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.

Continue reading “Tips for First-Year PhD students”

Ten tips for organising an online conference

We are all learning to do more online, including conferences. In this post, Sharon Smith, a PGR in the School of Education, shares her experience of organising an online conference. For more detail, see Sharon’s full post on her personal blog.

Laptop screen showing faces attending an online conferenceAt the beginning of September, a friend and I ran an online postgraduate conference for students studying philosophy of education. We initially started thinking about the conference late Spring, but decided not to rush into hosting it, choosing a September date for the event to ensure we had sufficient time to plan for it. This meant that we could attend other online webinars and conferences to see what the common issues were, and to understand the experience from the perspective of the attendee.

Here are ten tips for anyone wanting to organise an online conference:

Continue reading “Ten tips for organising an online conference”

Back on campus: quiet but productive

In this post, Caitlin Thornton, a PGR researching thyroid cancer in the College of Medical and Dental Sciences, describes her return to campus and her laboratory-based research.

On the first day back after lockdown I arrived half an hour earlier, presuming there would be a queue to collect our lanyards and lab coats. Queuing on stickers places two meters apart was part of the “new normal”.  Instead, I walked straight into the Institute of Biomedical Research, helped myself to a squirt of hand sanitizer, collected two lab coats and went up to our lab on level 2. I thought this was weird at the time – maybe I had got the return day wrong? – but really it was a hint of what labs are like after COVID. Quiet.

Caitlin and two colleagues, wearing masks and socially distanced, in their lab
Caitlin and colleagues in their lab

There aren’t more than around 10 people on our floor at any time. Sometimes we will grab 10-minute chats in the corridors holding thermos flasks of coffee because there’s no access to fridges to keep milk to make drinks at work. A lot of our friends and colleagues are still redeployed in the hospitals. Our large communal office which is usually buzzing with people and activity is a graveyard, sometimes if you are drinking a coffee at your desk all the lights go out because no one is walking around to activate the sensors.

Continue reading “Back on campus: quiet but productive”

#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”

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”