The Postgraduate Research Experience Survey – Thank you for your feedback

The Postgraduate Research Experience Survey

The Postgraduate Research Experience Survey is the only national survey of postgraduate research students. It provides a great opportunity for you to let us know what works well and what could be better for doctoral researchers at Sussex, and took place between March and May this year. The survey enables the University to make changes that will improve your experience in the future, and to compare how we are doing against the national average.

Thank you for your feedback

Thank you to all of you who took the time to complete the survey. In total, 585 doctoral researchers completed the survey representing 45% of the overall doctoral population (an increase from 41% in 2013, and 34% in 2013). We are keen to share the headline results with you at this stage and have provided an overview on the Doctoral School 

webpages. The Doctoral School and Schools will also be sharing more of the analysis and plans to address your feedback this autumn. The full quantitative results were discussed at the Doctoral Studies Committee on 3rd October 2017.

Overview of results

Those of you replying continue to have positive experiences at Sussex. It is encouraging to see that the aggregate score for your overall satisfaction has risen to 83% (from 81% in 2015, 77% in 2013). For further results on supervision, resources, research culture, progression, responsibilities, research skills, professional development and teaching see the news item. You can also read about what happens next, and plans in place to act upon your important feedback.

A letter to my first-year self

Today we’re sharing a post from the Be/com/ing Academic blog, which explores the emotional processes involved in both being and becoming academic.

Whether you’re a first year doctoral researcher or not, there’s lots to think about in this letter from a third year PhD student to their first year self…


Dear Younger Me,

Hello you! Yep, you, the nervy looking one sat staring at her phone and eating her twelfth chocolate digestive at the First Year PhD Student Induction Day. Put the biccie down, put the cellphone down and go and have a chat to the person standing awkwardly by the Gingernuts on the other side of the room.  Chances are, in that very room are a whole lot of people who will, over the next three to seven (only kidding) years, be the ones who will best understand the particular rhythms and rituals of your days. They’ll know that just because you’re still in your jimjams at 4pm doesn’t mean you haven’t been working really really hard. They’ll know the significance of seemingly insignificant statements like ‘I printed my first draft’ or ‘the abstract was accepted.’

Start the conversation with each other now. And not just to complain, don’t fill your talk with grumbles of ‘my supervisor never does track changes on my document too’ and anxious inquiries of ‘How many chapters have you written?’ Talk about the things that matter to you, why you came to this project in the first place. Look for common threads, conceptual or otherwise, or risk believing that the only research that is relevant is that which can in most obvious ways enable you to ‘get on with the job.’ Remember how often Theresa May is quoted for saying she just wants to ‘get on with the job.’ Remember that the job is bigger than just you and your own work (and Theresa May). If you see what you write as a means to an end you will form part of the ever expanding academia which produces unloved and unread books. Appreciate that there is meaning to be found in the most unassuming of places and that can often be through the work of your peers. Why did you come here to begin with? Has your reason changed? Change is okay, in fact, it is generally what you should be aspiring towards.

Remember what brought you to your research project, retain your sense of love for what you do BUT do not allow the rhetoric of passion and craft to allow you to be exploited. Resist being part of an academic world that naturalises inequalities in the name of passion.  Recognise that you are not just doing this work because there was something in it you ‘loved’. Appreciate that there might be more subconscious and subversive reasons you are here. We are all, invariably, attached to particular identities. Did/do you want to be the kid with the cardigan quoting Foucault? Try to understand how your idea of what makes someone academically ‘worthy’ might be serving to perpetuate the myth of what comprises academic legitimacy. Remember that everyone has their own story of how they got from there to here. Remember that your supervisor once had a supervisor.

Somewhere along the line you will read a whole lotta books that will make you radically reconsider everything you’d believed you were doing in the first place. Remember that rejecting objectivity does not make your research less valid – it makes it more so. Don’t stay up all night labouring over texts that make you feel small and stupid. There will be other writing, which makes more sense, be patient with yourself and with the library. Appreciate that theory can do more the closer it gets to the skin (Ahmed, 2017). Let your theory work for you. Sometimes that means it will feel incredibly painful, but so too, can it bring light and insight and hope.

Look around you. Witness how there are minds, like yours, that may not feel they belong. Bodies that do not feel they belong. Ask yourself whether you want to be part of an academia that is so exclusive? Resist this form of academia, but recognise that resistance is never going to happen if you don’t get a conversation going. So return, again, to talk to someone by the coffee machine. Set up reading groups, set up writing groups, make time for collaboration. Do not be stingy with your time. Do not buy into a capitalist conception of time. Appreciate that real academic success needs to move beyond the level of the individual. Allow yourself the space to dismantle the ‘promise of happiness’ (Ahmed, 2010) that an academic journey may have once held for you. Embrace the unforeseen joys, even when if they may not be revered within the academy itself (we NEED more academics who value and embrace teaching). And when the PhD starts coming towards its end, do not fetishize the boundaries of being inside or being outside of academia – being outside isn’t failure, being inside isn’t necessarily success.

