An insider guide to the upcoming Festival of Doctoral Research

It’s finally here – The Festival of Doctoral Research is upon us! The three-day programme of events runs from 26-28 June; whether you’re a professor or an undergraduate, we’ve got something in store for you, and everyone’s welcome. To help you find your way around, we’ve put together this handy insider guide. Just follow our steps and we’ll make sure that you don’t miss any of the highlights.


1: Opening Talks: From reactive to proactive: re-imagining mental health for doctoral researchers

Location: Attenborough Centre for the Creative Arts, Gardner Tower
Time: Tuesday, 10:30-12:00
Open to: all

We begin in the Attenborough Centre’s Gardner Tower with our Opening Talks. In a thought-provoking session, our guest speakers will be exploring current attitudes towards the mental health of doctoral researchers, and arguing for a more proactive approach.

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Dr Jeremy Niven, Dr Fiona Denney, and Josh Hutton will lead our opening talks.

2: Excursions journal new issue launch: ‘Networks’

Location: IDS Bar
Time: Tuesday, 17:30-
Open to: all

Later in the day, head to IDS bar to celebrate the launch of a new issue of Excursions, featuring papers based around the theme of ‘Networks’. Run by doctoral researchers from Sussex, Excursions is an online peer-reviewed journal showcasing innovative, interdisciplinary postgraduate research. Come along to celebrate an exciting new issue, meet the team behind the journal, and find out how you can get involved.

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3: Public Engagement Pop-Up/Research Image Competition

Location: Attenborough Centre for the Creative Arts, Gardner Tower
Time: Wednesday, 10:30-12:00
Open to: all

After a well-earned rest, head to the ACCA on Wednesday morning for two of our most exciting events.


Our Public Engagement Pop-Up showcases the techniques doctoral researchers have used to take their research out into the wider world. There’ll be immersive visual experiences and cutting-edge chemistry as our researcher demonstrate how they’ve excited and engaged the general public.

In the same session, we’ll also be displaying the submissions to our Research Image Competition. We asked our doctoral researchers to submit one single image capturing the breadth of their research, and we received some breathtaking entries. These will be displayed in a special exhibition – you’ll also be able to vote for your favourite in our People’s Choice Award. Expect stunning, thought-provoking images to stimulate the eyes and the intellect.

Booking required for both events.

4: Three Minute Thesis (3MT)

Location: Attenborough Centre for the Creative Arts, Jane Attenborough Studio
Time: Wednesday, 13:30-15:30
Open to: all

You don’t need to move far for our next event; grab some lunch from the ACCA café and join us at 13:30 for what promises to be a Festival highlight: Three Minute Thesis.

Book your place to watch 6 doctoral researchers attempt to compress their 80,000 word thesis into creative and amusing three-minute presentations. They can’t use props, or song, or even poetry: contestants must rely solely on their ingenuity and wit to dazzle the audience. Once the competition is over, vote for your favourite, and head back to the Gardner Tower at 15:30 to see the winner crowned in a special prize-giving ceremony.




5. Living Library

Location: Open Learning Space, The Library
Time: Thursday, 10:00-12:00
Open to: all

The final day of the Festival kicks off with an immersive reading experience – the ‘Living Library’. Come along to the Library and ‘check out’ one of 11 doctoral researchers, each with a different story to tell. Take your researcher for a tea/coffee, they’ll tell you their story, and you can ask them any questions you might have. It’s a great opportunity to learn from the experiences of our doctoral researchers.

Find out all about the ‘living books’ we have to offer, and book your place, on this page.

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Come along to our ‘Living Library’ and ‘check out’ a living book!


6. Workshop time!

If you’re a doctoral researcher, you might want to visit one of our workshops on Thursday, designed to help you maximise your doctoral experience at Sussex.

Sussex Library’s ‘Doctoral Community Sandpit’ is an interactive session focussing on giving you the skills to organise and run your own event, with a special emphasis on how we can use these events to build the doctoral community at Sussex.


Understanding & Translating your Doctoral Skills, a workshop coordinated by Sussex’s Careers and Enterprise Services, will encourage to you to reflect on the skills you’ve learnt during your doctorate and ask how you can successfully translate these in your future careers.

