experience and thoughts from a part-time PGR

In this post, Susan Quick, a part-time PGR in the Birmingham Institute of Forest Research (BIFoR) reflects on issues of inclusivity.

Whilst browsing the many training/job opportunities for PGRs recently I was reminded that ‘PGR/ Early career’ does not always mean inexperienced or young. Labels can be misleading even if they also help us to target training and exchange with our peers in a particular discipline or field. Two caring hands silhouetteYounger people need extra support to enable them to navigate the world of employment. Sometimes this means that bias is totally justified, but at other times it is more important to examine ‘need’ rather than age, career stage or some other protected personal characteristic. In my view the needs of applicants, whether for a job or a training course, should enable perspectives of ‘equal opportunity’ over and above those instilled in legal and institutional principles.

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Tips for First-Year PhD students

In this post, Chris Featherstone, a final year PhD student in the Department of Political Science and International Studies (POLSIS), shares his advice for new PGRs. For more, see Chris’s personal blog about being a PGR.

Historical Map of Cornwall (decorative)Everyone who starts a PhD comes into it with expectations; as is the way with expectations, some are correct, and some are way off. This post gives a few tips for people in their first year of the PhD, helping with work, and surviving the process. I am two weeks from submitting my own thesis, and so I thought this was a good point to pass on tips that I have picked up in the process.

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Discovering the unknown unknowns

Black cat hiding among red tulipsWhenever you start something new, whether that’s a new job or joining a membership society for the first time, there’s a lot of learning to do. What are the requirements? What are the expectations? Do I have the equipment and/or the skills that I need? Where can I find out all this stuff? Much of this learning is set out for you through formal channels, but often we learn some of the most valuable information informally, stumbling upon it while looking for something else, or while gossiping with a peer.

A research programme is no different (you probably saw where I was going with that!). And in 2020, there are new ways of working for us all.

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In isolation but not alone: sustaining academic networks

In this post, Antonin Ficatier, a PGR from the Department of Theology and Religion, shares his advice on sustaining an academic network from his experience as a distance learning PGR.  A version of this post appears on Antonin’s personal blog.

Antonin Ficatier's Twitter Bio: @aficatier PhD student @univirmingham (theology and technology); minister @bhcgodalming; speaker; MA from @ptseminary. Godalming, UK.

With COVID-19, what was once the fate of a few students has now become the new norm. Everyone is studying from home these days. But being an effective remote student doesn’t happen overnight. It takes a while to adjust to this new way of studying. I have been a distance-learning PhD student at the University of Birmingham for the past two years and, trust me, I am still learning a lot on how to effectively study remotely! Today I would like to share with you a few tips on how to build and sustain your academic network while studying remotely. Continue reading “In isolation but not alone: sustaining academic networks”