Researcher Focus: Amira Abdelhamid

This month the Doctoral School spoke to Amira from the School of Global Studies about her PhD, how she organises herself, and what she enjoys doing in her free time. 

This is the first instalment of a project designed to highlight the opinions and advice of doctoral researchers at Sussex, what they do, how they work, and who they are beyond their PhDs.

PhD Life

What do you enjoy most about the PhD and why?

I enjoy having the chance to teach. I think that’s the thing that a lot of us enjoy the most. Not because we don’t like researching, but because teaching gives you a different kind of drive and the chance to bounce ideas off students who don’t necessarily have the same training as you. I enjoy learning from my students through getting to know them. There’s always something to learn about unfamiliar contexts, and it’s interesting to see how they perceive themselves at a certain age versus how I used to perceive myself at the same age.

What has been the most difficult element so far?

Because of what’s going on with the higher education system generally, there is a lot of added pressure on us to be more competitive rather than supportive, to always look for opportunities and think ahead, when we really need to concentrate on doing the PhD. I dislike that students are always being made into commodities or consumers or products by the industry. My department is very supportive, but I feel that they are always trying to compensate for the pressure that is added on us by the changes that are happening at the University.

What do you think you do well?

I think as a doctoral researcher, I bring a unique voice to the debate because I am a strong believer in academic activism. Being an activist as well as an academic, it can often seem as though there is a separation between the two; as though there is always some sort of science or theory that’s being created within academia, and outside is different. Because of my political involvement in my country and because my research is on that country, I think I bring that edge and bridge that gap. 

What piece of advice would you give to others doing a PhD?

It’s really normal to feel lost, but just because you feel lost don’t allow yourself to get lost, and actually do things. In my discipline it is very important for me to read as much as possible and, of course, to try to be organised. In the first year you have less pressure, so try and capitalise on this and be organised with your resources and your plans. Remember that plans change all the time, but it’s good to plan rather than just leaving things. 

Day-to-Day

What does a typical day look like for you?

I often teach during term time and I try hard to say to myself that I will spend two hours writing, two hours to do admin, an hour to read and then go to a lecture or talk. There are a lot of seminars, lectures, and workshops happening on all kinds of topics within my department/School and also outside, so it can be difficult to schedule everything. 

Something really sacred for me is lunch hour and in my department and PhD cohort we are very successful bringing people together to regularly have lunch. Meeting with everyone is great as we socialise, it provides structure, and also prevents people from being completely isolated working from home. A lot of people wouldn’t come in if we didn’t have lunch together and that would make everything much more difficult.

How do you organise work, time, and yourself?

I have found that it’s very important to know exactly when the best times are for your own productivity, and to make it feasible for you to consistently work at those times. For example, I realised that I work much better from 6 to 8 in the morning, so I make sure that I wake up early and start working right away.

I also make sure to schedule in writing time. If I don’t schedule in writing, I might not get round to it. Writing is essentially my career, so it’s important to make time for it. I always make sure that I have a block of an hour and say to myself, “This is always my writing time and if anything comes up, I am unavailable.” 

What do you do when you’re stressed?

I re-read positive feedback I’ve received and also anything that I feel I’ve written well to help me feel reassured.

Beyond the PhD

What additional non-academic things help you?

I think sports and exercise are very important and some of the things that I rely on the most are the gym and boxing. They help channel any kind of negative energy that I have, and bring in a lot of positive energy too. I also try to watch films of substance and I have recently started baking! I think it’s important to do activities which allow you to not think much, think about nothing.

What do you like doing on a day off?

Generally really slow activities that don’t require much thinking. I like going for a run or a hike (although the weather here doesn’t always allow for it!) and also activities that involve doing things by hand, like doodling. I feel like I have lost my ability to read leisurely, but that’s OK for now! I don’t really like reading outside of my PhD any more, but when I do, I read Arabic novels and poetry.

What makes you happy?

Music. I love just putting in my headphones and not thinking. I know it is a little cliché, but it’s the best thing! I also like going on hikes alone.

What piece of advice would you give to someone about life?

Don’t take it too seriously. And go to the gym.

Survey: Research and Innovation (RRING research project – EU Horizon 2020)

The EU Horizon 2020 research project RRING invites PGRs at Sussex to respond to a survey regarding your experiences with research and innovation. 

