Welcoming new doctoral students #uwegradschool

The word welcome created from 3 dimensional letteringThis week the UWE Graduate School put on a welcome event for new doctoral students. The turnout was really good and it was great to see so many enthusiastic and excited doctoral students (or “PhDers” as they have affectionately become known!) eager to understand what lay before them.

In a tried and tested format we put on a number of short sessions interspersed with free food to settle the new arrivals into the world of doctoral study.

We began with a brief introduction and tour of the UWE Library and the support that researchers can expect from Jenni Crossley.

Following lunch I asked the Director of the Graduate School to give a brief overview and welcome to the new starters, here’s what he had to say:

We then moved on to what is probably the most useful section, I’d invited some current PhDers to talk about their experiences and to offer their advice to new starters; I only provided the title “What I know now that I wish I’d known when I started”. 

Graeme Whitehall

Graeme’s presentation was followed by talks from Milena Popova (Twitter; blog) and Jackie Barker who gave frank and sometimes humorous accounts of what it is like to do a PhD. Milena has written her talk as a blog entry “I accidentally a PhD – one year on”

We moved on from there to present a picture of the overall support available to doctoral students across the institution beginning with a short presentation from Dr Tilly Line, a researcher and careers adviser (@UWECareers) about what Student Services can offer.

Next up was Lauren Conen (@vpeducation) , the Vice President for Education at the Students’ Union at UWE who gave an overview of the services and support offered by the Students’ Union.

Then it was the turn of Dr Paul Spencer (@paulspencer42) to give an overview of the UWE Graduate School skills development programme

I finished up sharing the thoughts of Matt Might using his excellent Illustrated Guide to the PhD

Let us know your thoughts, comments, questions about what we are doing at UWE with the graduate school. Why not follow @uwegradschool on twitter to keep up to date with all the things we are doing?

Further links that might be useful!

The UWE Graduate School website

UWE Researcher Skills Events Diary

UWE Graduate School Facebook Group

UWE Graduate School Twitter

Piled Higher and Deeper (PHD) Comic Strips

Getting to grips with your research career

Getting to grips with career

Getting to grips with career

Recently we held our twice-yearly UWE research staff development event, this time on the theme of “getting to grips with your research career.” As the title suggests the event was a space for researchers from across UWE to get together and reflect on where they’re at in their career, where they might want to go, and how to get there.

Since the University is about to review the researcher role grading process, it seemed opportune to get some’ feedback via a short questionnaire, about how researchers themselves perceive the step up from Associate to Fellow – both the difference between these roles, and the application process itself. Pam has kindly collated the feedback (see separate document) for you to look at.

We then heard from three senior researchers, who had been asked to offer advice as if to their younger, less experienced researcher selves. Richard, Glenn and Darren were all very generous and honest with their insights, and you can see their presentations via the UWE Research Support webpages.

After “Dear Less Experienced Self”, it was time for “Dear Future Me”: for this, the group used prompt cards articulated to the Vitae Researcher Development Framework, to identify a skill or attribute they could do to work on in order to help their career progression – and, because we like to keep things positive, two things they’re already good at and would like do even better.

To help make the RDF feel a bit more concrete and ‘lived’ (and get us up and moving a bit!), each small group stood in a circle and threw a ball to one another: the idea being that when you get the ball, you have to say what card/skill you chose, why, and how good you are at it already – with examples if possible!

While one usually goes away from these events with genuinely good intentions, life – in fact, just the sort of the things w talked about in part 1 – does have a habit of getting in the way. So, to try and keep the good intentions alive, everyone was invited to complete a ‘postcard to self’ listing up to 3 small, practical things to do in the next couple of months to help them move forward on the skills identified in part 2.

Many thanks to all – the presenters, Glenn and the rest of the Planning Group and, most of all, to everyone who came along on the day, for joining in with such enthusiasm – I do hope you found it a worthwhile and fun morning, and we look forward to seeing you again at the next (whole day) event on 1 December 2014.

Project Management in a Nutshell

PM in a nutshell

It's a nutshell

It’s a nutshell

Recently we ran our regular half-day workshop for researchers on “Project Management in a Nutshell”. The purpose of this workshop is to de-mystify some of the jargon which surrounds project management, and to consider some practical ideas for managing your project, be it a PhD or other research project. The discussion was very wide-ranging, so I’ll just summarise what I think were the key points:

Know who your stakeholders (the people and organisations who have some kind of interest in your project) are, and be aware of their expectations. We talked a lot about what happens when there’s conflict between the interests of different stakeholders, and between stakeholders’ expectations and how the project is actually developing. While there are no easy answers here, early recognition and honest communication are invariably key to resolving any issues.

The importance of planning. The earlier the better, but it’s never too late to start.

Project constraints. In an ideal world, we’d all have unlimited money, time, academic freedom etc. But realistically there will be some constraints, so be aware of them and plan your project accordingly

Breaking it down into manageable, measureable chunks.

Risk awareness. What might stop you from completing your project? What’s your Plan B?

Project planning tools. Most of us are (too?) familiar with the ubiquitous GANTT chart, but there are lots of other planning tools out there. We particularly talked about PERT charts, which factor in time and allow you to identify your critical task pathways. It really doesn’t matter how high or low-tech your planning tool is – a simple list on a piece of paper can be just as effective – whatever works for you.

Review progress as you go along, keep your plan updated and your stakeholders in the loop as things develop.

Most of all, be honest with yourself and your stakeholders about how the project is going.

On this final point, we talked about the fact that ‘honesty’ is socially and culturally constructed, which can be a particular challenge for international colleagues who find themselves baffled by the nuances of British work-culture. In particular, the fact that direct challenges are generally taboo and that weasel word “nice” which can mean pretty much anything. I can recommend no better reading on this subject than Kate Fox’s funny, astute book Watching the English: The Hidden Rules of English Behaviour (London: Hodder & Stoughton, 2005).

Here are the slides:

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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