A New Graduate School for UWE

It seems an awfully long time ago now that I was a postgraduate research student at UWE, I began my PhD in the late Autumn of 1997 eventually finshing some 4 (and a bit) years later. Back then I felt enormously proud to be a “postgrad”, being involved with assisting in laboratory sessions, running experiments, solving problems, supervising final year BSc research projects as well as working on my own research topic (oral malodour since you ask!). I was also acutely aware of some of the inequalities that many a research student faced in terms of feeling isolated, being somewhere between a valued member of staff and a student depending on the situation – generally a lack of distinct identity.

Which is probably why I ended up putting myself up for election as a ‘part time elected officer’ of the Students’ Union to represent postgraduate students (a fully non-paid activity). It was around that time (1999-2000) that I first heard of proposals to establish a Graduate School at UWE to help improve the doctoral experience. I was excited, the profile of postgrad research students would be raised, our contribution to the academic outputs of the institution would be recognised, our ills would be eased! In the end though, the university decided against an institutional model to support research students and opted for individual faculties (all 9 of them) to decide whether to set up their own Graduate Schools catering for both postgraduate taught and postgraduate research students, an outcome which did little to resolve the situation faced by the research students.

That was then, fast forward 10 years and several reorganisations of the university structures, we are now at 4 large faculties and a “One University Administration” (a process undertaken to disentangle the disparate administrative and professional support structures that have evolved over time like some sort of congealed spaghetti dish). The time was right to re-visit how we organised the support of postgraduate research studies at UWE, the proposals were set out, debated and decided upon and from January 2012 we now have a single Graduate School supporting postgraduate research students across the whole university.

I am excited again, having spent the last 8 years employed to support the skills development of research students, I know this move is a positive one; I also know that there is much left to do to make this model really work.

I’m not alone in showing enthusiasm for this, we have been lucky that we have retained a huge amount of experience in the Graduate School staff from the new Academic Director, Neil Willey to the adminstrators who have been supporting research students for years.

Here’s a video explaining why we established a Graduate School…

Sorting out the staffing structure is just the start, we need to get to grips with the information needs of both research students and their supervisors to help with the navigation of the research degree programmes on offer. This required a big rethink of the UWE website. Quite happy to report that we now have some dedicated pages to all things Graduate School related and a short URL to ease the remembering of it…!


The UWE Graduate School have also set up an account on Twitter, why not follow us as we move forwards…

The next task has been to raise awareness of the Graduate School so we decided upon a different sort of launch event, one that was more like a showcase of the different types of research that goes on here, one where discussions could be had over coffee and cake and one where you could put your feet up and take a load off.

A tall order but here’s some photos….

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We had displays of research projects from research students including a fascinating piece of archiving/research by Katie Davies into the repatriation ceremonies at Wootton Bassett in a film entitled “The Separation Line”.



Speaking of films, we also had two animated films produced for the event and website, “10 Reasons to do a doctorate” and “10 reasons to be a doctoral supervisor” both of which were animated by an alumni of the UWE MA in Animation, David Hutchinson. The films featured recorded voices of research students and supervisors from UWE talking about the best aspects of doctoral study.




The final part of the day was to screen the live action film from the Piled Higher and Deeper comic strip, an hour long film featuring research students and academics from CalTech. It was an amusing, ironic and perhaps touching look at some of the issues that many academics and research students face in academia. The trailer is here.


