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.

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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
Continue reading “PhD Chats: (re)connecting with the PGR community”

Shut up and focus on mutual encouragement

In this post, Mustafa Coban, a PGR from the Centre for Byzantine, Ottoman and Modern Greek Studies in the College of Arts and Law shares his experiences of Shut up and work.

Shut up and work was for me initially, Shut up and write, though I’ve come to appreciate the ‘work’ phrasing is much more apt since there is all sorts of work involved in study and research before, during and after the writing process. It was, and still largely is, a time dedicated to writing, editing, and proofreading. A friend who was leaving the university after completing her studies told me about Shut up and work as I was starting my PhD programme. It took me some time to seek out a session, but once I found one, I found it immediately useful.

University of Birmingham University Graduate School. Shut up & work co-working sessions for PGRs. Weekly Thursdays 1pm-4.30pm; Monthly Mondays 10am-5.10pm. Tackle your to-do list and get more done!

I wasn’t entirely sure of what I expected. But I knew I wanted a time dedicated to writing and only writing. I imagined it as time free not only from reading, but the endless loops and interesting dives into reading, that only seemed to snowball as I chased one footnote, idea, or curiosity after another until I had a folder of pdf articles becoming too big to manage. That was in the early days of my programme, and while I still chase footnotes, through “shutting up and writing” I’ve become better at not trying to cover everything I’ve read.

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Building your research community

In this post, Raeni, a PGR in the Department of Accounting, and Isbahna Naz, a PGR in the Department of Management, share some tips that they found beneficial in developing their sense of community during their PhDs.

3- 4 years doing a PhD is a long time. Some may say, “Life is on hold while doing my PhD”.

We are, of course, all on different journeys but with the same aim. Before COVID-19, we have a study space in the Muirhead Tower, where we could meet, interact and create a community within our cohort even though we are from different research interests. Having a sense of belonging with our peers alongside the journey is essential in numerous ways.

A pre-COVID-19 reading group session – Raeni is at the far right.

Being a member of a research community allows us to stimulate research progress, access an excellent seminar programme, discuss opportunities, and recognise other organisations beyond the campus. The community also sometimes directs us to get opportunities, for instance, acting as teaching or research assistants. Keeping us busy while engaging with others also helps our wellbeing.

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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”

Spotlight on the RDF: “Networking”

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.

network-1911678_640As we approach the University of Birmingham Research Poster Conference 2018, and the summer vacation when many research conferences are scheduled so as not to conflict with teaching responsibilities, it seems a good time to take a closer look at “networking”, a buzzword to describe an activity which may be more usefully thought of as “becoming an active participant in your research community for everyone’s mutual benefit”. Continue reading “Spotlight on the RDF: “Networking””