7. Celebratory Summer BBQ

Location: Falmer Bar, Room 76
Time: Thursday, 16:00-18:00
Open to: MA/PhD/research staff

After two packed days you might be in need of some R&R. Why not book your place on our special summer BBQ, celebrating the end of the Festival. It’s open to all MA students and doctoral researchers: sign up in advance you’ll receive a voucher for a chicken, beef, or vegan burger, as well as sides and a drink. Hopefully the sun will be shining, making it a perfect opportunity to chat with your peers in a relaxed environment.

8. PubhD

Location: IDS Bar
Time: Thursday, 18:30-20:30
0pen to: all

Finished soaking up the sun? End Thursday on a high by heading to IDS bar for our final event: PubhD. Enjoy a free drink and watch some of our brightest doctoral researchers explain their research at ‘pub level’ – free of academic jargon and understandable to all. Book your place to claim your free drink.



9. Home!

That’s it! Over three Festival-filled days, you’ll have seen some of the fantastic research taking place at Sussex, witnessed some amazing feats of ingenuity and sat open-mouthed through live displays of wit and wizardry – now it’s time to go home, get some rest, and wait until next year!


The mental health of doctoral researchers: a conversation with Dr Cassie Hazell and Dr Clio Berry

On Tuesday 28 June Sussex’s first Festival of Doctoral Research kicks off with our Opening Talks, titled: ‘From Reactive to Proactive: Reimagining mental health for doctoral researchers’. Our three guest speakers – Dr Jeremy Niven, Dr Fiona Denney and Josh Hutton – will be reviewing the current attitudes towards the mental health of doctoral researchers, and arguing for the adoption of a more proactive approach.

In anticipation of the talks, we sat down for a thought-provoking conversation with Dr Cassie Hazell (below left) and Dr Clio Berry (below right). Based in the School of Psychology, both Cassie and Clio are passionate mental health advocates with extensive experience in the field, and both are also contributing to Sussex’s Understanding the Mental Health of Doctoral Researchers (U-DOC) project, funded by the Office for Students. They gave us their thoughts on the current landscape around mental health, and offered some advice for anybody who finds themselves facing difficulties.

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You can read our conversation below; to book your place on the talks, check out our Festival of Doctoral Research webpage.

In recent years mental health has become a prominent issue in public discourse. Alongside this, the conversation around the mental health of doctoral researchers now has a real sense of urgency. Why do you think this is?

Cassie: Mental health has always been important, but in the UK we are starting to become more comfortable talking about mental health, and acknowledging the impact that poor mental health can have. I think attitudes are changing and Doctoral Researchers are increasingly feeling able to acknowledge any mental health difficulties they are experiencing and talk about this with their peers. Social media has been good for this, in enabling Doctoral Researchers to have these conversations in a public arena. When lots of people come together to acknowledge a problem it allows space for people to start thinking of a solution.

Do you think there is something in the format of a PhD that makes doctoral researchers susceptible to mental health problems?

Clio: Media coverage suggests that doctoral students are particularly susceptible to mental health problems, but I think from a research perspective we are still testing whether there is an issue of increase – both in terms of whether rates of mental health problems are greater amongst doctoral researchers compared to, say, the general public, and also in whether the numbers of doctoral researchers experiencing mental health problems is also increasing. The evidence so far suggests high rates of mental health problems amongst doctoral research students, but we need to keep exploring this and especially so in a UK context. It’s important to be evidence-based here.

Saying that, considering what we know about risk and protective factors more generally for mental health, there are aspects of the PhD process that could have an impact on mental health. A PhD can be really isolated and isolating, it can include really long hours and few holidays, and no-one can really cover for you if you get sick or something else happens – plus it is a competitive environment and one in which people are essentially being tested against really high standards – be those of supervisors, peers, conference audiences, peer reviewers and so on. All of these things could potentially play into vulnerability to mental health problems.

Drawing on your research, what advice would you give to doctoral researchers who might find themselves experiencing some form of mental distress?

Clio: Please talk to someone. You are not alone. Find someone that you trust and talk to them. Consider how you might try to help and support someone that mattered to you who was struggling – and then try to treat yourself as if you are that person that matters.

Cassie: Some of my research looks at the effects of incorporating self-help into talking therapies. For me, I think it is important to acknowledge our own strengths and the things we can do to look after our own mental health; but, like Clio said, equally acknowledging that it is ok to ask for help and seek help from professional services if they might be helpful for you.

