The word welcome created from 3 dimensional lettering

We’ve recently welcomed our latest group of new postgraduate researchers: this happens three times a year (October, January and April) and the aim of the Welcome Event is to provide a space for our new postgraduate researchers from all over the university to get together and to find out who’s who and what’s what with regard to postgraduate research here at UWE.
Paul Spencer, doing an admirable job of standing in for Neil Willey, started us off with a general introduction to the Graduate School. Here are Paul/Neil’s slides:

Paul also showed the excellent Illustrated Guide to a PhD by Matt Might to help us put this “creating original knowledge” business into some kind of perspective.
Some of our current research students then passed on their thoughts about “What I know now, that I wish I’d known when I started.” The format is that we give some willing volunteers this title – but nothing else! – and ask them to just ‘tell it like it is.’ As always this was the highlight of the afternoon, and huge thanks are due to Niamh, Tori and Hazel for their time and effort in sharing such comprehensive, thoughtful and practical insights with the group.

We also heard from the UWE Students Union (UWESU) and from Dr Tilly Line of the UWE Careers Service, about the great advice and support on offer to PhD’ers in terms of representatio and career planning.
Finally I summarised our skills development programme for postgrad researchers and, with some tongue-in-cheek help from Piled Higher & Deeper, ventured to offer a few of my own hints and tips on how to survive your PhD:

Very best wishes to all our new postgraduate researchers – wherever your research journey takes you, professionally and personally, we look forward to travelling with you.

Future Directions

open-roadWhat do you want to be when you grow up?

How many of us honestly started out in life intending to do a doctorate? Like many of us, I have to admit that I kind of ended up doing mine because a) somebody said I could have a place to do it; b) it seemed like a good way of avoiding the corporate career path without having to actually say so; and c) I’d get to spend some quality time finding out about Victorian funerals (although you might wish to insert your own topic here!)  However we get here, though, there comes the point where we do finally have to face the question of what are we going to do with the rest of our lives post-doctorate.

For some doctoral graduates an academic career seems the obvious choice, while others are keeping an open mind – or are maybe thoroughly sick of academia and longing to get out there into the ‘real world.’  However even for those who’re intent on an academic career, the reality is that the jobs market is tougher than ever – so it’s still sensible to keep your options open and be prepared.

This week we ran our Future Directions course, the underlying theme of which was “challenging assumptions” about what doctoral graduates can go on to do careers-wise. In the morning Dr Tilly Line from the UWE Careers service talked about the reasons why doctoral graduates might go into non-academic careers, and the huge range of sectors and industries where their very special, high-level problem-solving, research and analytical skills are much sought after by employers. Tilly particularly tackled the common assumption that taking up a non-academic career represents some kind of failure – in fact over 50% of doctoral graduates are nowadays employed elsewhere so, if anything, it’s the norm!

In the second half of the workshop, we used the Vitae Researcher Development Framework (RDF) for a spot of personal action planning. This is a useful tool for any researcher, whether or not they’re planning to stay in academia, to start developing some vocabulary for the kind of skills, behaviours and attributes they’ve gained through doing their research degree. Of course it can also be used to identify areas for further development, so to finish with we had a go at setting some S.M.A.R.T. (Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Realitic, Timebound) goals that the participants would take forward in order to develop their knowledge/skills in a particular area of the Framework.

So hopefully, next time you get asked what do you want to be when you grow up, maybe after this workshop you’ll have (some of) the answer.

The Effective Researcher: the middle years

Wood for the trees

Yesterday we ran our “The effective researcher – the middle years” workshop. This is aimed at PGRs who, having expended considerable time and energy passing Progression, are now experiencing the dreaded “second year slump” – when progress seems elusive, perspective fails, and you lie awake at 3am wondering why the h*ll are you doing this, will someone remind me please.

After introductions, we dug back into our memories of how it was in the beginning – the heady mixture of euphoria, excitement, fear of the unknown, new responsibilities but also new freedoms. Building reading stamina and developing one’s academic voice also came up. We spent quite a lot of time doing this, but I think it was worthwhile: judging from the smiles and nods, some of us at least were already beginning to recollect “why” we had ever embarked on this doctoral journey.

We then thought ahead to the final stages of the research degree, and this was a good opportunity to talk about the academic, procedural and also the emotional experience of submission, viva and post-viva.