You may feel you are too old to be treated like a student rather than a researcher, too young to have the authority to speak about anything at all. You might not feel you have the right accent, the right skin colour, the right qualifications to voice your ideas. You may not have that room of your own and your office might take the form of a heavy rucksack that’s morphing you into Quasimodo by the day. You are undoubtedly many things at once (a mother? a partner? a child? an activist? a worker on another project that makes it difficult to focus on your own? The list goes on). And all of this may be overwhelming, it may make you feel like you are never fully one thing or in one place. But therein lie all the possibilities of what your academic work can achieve, when you infuse it with the clashing colours of your life.

I wish you many conversations, which create the space for some form of change, and many chocolate digestives to fuel this journey.


The Older You.

P.S. In the second year of your PhD you will be tempted to do something very drastic to your hair. Don’t do it. Trust me, I’m you in the future and I’m telling you it will be a horrible mistake.

Reposted with permission from Be/com/ing Academic

Five reasons to mix with PhDs from other subjects and universities

By Jo Cutler, Doctoral Researcher – School of Psychology

I recently attended the “Beyond the PhD” conference at the beautiful venue, Cumberland Lodge.

The event is designed to bring together PhD students from diverse subjects and universities to discuss difficult social issues, appreciate the value of their work and develop skills for their careers.  While all of these factors contributed to making it a really interesting and useful conference, here are 5 benefits I found of mixing with PhD students from other subjects and universities, whether at next year’s Cumberland Lodge conference or any other opportunity you can find.


  1. It makes you realise things you take for granted

Doing a PhD can feel like a bit of a love-hate relationship with the topic of your thesis and subject area more generally so it’s easy to forget some of the things you like about it. Having other researchers comment on how interesting your work is and ask engaged questions can be a real confidence boost. There are also things I hadn’t considered about my subject (psychology) which turn out not to be universal and I actually really like, such as doing multiple projects during the PhD rather than just one round of data collection.

  1. You get new ideas

Increasingly getting a PhD is about more than just finishing a thesis and early career researchers are expected to increase the impact of their work, take part in public engagement activities, contribute to teaching in novel ways and the list goes on! These things are not necessarily subject specific and different universities have strengths in different areas. Discussing these things with other researchers can give you ideas for your own activities outside of thesis writing and motivate you to try something different. Attending a workshop on one of these topics such as the Public Engagement session we had at Cumberland Lodge with students from all disciplines is a great way to do this.

  1. You might see things in a different way

Becoming completely immersed in a topic is natural when you seem to be working on it all day every day but sometimes it’s good to take a step back. At Cumberland Lodge we each presented our research to other PhD students from a wide range of subject areas. Not only was this good practice in explaining things in a jargon-free way but the feedback and questions were really interesting. All PhD students are trained in thinking critically and creatively in different ways so they are really good people to get feedback from.

  1. You can let off steam!

PhD research can have a number of frustrations from issues with budgets, ethical approval, administration and of course supervisors! Sometimes it’s difficult to find someone to have a good rant to who you’re not worried about their links with your university and department. Hearing that other PhD students have these concerns too and discussing how you’ve dealt with them can be really reassuring and helpful.

  1. Networking with the next generation of researchers

Not everyone doing a PhD wants a career in research and even for those of us that do, we’re painfully aware of the statistics on how likely that is! Despite this, some current PhD students will be the next generation of academics so it’s great to develop a wide network across universities. For those that leave academia networking will be equally important and you never know who might know someone who has a connection to your industry. A key belief at Cumberland Lodge is that it takes experts from many disciplines to tackle the most pressing social issues and if we don’t adopt this attitude early in our careers it’s much less likely to catch on later.

Spending several days living, working and eating amazing food provided at the Lodge with such a diverse group of smart and interesting people really made these benefits clear for me. I’d definitely recommend taking opportunities to mix with other PhD students and if you can do it in a place where royalty and the BFG have lived it’s even better.



A very warm welcome to all new researchers beginning their doctorate at Sussex this Autumn, and to those of you returning after the Summer break!

If you’re a new researcher, we hope that over the next few years you’ll explore and take advantage of the many opportunities to get involved in the vibrant doctoral community here at Sussex.

But in these early days of your doctorate you’ll want to spend some time finding your feet – both at Sussex and as a researcher.

Many of you joined us at our Doctoral School Welcome Event on Wednesday 27th September, and perhaps enjoyed the ‘pub-style’ talks from current doctoral researchers at the PubhD social event which followed.

DSwelcome-15- balcony
Doctoral School Welcome Event – Mandela Hall

You may also have already discovered our website for new doctoral researchers, but if not please take a minute to have a look. This useful resource provides all the information and guidance you need to get started, and includes video interviews from current doctoral researchers and staff, offering lots of advice on making the most of your time here.

For researchers who are entering their second year or beyond we’re confident you’ll find the website useful too – whether it’s listening to the wellbeing tips of other researchers, watching a webinar recording, or finding out more about some of the Doctoral School’s events.

Finally, we hope to see you soon at one of our Researcher Development Programme workshops. These workshops provide great opportunities for you to not only develop your skills as a researcher, but to network with other doctoral students at a similar stage from across the University. 97% of our workshop participants would recommend our programme to other researchers. We’re pleased to announce a number of new workshops for 2017-18, including Navigating your PhD for Medical and Life Sciences, Boost your resilience and manage stress in the research environment, and Working with your supervisor, to name just a few. Visit the website for further details of all of the events available through the Researcher Development Programme or jump straight to our list of Autumn term workshops.

Wishing you a happy and productive new (academic) year!