27th SPRU PhD Forum: Call for presentations

Collaboration in Context: Advancing Research and Policy Practices in Science, Technology, and Innovation

Thursday 17 & Friday 18 June, 2021

In an increasingly complex world, the key to innovative problem-solving lies in challenging old system boundaries and using the potential of many actors, institutions, and knowledge sources – in short, collaboration.  

Under this umbrella, the 27th SPRU PhD Forum aims to bring together novel research insights to deepen and broaden our understanding of Science, Technology, and Innovation. The forum provides a unique platform for doctoral researchers to present and discuss their work with scholars in their field and to extend their horizons past their own disciplines. 

The forum welcomes doctoral researchers from areas like Science, Politics and Decision Making; Energy Policy and SSH; Sustainable Development and Sustainability Transitions; Economics of Innovation and Industrial Policy; Technology and Innovation Management, and related fields. This year, they especially welcome contributions related to collaboration, which can cover but are not limited to the following topics:

•       Research across disciplines and beyond academia, in multidisciplinary and transdisciplinary projects;

•       Participation of civil society and/or the private sector in policy and governance processes;  

•       Multi-actor collaboration and transition experiments in sustainability transitions; 

•       Collaboration patterns in a digital society;

•       Power dynamics, risk perception, and strategies in multi-actor system;

•       Multi-level governance, large system disruptions (e.g. Climate Change, COVID), and innovation

Call for Presentations

To participate, please send an Abstract of your work or well-developed project idea (max. 400 words) including a short professional biography (100-150 words) to the registration link.

Successful applicants will be offered the opportunity to present their research in a short presentation (10 mins) and discussion (3-5 mins) during the Forum. 

The deadline for applications is 23 April 2021. Notifications of acceptance will be sent out by 14 May 2021. We look forward to receiving your abstracts!

Want to brush up on your quantitative research skills? RDP workshops now available to book

These workshops are part of the UEA Online Training Series, and are being repeated exclusively for Sussex PhD researchers due to high demand.

Quantitative research: a basic guide

Date: 11th May 2021
Time: 10:00-12:00
Workshop description: This session will provide a conceptual and methodological introduction to quantitative research, which may be of particular use to PGR students considering the use of quantitative methods and analyses for the first time, or who feel in need of a ‘friendly’ and straightforward refresher session.
Important quantitative concepts such as variables, hypotheses, probability (and p values), reliability, validity, and Type 1 and 2 errors will be defined and a tour will subsequently be taken through a range of statistical tests that can be used to examine both significant associations (correlation and regression) and significant differences (including the t-test, ANOVA, ANCOVA, and MANOVA) in your data set.
Each statistical test will be mapped against the kind of research questions/hypotheses it is designed to answer and attendees will be shown how to run each test in principle, to interpret their results/output and to report the findings of each test in an appropriate format.
If you’re intending to employ quantitative research techniques in your thesis, but currently feel uncertain about the correct procedure or method of data analysis, this session comes highly recommended.
Book your place via SussexDirect.

An introduction to scale development

Date: 18th May 2021
Time: 10:00-12:00
Workshop description: This session will introduce students to the procedures used to develop reliable and valid scales, allowing them to accurately measure a variety of personal and social variables which would otherwise not be directly observable. Led by a tutor well-known for her scale development work in the context of self-determination theory – having designed and implemented both ‘The Controlling Coach Behaviour Scale’ (cited 166 times since 2010) and ‘The Psychological Need Thwarting Scale’ (cited 181 times since 2011) – the session will explore the scale development process from start to finish, beginning with item generation, and moving on to the piloting of items, through data collection, and concluding with a guide to various data analytic techniques, including exploratory and confirmatory factor analyses, as well as appropriate tests of reliability and validity.
Book your place via SussexDirect.

An introduction to structural equation modelling

Date: 25th May 2021
Time: 10:00-12:00
Workshop description: Structural Equation Modelling (SEM) is a powerful multivariate statistical technique which enables researchers to examine several regression equations simultaneously. This session will provide an introduction to the key concepts involved in SEM, including latent, exogenous, and endogenous variables and their graphical notation.
Students will also be introduced to the concepts of both the measurement and structural model, before being taken on a step-by-step journey through the process of data analysis, stopping off on the way to consider issues of model specification, data collection, model estimation, model evaluation, and model modification.
The session will conclude with a demonstration of how to interpret the output of an SEM analysis and to report the findings/revealed model correctly using both text and appropriate diagrams/figures.
Book your place via SussexDirect.

Social science researchers needed for survey on placement opportunities

PhDs and Early Career Social Science researchers needed for study on placement opportunities

SeNSS logo

Are you a postgraduate social science researcher (PhD and Early Career)? Participate in a 10 minute online survey on placement opportunities and stand a chance to win one of five £20 Amazon vouchers. The survey examines the barrier facilitators to placement engagements among postgraduate and early career social science researchers. 

