This week the Graduate School ran a short session for experienced doctoral supervisors who perform the role of Director of Studies (DoS) at UWE, Bristol. The intention of these sessions is to provide a way for colleagues to bring themselves up to speed with the changes in postgraduate research study, particularly with respect to the policy landscape and the institutional response to those changes.
We started out with a wide lens, how the Bologna Process has shaped a number of things at doctoral level and moved onto how the regulatory bodies in the UK assess compliance and/or adoption of these principles. The Quality Assurance Agency (QAA) have a Quality Code that sets out the expectations of UK universities who offer research degree programmes.
The presentation that I used to support the session can be found by clicking on the image below (redirects to the prezi website).
We spent a little time talking on how support for postgraduate research study has been reorganised at UWE with the creation of the Graduate School and the associated website that has all things relating to the doctoral process on it including guidance and regulations, all the forms for research degrees and a whole programme of skills development events.
The session moved onto reflecting on the changes that have been implemented around recruitment and selection, project registration, progress review, teaching support and the final assessment process (appointment of examiners, submission of the thesis etc).
During the session, we shared some of the results and subsequent actions in light of student feedback, principally via the Postgraduate Research Experience Survey (PRES) conducted in 2013. This survey will run again in 2015 and will provide us with some feedback about how the Graduate School is impacting on PGR provision.
One of the areas that many universities struggle with is the section on research culture. It is the theme which scores lowest across the board when looking at the aggregate data. It is hard to understand what can be done to improve the situation because I believe there are many factors that contribute to research culture – it’s partly about the status of PhD students (are they doctoral candidates, students, early career researchers, valued members of staff?), partly about facilities and infrastructure (do I have an office, computer, desk – somewhere to call my own?), partly about the sense of isolation in carrying out doctoral research (the top complaint about being a doctoral researcher) and partly about the role played in university structures (in departments, research centres and/or groups).
At the Graduate School we are continually trying to improve the sense of community of doctoral researchers by using online tools where possible. The skills development offering are mostly available via video conference as well as face to face, a twitter presence, a facebook group and this blog.
There is clearly some way to go but I think we are moving in the right direction.