Btw here are the slides, with due acknowledgement to Vitae for some of the materials:

Then we used some metaphors as a way of talking about “middle years” of a doctorate: juggling balls and spinning plates proved especially popular, and the mountaineering analogy also spoke to a lot of us. PGRs are a hugely diverse bunch, but it’s amazing how much common ground there actually is, and the relief of finding out that “it’s normal” and “you’re not alone” was palpable.

In the afternoon we discussed practical ‘strategies for success’ – defining the project scope and standards (with reference to the doctoral descriptor), having a system for organising your material, avoiding procrastination, finding and protecting writing time, and acknowledging the changing relationship with supervisors. Above all, being kind to yourself and finding a working routine that suits you. We finished off with some personal action planning.

As always with these events, there was huge value in just taking some time out to reflect on achievements so far, meet others in a similar position and identify some practical ways of keeping the momentum going. Very best of luck to all the participants with the next stages, and hope to see you again soon!

Hello from Dr Helen Frisby



Hello everyone,

My name is Dr Helen Frisby, and I’m absolutely delighted to have been appointed to look after Paul’s Researcher Development Manager role for the next few months whilst he covers our Graduate School Manager’s job.

Readers from the UWE Faculty of Business & Law might well recognise my name, because for the last four and a bit years I’ve been supporting their PhD programmes here at UWE – as Senior Research Administrator within the Faculty, then since 2012 as Graduate School Officer.

Meanwhile my academic journey has taken me from a first degree in Theology through to Social History: my PhD (Leeds, 2009) being on Victorian funerals. Since then I’ve continued to write and speak on this topic all over the UK and Europe – recent destinations including Transylvania and Vienna. I’m also an Associate Lecturer in History at UWE, and a Part Time Teaching Fellow in the Department of Social & Policy Science at the University of Bath where I teach on the UK’s only degree-level Funeral Directing programme. Other current projects include some collaborative oral history research into the practice and social/cultural significance of gravedigging. So, I guess I’m going to be kind of busy …

Anyway! That’s quite enough for now, except just to say how excited I am about this super opportunity to get out and about, work with and learn from you all over the next few months, and that I very much look forward to meeting you in person soon,


All the best,


Researcher Development at UWE, Bristol

The outdoor classroom in the Brecon Beacons

The outdoor classroom in the Brecon Beacons

The UWE Graduate School are currently advertising a vacancy for a Researcher Development Manager with a closing date of Monday 17th February 2014; this blog entry is to explain why it is available and to give a bit of context around the role.

The current role holder (that’s me!) is covering the maternity leave of a colleague – the Graduate School Manager – so am having to step out of researcher development. I believe it is a fantastic opportunity for a researcher who wants to break into the sphere of researcher development or it could be just the change of perspective required for a current researcher developer as a secondment opportunity.

So, a bit more about the job and why it’s a great opportunity. At UWE, we recently (in January 2012) consolidated support for doctoral studies into a single institution-wide graduate school. This  provides all the necessary support for doctoral researchers from admission through to completion.

Skills development sits within the graduate school structure and provides a programme of events for all doctoral researchers across all disciplines. We have a population of just under 500 doctoral researchers spread across four faculties (Health and Applied Sciences, Business and Law, Environment and Technology, and Arts, Creative industries and Education). This presents both a challenge and an opportunity to understand more about the differences between disciplines. I’m a microbiologist by training but I have come to appreciate the range of approaches of colleagues across the institution.

As well as catering for doctoral researchers, the role extends to providing skills development events for research staff at UWE, there are approximately 200 staff on research only contracts and many more academic staff who cold be described as “early career researchers”. This is achieved by extending the offering of the skills development programme but also by running the UWE Researchers’ Forum. This is an important route of engagement with research staff not just in terms of their development but also of how UWE as an institution supports researchers through the policies and procedures it adopts.

As well as providing a programme of events for researchers this job also involves contributing to policy development with respect to researcher development e.g. the Concordat to Support the Career Development of Researchers and the associated HR Excellence in Research award that recognises progress in implementing the concordat.

The other feature about this job is the collaborative nature of researcher development in the South West region. UWE has a long tradition of working with others to deliver skills development events for example:-

A growing area of this role is finding new ways to engage with researchers who cannot attend the university in a physical sense. We have been using a videoconferencing system called Visimeet to enhance our skills development delivery especially in a module entitled Research in Contemporary Context. There are opportunities here to think more creatively about how the future might be shaped by the use of these tools.

This blog has helped extend the reach of what we do (and wordpress.com is a really easy blogging platform to use even if you aren’t technically savvy) so a willingness to embrace some social media tools is a pretty good thing to have as a researcher developer.