Please complete the survey provided to voice your views and for a chance to win in the prize draw.

Economic and Social Research Council logo

The project has received funding from the Economic Social Research Council (ESRC) through the National Productivity Investment Fund (NPIF) with other universities within the South East Network for Social Sciences Doctoral College Training Partnership (SeNSS DTP). The research project investigates the current and future landscape of placements for postgraduate social science researchers in the South East of England, with a focus on the impacts of the current Covid-19 pandemic . Your responses will contribute towards improvements in the delivery of placements to PhD and early career researchers in the social sciences.

National survey of doctoral researchers coming soon

A female student sitting at a desk in the University of Sussex Library.

From Thursday 8 April, doctoral researchers at Sussex will be invited to complete the Postgraduate Research Experience Survey (PRES). The survey will run until Monday 17 May 2021

This is your chance to tell us about your experience as a postgraduate at the University of Sussex. Please take the time to share your views – it should only take around 15 minutes. 

Your feedback is important. This is the only national survey of PhD students and will help us to build an understanding of research experiences across the country. It will also ensure that your voice is heard. Your feedback will help to inform and further improve the experience of researchers at Sussex. The more of you that take part, the better we can learn what works well and what needs to change. 

Look out for an email invitation from Jisc Online Surveys with your unique link to complete the survey, as well as reminders from the University. 

You can find more information about PRES on the Doctoral School website. 

Thank you for getting involved.

UKCGE international conference on postgraduate mental health, 17-21 May

Poster for the 2nd International Conference on the Mental HEalth and Wellbeing of Postgraduate Researchers #MHWBrighton

The 2nd International Conference on the Mental Health and Wellbeing of Postgraduate Researchers will be held – online – from 17th to 21st May.

Join us to hear the latest developments in research and effective practices to support the mental health of doctoral researchers and university staff, and to discuss ways of tackling the toxic research cultures that impact so heavily on academic wellbeing.

The University of Sussex is proud to be partnered with the University of Portsmouth and UKCGE to bring you five days of keynotes, panel sessions, 20:20 talks, poster presentations and interactive workshops. A full list of accepted papers is available to download.

Confirmed keynote speakers include Rosie Tressler (CEO, Student Minds), Hugh Kearn (iThinkWell and Flinders University), Gareth Hughes (author of The Wellbeing Thesis, University of Derby), Dr Frances Downey (Head of Research Culture, UKRI) and Dr Jason Arday (Durham University).

Staff at the University of Sussex are eligible for discounted UKCGE member rates, and student/PGR tickets are only £25 for a day pass or £50 for the full week. See the conference website for further details and to book your place.

Adapting to change: “Moving forwards, I have had to be more pragmatic when considering what is possible in our current reality”

Amy Riley-Powell, a PhD researcher in IDS,
a photo taken by Amy during her fieldwork of a community visit

In this Adapting to Change series, we interview Sussex PhD researchers and supervisors about the challenges they faced in 2020, and the different approaches they took to tackle the issues, adapt their projects and continue with their research.

Below we hear from Amy Riley-Powell who is a PhD researcher studying at the Institute of Development Studies.

Tell us a little about your research and what your original research plans involved?

My project is based in Lima, Peru and I am working with a small group of women with disabilities to explore experiences of violence.

Which methodologies were you using in your work, and what stage were you at when you had to adapt your research?

For my research project I was using ethnographic methods and I was planning on using participatory methods and elite interviews in the second stage of data collection.

A photo taken by Amy during her fieldwork,
local hospital in the south of Lima

When news of the lockdown came in March 2020 in Peru, I had been working with a small group (~20) of women with disabilities and had completed ~6months of ethnography with the support of 4 fieldworkers. Together with the field team I had organised a number of participatory workshops to start in April (we had booked transport, a space, food etc) and I had started to connect with potential interviewees for the elite interviews. In Peru the lockdown was a hard, military lockdown and happened very quickly. On the Friday I was with some participants and the field team, and on the Sunday the news came in and I have been unable to return to the project site since then.

What obstacles did you face to your original research plans and how did you address these challenges?

I am still facing many obstacles and sure there will still be more to come! So far, the main challenges have been around shifting the focus of the research, mitigating delays and adapting data collection methods.

A photo taken by Amy during her fieldwork,
training session with fieldworkers

The main challenge for me has been grappling with a shift in the focus. One of the central ideas of my original research was to listen to stories which are not usually heard (narratives provided by women with disabilities, the core participants), however many of these women do not have internet access which makes it difficult to connect with each other. To address this challenge, I am working more closely with the field team who will facilitate meetings with the core participants by using tablets and smart phones, though we assume that discussing sensitive topics will be much more difficult online. So, I am also increasing the number of elite interviews and focusing more on the policy angle. The elite interviews were always part of the research plan but have become more central.

