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….
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/
This has been the start, much more work to do! Things that are bubbling away…
- UWE are offering some funded scholarships at the moment (deadline for applications is 13 May)
- We are currently working towards having a physical location for all of the Graduate School Staff
- 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
- 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…