Hopefully you can see that this job has a lot of scope to get involved in a variety of events, projects and policy discussions which would give the role holder a lot of experience in researcher development. If that wasn’t enough, the job is in Bristol – which is a great place to live and work.

Are you interested?

Apply here

Still have questions?

How to write an internationally excellent paper

Research journals on a shelf

Research journals on a shelf

In December the UWE Researchers’ Forum tackled a topic at the heart of a successful academic research career, that of how to write papers that are considered to be internationally excellent or even world leading. What we try to do with these events is to help early career researchers to understand what factors are involved in a successful academic research career. We do this by inviting experienced researchers to share their knowledge, expertise and practice. Here’s the programme for the forum.

In the morning we invited two UWE academics who have a lot of experience of writing, reviewing and encouraging others to write excellent research outputs.

First up was Professor Aniko Varadi from the Department of Biological, Biomedical and Analytical Sciences at UWE, an experienced researcher and the lead for the UWE submission in the Research Excellence Framework (REF) in Unit of Assessment 3.

We had a video camera running on the day so we can show what Professor Varadi had to say.

Next up we heard from Professor Katie Williams, Director of the Centre for Sustainable Planning and Environments who is also a very experienced researcher and a review panel member for the Research Excellence Framework (REF). Professor Williams wrote a handout with tips on how to write quality papers.

The video camera was still rolling so here’s what Professor Williams had to say.

The afternoon of this Researchers’ Forum then sought to explore how researchers could use digital tools to augment their excellent outputs of research to help extend their reach. I’ve written about some of these things in a post the “Digital Researcher” and there’ll be a separate post featuring the video.

The creative researcher

Having a light bulb moment?

Having a light bulb moment?

This week at UWE we welcomed Dave Jarman, the Head of Enterprise Education at the University of Bristol to facilitate a session on creativity in research. Here’s some thoughts from Dave about how important creativity is in the business of research.

The Creative Researcher session explores the basic principles of creative and innovative thought and their importance for researchers. As researchers and as products of traditional education programmes we often prize critical and analytical thought very highly – but the ability to suspend critical thought is integral to generating creative thoughts from which truly innovative applications can arise. Too often we seek the ‘right answer’ which usually leads us exactly where everyone else has gone before – if we’re trying to find something original we have to look where others do not.

As a result creativity involves a different approach; partially an internal one – giving yourself permission to make mistakes, to explore the ridiculous, to follow your curiosity down possible dead-ends, and to stretch yourself into ‘uncomfortable’ and unfamiliar territories. But the external environment also has an impact; creativity thrives in resource-rich and diverse networks. You need stimulation, connections, and an environment conducive to exploration to generate creative ideas and experiment with them.

Further links



Authentic Leadership

Simon Sinek: Start with why by marcoderksen CC BY-NC 2.0

Simon Sinek: Start with why by marcoderksen  CC BY-NC 2.0

This week I contributed to a “learning lunch” for colleagues here at UWE. The topic for this episode is authentic leadership. It’s a re-run of a leadership insight I delivered a couple of years back on a course entitled “Leadership in Action”. This is a Vitae course offered to researchers (both students and staff) to allow them the time/freedom/space to practice leadership in a variety of settings. This particular course was one sponsored by the South West & Wales regional hub of Vitae.

I’ve written about this sort of thing before in the context of communication of research, being able to explain the “why” of research is a valuable thing in my view and key to good communication.

Below is a summary of what I said about authentic leadership.

Much of the insight has been taken from Simon Sinek’s book “Start with why: How Great Leaders Inspire Everyone to Take Action” and his TED talk based on the same topic..

I ended the segment by showing my favourite TED talk featuring Benjamin Zander who, for me at least, is the epitome of authentic leadership in action.

Image Attribution

Simon Sinek: Start with why by marcoderksen available at http://flic.kr/p/82L7jr under a creative commons 2.0 licence. Full details http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc/2.0/

Submitting your thesis electronically

Photo of a pile of reference books, a laptop and a daunted woman.

How to get your thesis online?

This week we ran a workshop to introduce the changes to the process of submitting a doctoral thesis at UWE. From September 2013, all doctoral candidates are required to submit an electronic version of their final thesis alongside a hard bound copy. The context of this is to make it easier for anyone to access the research outputs from universities – the open access agenda which I wrote about here.

We invited the managers of the UWE Research Repository, Alex Clarke and Anna Lawson to explain a bit more about how the repository came about and how to deposit a thesis. Here are their supporting slides.