The full movie is now available to purchase from http://www.phdmovie.com/


Further work

This has been the start, much more work to do! Things that are bubbling away…

  1. UWE are offering some funded scholarships at the moment (deadline for applications is 13 May)
  2. We are currently working towards having a physical location for all of the Graduate School Staff
  3. There is space planned for Graduate School activities in the new Academic Hub that will be built in the medium term that will have space for research students to work & socialise
  4. Currently working on more events for research students & supervisors

We’d like your thoughts on the direction we are taking, let’s make the Graduate School do what I’d hoped for back in 1999…

Hello, it’s been a while…

I suppose this blog entry really is a note addressed to self. It’s been a while since you’ve written anything and this is not good. You must remind yourself to write about the following as soon as you can:

  1. “How to win funds & influence people”  – a workshop that I ran a few weeks back (before Easter) that serves as an introduction to applying for research funding.
  2. “Research in Context” [insert link here when you’ve done it] a pilot workshop developed by the National Co-ordinating Centre for Public Engagement (NCCPE).
  3. reSEARCH Careers [insert link here when you’ve done it] – a regional event organised by the SW& Wales hub of Vitae that brought employers and researchers together. 
  4. The UWE Graduate School launch

It’s this last one that has kept me extremely busy of late, organising, editing, recording, did I mention organising….

Anyway, here’s some videos that show what I’ve been upto…

10 Reasons to do a doctorate

The animation was by an alumni of the UWE MA Animation course, David Hutchinson. I captured the views of the research students and did the audio editing/transcriptions.

We didn’t want to leave out the supervisors in this so here’s…

10 Reasons to be a doctoral supervisor

Again, animation by David Hutchinson and I chased down supervisors to capture their views. It was a bit of an ambush…!

and lastly, here’s another bit of video – this time some good ol’ fashioned straight talking about the new UWE Graduate School..


I’m still very busy because the launch event is on Tuesday and there is much left to do… but I promise (myself) that I will write the entries above.

Welcome to UWE!

On Monday evening of this week, I put on an event for newly registered postgraduate research students at UWE, an event that had been postponed from October. It is something that we run every year to provide a space for new research students to get together from across the whole university. I think this is important because it introduces the idea that there are other researchers around who, whilst not being in the same discipline, are on a similar path.

We opened the event with an introduction from the Director of the UWE Graduate School, Neil Willey. His slides are here:-

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Neil opened by highlighting one of the Doctoral Descriptors, the criteria for the award of a research degree, to explain that the goal, the end result is to come up with an original and significant contribution to knowledge. He pointed out that it was this that ultimately is the most satisfying, exciting, infuriating element of what most people refer to as a journey. He then went on to explain the place that the new UWE Graduate School will have in supporting postgraduate research students in that journey.

The main element of this gathering is that we invite current research students to pass on their thoughts about what it is like to be a research student to others. I only provided the title:- “What I know now, that I wish I’d known when I started” to the wonderful research students who volunteered to come and talk:- Anja Dalton, Billy Clayton, Amy Webber and Sarah Dean (take a bow folks!). The insights they gave astounded me because if I tried to write down all the hints & tips about being a research student that I could think of, I still wouldn’t have been able to cover everything that they did!

Here’s a flavour of the presentations with thanks to Billy, Amy & Anja who gave me permission to reproduce their work here:

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I learned things from these presentations, the most common theme in describing a research degree is around a journey toward a summit and that there is a collective term for research students studying for a PhD; the PhDers!

Billy also raised awarenes of a crippling syndrome that pervades many in academia, the imposter syndrome. In fact, only this week Athene Donald wrote about this on her blog..

I then summarised the skills development programe I run at UWE for researchers within which I revealed some of the nuggets of wisdom gathered from years of being a researcher, brought to life through the medium of the Piled Higher & Deeper comic strips. Here’s the overview of what I said:-

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Finally I summarised the PhD using the fabulous Illustrated Guide to a PhD by Matt Might which helps us all keep the magic of what we do into some sort of perspective.

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PhD – The Movie to be screened at UWE

About 6 months ago, the news of the forthcoming release of the Piled Higher and Deeper live action film had me all excited. Then I promised to try and find a way that it could be screened at UWE – I just needed to find the right reason….

I have. Put Tuesday 24th April at 4pm in your diary folks! 

Update: UWE research students & staff can now register here (may need to log in if off campus)



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And here’s the trailer….




PHD Movie Trailer from PHD Comics on Vimeo.