Clio: My research interests more broadly focus on the links between time use and mental health, so I would say go and do something else. Do another activity. Do something you used to enjoy or you’ve never tried. Do something active, do some exercise, go for a walk, go to a cafe. I think during a PhD, people can get caught in a trap of feeling guilty if they take time out to do other things, but there is so much evidence that doing other things is absolutely essential for your mental and physical health.

It is becoming increasingly important for universities to have structures in place to support students struggling with these issues. In an ideal world, what changes would you like to see in the way universities approach this issue? Are there any specific resources that you think could help, or any attitudinal changes that you’d be keen to see?

Clio: We need to think about having the optimum balance between support and ‘stretch’. The ‘stretch’ is all the intellectual, personal and interpersonal challenges of doing the PhD; the stuff we can’t necessarily change and should not necessarily be trying to change. A PhD has got to have a level of difficulty, otherwise it doesn’t mean anything. Support is something we can work on: thinking about individual support, relational and systemic aspects, training, service and support provision, opportunities for social support, and fundamentally all of us at all levels in academia committing to the promotion of a healthy work-life balance.

This is, partly, what we are attempting to find out with our U-DOC project – to generate evidence about mental health problems amongst doctoral researchers and the links to other factors, and use the evidence to feed into a suite of interventions which are appropriate, targeted and fit for purpose.

Personally, I’d like the idea that mental health problems are ‘the norm’ or a rite of passage during a PhD to be challenged, as I don’t think it is true. Equally, having pre-existing mental health problems or experiencing mental health problems for the first time during a PhD should not be considered in anyway a reflection of doctoral researchers’ character, ability, or suitability for an ongoing academic career. We need to learn about doctoral researcher mental health and try to ensure we provide effective preventative interventions and treatment, but I don’t think we should be involved in perpetuating any idea that doctoral researchers could be or should be a totally ‘mentally healthy’ workforce.

Can you tell us about some of the resources that students can currently access at Sussex?

Cassie: Doctoral Researchers might not be aware that all of the services that are available to undergraduate students are also available to them. The Student Life Centre can be a great place to start as they can help signpost you to other services on campus. Sussex also have a counselling service that people can refer themselves to.

There are other resources on campus that can be helpful in maintaining good mental health. The sports centres offer classes and gym space so that Doctoral Researchers can look after their physical health, which in turn can benefit mental wellbeing. There are also lots of opportunities to get involved in social activities which can provide that sense of connectedness that can sometimes feel lost when experiencing a mental health problem. The university is also part of an active and vibrant city, and there are many NHS-based and third sector organisations that can offer mental health support. The Sussex University app has a list of these services.

The Festival of Doctoral Research runs from the 26-28 June 2018, and features an exciting string of events designed to celebrate and showcase the innovative doctoral research underway at Sussex. You can see the full programme of events here.

Competition time: Tweet Your Thesis to win a £50 Amazon voucher

From 26-28 June, we’ll be taking over campus to hold our very first Festival of Doctoral Research, a three-day celebration of our doctoral researchers. We’ve planned an exciting line-up of events, and we want everyone to have a chance to participate. That’s why we’re holding a competition that all doctoral researchers can enter – even those away on fieldwork.

Tweet Your Thesis

Here’s how it works: we want you to explain your thesis in the length of a single tweet, totalling no more than 280 characters (including spaces), in a way that creatively and succinctly summarises your research, free from extraneous technical terminology and accessible to a non-specialist audience.

^^^ Just to give you some idea of what we’re asking for, that previous sentence was 279 characters long ^^^

Think you can manage it? The competition starts today, Thursday 14 June, and will be running for two weeks, ending on Thursday 28 June, the last day of the Festival. We’ll be reading and retweeting your tweets throughout this period, and all the tweets we receive will be printed and displayed at our Research Image Competition/Public Engagement Pop-Up on Wednesday 27 June, and again in our Living Library event on Thursday 28 June.


After the deadline, all tweets will be compiled and reviewed by a specially selected panel. Tweets will be judged based on:

  • Creativity: we want to see tweets that use the character limit proactively, communicating their research in surprising and creative ways.
  • Clarity: all tweets should be accessible to a non-specialist audience.

The winning Tweet will be awarded a £50 Amazon Voucher.


