About

A caricature drawn by Jorge Cham from PHD Comics of Paul Spencer

I am the PGR Environment Development Manager in the Bristol Doctoral College, where I oversee the strategic development of the support for all postgraduate researchers. I joined the University of Bristol in 2017 and work with a great team of people who are committed to helping postgraduate research students get the best out their time with us.

I was previously employed for 13 years as a Researcher Development Manager at University of the West of England (UWE). Therefore I’ve had a lot of time to build up my expertise in researcher development design and delivery.

I was also a student at UWE, completing my undergraduate degree there in 1997 before moving onto a PhD programme to develop a special type of sensor to measure the smelly substances that result in oral malodour (bad breath). This work contributed to the understanding of how microorganisms make bad smells in the mouth and although not life threatening, bad breath is something that affects lots of people at one time or another and is a source of great distress for some.

I followed on from the PhD as a Postdoctoral researcher on a two year project to develop a laboratory based model designed to replicate the conditions that are typically found on the human tongue, the place where microorganisms that contribute to bad breath thrive! The idea was to come up with a system that could be used to check out potential ingredients that might combat bad breath by reducing the microorganisms ability to produce smelly stuff without necessarily killing them in the process (because of the side effects of upsetting your natural flora). In the end, after many hours spent in a windowless room growing microorganisms deliberately to make bad smells, the novelty wore off a little and a change in career direction came in 2004 when I switched to a researcher development role.

The switch from the research laboratory to the world of learning & development was made a little easier because I had spent some time as a PhD student learning how to become a trainer/facilitator through the Students’ Union as part of their National Student Learning Programme. This came in handy when, as a post-doc, I seized a chance to work with a national scheme called UK GRAD that ran skills development programmes for research students. I tutored on several of the GRADSchools that they ran. UK GRAD has now been succeeded by Vitae, which has a broader focus for researchers across the spectrum.

I am actively involved in the wider researcher development community, in the South West and Wales region as well as being involved in many networking/learning events more widely.

Above all, I love what I do, working with other researchers to help them realise what they can do is very satisfying, after all a ”lot” of what I do is really playing whilst learning!

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