My research has now been delayed by a year and I have to try and mitigate these delays. I have started some analysis of my fieldnotes and tried to engage with my PhD in other ways (writing blogs, attending courses and conferences) but it has been hard, and a lot of my time is spent doing administrative tasks to resume fieldwork (amendments for ethics, managing budgets, buying PPE etc). On a personal note, I also had to manage an international move during the pandemic, and I have a young family, so childcare and the move have often been prioritised over PhD work. Whilst I am lucky that I am able to work from home, I have often found it hard to feel motivated and struggled to find the enthusiasm and focus needed for a PhD. I think we are all becoming increasingly aware of the emotional toll the pandemic is having on us and in a PhD – which is often already a lonely endeavour – this is something I have struggled with.

To address the challenges, I think the main thing I needed was time. At the beginning of the pandemic, I thought I would be able to resume my research as planned, and the only obstacle would be some delays. As the gravity of the pandemic became clear I had no choice but to step back, return to my ROS paper and start a first round of analysis on the data I had collected so far. Moving forwards, I have had to be more pragmatic when considering what is possible in our current reality. Whilst I have felt really frustrated and upset by this, there have been some benefits, namely that I have a much better understanding of the data I have collected so far, and this will hopefully have a positive impact on my data collection to come.

What support did you receive during this period of change and where did you look to for guidance when you encountered an obstacle?

My supervisors have been excellent, they have been very supportive on both a professional and personal level. They helped me to stay calm and not panic and encouraged me to explore other emerging themes and potential lines of enquiry. They also were very supportive in helping me to navigate the admin side of the delays and what this meant for my PhD timeline. The structure and continuity of regular supervision meetings was key – there was always a space to discuss what was happening, how I was feeling and what I could do.

The PhD community at IDS has also been brilliant – there is a network of people who understand and empathise with what you are going through. Many/most of my peers have also encountered delays and being able to share our worries and discuss how we are adapting our research plans has been really valuable. PhD students who have finished fieldwork and had encountered their own delays shared their stories and offered hope to those of us in the field who were feeling a bit lost.

A photo taken by Amy during her fieldwork, Community visit

In Peru I was also very well supported by the research networks I was working with. My local mentor (who I have worked with for ~5 years) was a constant source of support, both on a personal level and helping me understand and navigate what was happening in country. I was really lucky to have that local support and insight into what was happening from my local mentor, and the field team and the manager of the research offices where the project was based. As was possible, between us we also checked in with the participants and supported them in accessing social protection, emergency funds and food baskets.

On the practical side both my funders and the doctoral team at IDS have also been very good and offered honest advice about the best path forwards and what my options were for managing these delays.

What advice would you give to someone currently facing challenges in their research?

I think there is three main things which helped me during the past year. The first was maintaining contact with people – my supervisors, peers, local networks in Peru and funders. If your networks do not know what is happening, it’s hard for them to help. At the beginning of the pandemic the challenge felt so big that I did not know what support I needed. Sending regular updates and verbalising what was happening helped me to think about how I would overcome these challenges and what I needed in order to move forwards.

A photo taken by Amy during her fieldwork,
Attending a Christmas event run by local government

The second was to use the time to do other, related activities. I wrote a blog with a colleague about what was happening in Peru and attended an online course. Writing the blog gave me a chance to focus and think about what was happening and how Covid-19 was affecting the people I was working with. This sparked other ideas and made me realise how much I had learnt in the first part of my data collection. Participating in a course was a good way of giving myself some space to think about my research questions, what I was doing and what I could do next – it helped me to step back and see the bigger picture.

And finally, I think that giving yourself time to be upset about lost plans is important.

Where is your research headed now and what’s next for you?

I am preparing for some online data collection with the core participants, which will be facilitated by the field team who have been involved in the project since the beginning, and I have started doing elite interviews online. I hope to return to Peru before the end of the year to follow up with the participants, complete final interviews and hopefully have the opportunity to thank the participants, the team and celebrate what we achieved together.

If you would like to share your experience for the Adapting to Change interview series, please contact researcher-development@sussex.ac.uk

PhD career conversations: Alumni panel event

Tuesday 30th March 2021, 2pm

Join a virtual panel event, presented by Sussex Research Hive & Careers and Employability Centre, to hear from PhD alumni now working in academia and industry – gain inspiration, ideas, advice, plus have the chance to ask questions and talk with the speakers. After the panel presentations there will be a chance for questions and informal conversation with the speakers in virtual break-out rooms.