As ever, there are some rules to be aware of:

  • The competition will run from Thursday 14 to Thursday 28 June 2018. All entries must be tweeted within this time period.
  • All tweets must include the #tweetyourthesis and #SussexDocFest hashtags.
  • Only one tweet allowed per researcher.
  • The competition is only open to doctoral researchers at the University of Sussex.
  • Images are allowed, but please don’t use images of text, or link to text elsewhere on the internet.
  • All tweets should be accessible to a non-specialist audience.
  • Tweets should not be offensive in any way.

Don’t have Twitter?

If you don’t have a twitter account, but would still like to take part, you can email your entry to Dean Brooks at – all the same rules still apply, and your entry will still be displayed at the Festival of Doctoral Research. You can also contact Dean Brooks with any questions you might have.

Good luck, and happy tweeting!

Sussex Library comes to life for ‘Living Library’ event

Get ready! The shelves of Sussex’s Library are coming to life! It’s all part of the Doctoral School’s ‘Living Library’, a reading experience like no other.

Here’s how it works: Visitors to the ‘Living Library’ play the role of ‘readers’. Readers are able to check out a ‘Living Book’. These ‘living books’ are in fact doctoral researchers from various schools across Sussex.  Each living ‘book’ has prepared a unique story, based on their own research experiences. They’ll tell their story to their reader over a free tea or coffee. Once a ‘book’ has told its story, readers can ask any questions they might have.

Each story is different, and visitors can choose from the following ten books:

  • ‘Finding Calm in Productivity’ by Shanu Sadhwani (BSMS). Shanu will be talking about her quest to maintain a productive calm even when faced with some of the more stressful elements of doctoral study
  • ‘Listening to your sources’ by Liza Weber (HAHP). Liza will be sharing her advice on finding primary sources, and telling readers how she unknowingly stumbled upon a source which changed the entire course of her doctoral study.
  • ‘A look behind the scenes of an academic journal’ by Neehal Bajwa (ESW). An editor on Sussex’s Excursions journal, Neehal will be giving her readers a behind-the-scenes glimpse into the process of publishing an academic paper. If you’re thinking of submitting a paper, or starting a journal yourself, Neehal might just be the book for you.
  • ‘Love Your Word Count in a Weekend’ by Jessica Oliver (English). Jessica will tell readers all about her experience on Thesis Boot Camp, an intensive weekend workshop open to researchers who feel they are floundering in producing words for their PhD, and about the tools she’s discovered to make writing easier.
  • ‘Maintaining your mental health and well-being during your PhD’ by Sophie Valeix (IDS). Sophie’s book focuses on a key issue for the contemporary doctoral researcher –  the importance of thinking about one’s mental health and well-being while doing a PhD. Sophie will be offering some tips for maintaining good mental health, using resources available at the university and elsewhere.
  • ‘Parenting Through a PhD’ by Marianela Barrios Aquino (LPS). As a parent of a young child, Marianela will be offering her readers advice on juggling family life and academic pursuits.
  • ‘Part-time PhD researchers do it better’ by Natalie Edelman (BSMS). Pick Natalie up to find out about her experiences of studying part-time while working and raising children.
  • ‘Presenting internationally- When, why and how?’ by Gunjan Wadhwa (ESW). Presenting at, and applying for funding for, international conferences can be a daunting task: Gunja’s book aims to give her readers confidence by sharing her presenting experiences.
  • ‘”Taking the plunge” with Public Engagement’ by Jo Cutler (Psychology). Curious about engaging people outside the university about your research but not sure how to do it? Borrow Jo to hear about her experiences of talking about her research out into the wider world.
  • ‘Taking the Long Way Round: Getting it done no matter what’ by Abigail Rieley (HAHP). If you want tips on writing a long form project, encouragement to take the plunge with public engagement, or advice on juggling the demands of doctoral study and a job, Abigail can offer some sage advice.

As well as these main topics, visitors can also ask the books about their research interests, which are outlined on the Living Library webpage. Readers can also ask any other research-related questions they might have.

‘Living Library’ takes place in the Library’s Open Learning Space on Thursday 28th June 2018 between 10:00-12:00. All are welcome – if you’d like to attend, you can book your place here.

This event is taking place as part of our Festival of Doctoral Research, a three-day celebration of doctoral research at Sussex. You can see the full programme of events here.