Speakers include:

  • Shonali Banerjee (PhD, Global Studies, 2020): Research Associate, University of Cambridge
  • Nikoleta Kiapidou (PhD, Politics, 2017): Dissemination Officer, Barcelona Supercomputing Center
  • Heather McAslan (PhD, Physics & Astronomy, 2018): Data Scientist, In Crowd Sports

Come along to hear their stories and get fantastic insights about how to apply and market your skills. There is something to learn from everyone, so don’t worry if the panellists are not from your discipline.

Register here via CareerHub

Life at Sussex – International Kahoot quiz

International Kahoot quiz promotional graphic

Wednesday 24 March 1.30 – 2.30pm

Come and test your knowledge of our very diverse world!

As the Spring term comes to an end many are experiencing zoom fatigue. This session aims to finish the term with a lively Kahoot, including international themed trivia as well as important information that might have been missed, such as access to the UK’s Covid vaccination programme and support available from the University.

This session will be hosted by International Student Support and the Student Connectors with an opportunity to ask any questions you have before the holiday, and find out about events taking place over Spring vacation.

Information on the session is also available through the Student Hub Events page.

Sign up for the session through Eventbrite and you will receive an email on the morning of the event to access the session.

Want to run your own training or community activity? Apply to the Researcher-Led Initiatives Fund

Five lit lightbulbs hanging from the ceiling.


Do you have a bright idea for an activity to enhance your professional skills and benefit the research community at Sussex? The Spring 2021 Researcher-Led Initiatives Fund is now open!

Apply for up to £750 to organise an activity along one of these four strands:

  • equality, diversity and inclusion
  • mental health and wellbeing
  • public engagement
  • training and development

Who can apply?
Doctoral and early career research staff (e.g. staff whose primary focus is research) at the University of Sussex.

We recognise that our researchers have a diverse range of backgrounds and experiences. We encourage applications from everyone in the community, including those groups who are under-represented in postgraduate research at Sussex.

How does it work?
We’re looking to support short-term, well-defined initiatives under one of the four strands. If you’re successful you will organise the activity yourself, with support – where needed – from your School’s Research & Enterprise Coordinator. You’ll need to identify a School budget code we can transfer funding to, and reimbursements will be managed by your School.

Funds must be spent by the end of this financial year (31 July 2021), and we expect a short evaluation report after your activity has taken place.

Given the current pandemic, all applicants are asked to consider how they could adapt their plans should government and University Covid-19 guidelines rule out in-person activities.

How do I apply?
Ensure you read the Applicant Guidelines thoroughly, including the notes for your chosen strand and the terms and conditions. These example applications and list of previous projects may help.

If you’d like an informal discussion while you’re developing your application get in touch with the Researcher Development team or one of our academic leads – Dr Barbara Crossouard (equality, diversity and inclusion), Prof Jeremy Niven (mental health and wellbeing) and Dr Joanne Paul (public engagement).

See the RLI Fund webpage for full guidelines, information on the selection process and the application form. The deadline for applications is Monday 12 April.

New to SPSS & R? Workshops now available for booking

RDP workshops run by the Doctoral School

Using SPSS to analyse research data – for beginners

PLEASE NOTE: This is a two-part workshop and participants are expected to attend both sessions.
SESSION 1: Wednesday 28th April, 9am-12pm
SESSION 2: Friday 30th April, 2-5pm

Workshop description: This two-part practical workshop is ideal for researchers with no previous experience of using SPSS & covers the basics to get you started. Working through a number of practical exercises, you will learn some of the key functions of SPSS, from data entry & creating basic output, to plotting figures & running more advanced statistical analyses.

Book your place here, via SussexDirect

Introduction to R

PLEASE NOTE: This is a two-part workshop and participants are expected to attend both sessions.
SESSION 1: Wednesday 21st April, 9am-12pm
SESSION 2: Friday 23rd April, 2-5pm

Workshop description: This course aims to introduce you to carrying out statistical analysis using R. It assumes that you will have no prior familiarity with R, but that you have completed a course in statistics that includes topics such as multiple regression and multivariate analysis of variance.

Book your place here, via SussexDirect

Intermediate R

PLEASE NOTE: This is a two-part workshop and participants are expected to attend both sessions.
SESSION 1: Wednesday 21st April, 9am-12pm
SESSION 2: Friday 23rd April, 2-5pm

Workshop description: This workshop builds on the Introduction to R workshop taught earlier this term. The first day will be devoted to further exploration of the graphics package ggplot2, including comparing groups, and customising chart appearance using scale functions and themes. The second day will introduce R Markdown as an alternative way of working with R and producing documents reporting analysis. We shall also look further at data manipulation, including data restructuring and joining datasets.

Book your place here, via SussexDirect