You will be contributing to the formation of an international approach to research and innovation, which reflects the realities of your context (geographic, social, economic, etc.). You will also be in the unique position where your ideas will be directly feeding into the setup of a new global network on responsible research and innovation, hosted by UNESCO.  

The survey aims to gather insights into research and innovation practices, specifically including various behaviours related to responsible research and innovation, as well as your views on the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals.  

The survey takes around 20 minutes to complete and all participants will be entered into a prize draw for a free iPad mini and five €50 shopping vouchers.

Follow these links for more information and to take the survey.

If you have any questions, please email survey@rring.eu

Scholarship Opportunities: Yale Centre for British Art and UK Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC)

The Yale Center for British Art offers three types of short-term residential awards to scholars undertaking research related to British art, architecture, and material culture.

While in residence, scholars have access to the Center’s rich holdings of paintings, sculptures, drawings, prints, rare books, and manuscripts, as well as material from the wider Yale network of museums, libraries, and special collections. Scholars are also given a dedicated working space in the Center’s Reference Library, are encouraged to participate in events and programmes, and are given opportunities to engage with the university’s scholarly community.

Visiting Scholar Awards
Visiting Scholar Awards are open to academics, museum professionals, artists, and doctoral candidates who are working in any field related to British visual and material culture. Recipients of the award have the opportunity to access the Center’s collections. The deadline for the 2020/2021 application cycle is January 13, 2020.

Curatorial Scholar Awards
These awards are open to curators worldwide who are engaged in significant curatorial work in any area of British art. Proposed research projects should relate to the curatorial responsibilities of the applicant. Eligible areas of research include cataloguing, interpretation, the development of exhibitions, collections displays or digital projects, exhibition catalogues or other related museum publications, collections development, conservation, and object care. Priority will be given to those applicants with a demonstrated need for funding. The deadline for the 2020/2021 application cycle is January 13, 2020.

AHRC International Placement Scheme (IPS) Scholar Awards
These awards are open to early career researchers, research assistants, and doctoral students. Locations for the placement schemes include India, Japan, China, and the US. Proposed research must be in a discipline that relates to British art, which may include history, history of art, literature, or another associated field. These awards are funded by the UK Arts and Humanities Research Council, and applications must be made through the AHRC. Applicants should visit the AHRC IPS website to apply. 

Placement Opportunity: Alan Turing Institute Enrichment scheme

The Alan Turing Institute Enrichment scheme is now open for applications and offers students enrolled on a doctoral programme at a UK university an opportunity to boost their research project with a placement at the Turing for up to 12 months. The scheme welcomes students from a broad range of academic disciplines with a strong research interest in data science or AI.

Enrichment places are offered for 6, 9, or 12 months with start dates in October 2020 and January 2021 on a full or part time basis. Places are based at the Institute headquarters at the British Library in London where students will continue their PhD with their current supervisor, while enriching their research and making new collaborations.

Enrichment students may be eligible for a stipend top up of up to £7,000 (exact maximum to be confirmed) and/or a travel allowance.

The deadline for applications is 21st January 2020. For details of how to apply, visit the Alan Turing Institute Enrichment scheme website.

Paid Opportunity for PGRs: Postgraduate Student Trainers required for Healthy Relationships workshops

As part of their REDS programme (Respect, Equality, Diversity, Safety), the Student Wellbeing team is looking for a number of doctoral researchers to deliver new Healthy Relationships workshops for first year undergraduate students.

They are specifically looking to recruit PGR students who will still be studying at Sussex next year, with expertise in both delivering/facilitating training and in the area of healthy relationships/sexual consent/sexual violence/domestic abuse.

They are looking for candidates that they can train up this academic year (training in December or January), and who can then begin to deliver workshops next academic year. However, there is the possibility that some work may be offered this academic year.

All first year undergraduate students will be invited to attend one of the Healthy Relationships workshops. The two hour sessions are interactive and engaging, and offer the chance to explore the following topics:

  • Healthy relationships
  • Consent
  • Applying what we’ve learnt
  • Help and support
  • Intervening/changing the culture

Trainers will be paid £15-£25 per hour, depending on experience, and it is expected that you will be able to deliver one or two sessions per week during term time. Each session will last for two hours, and an additional hour of time will be required for preparing and packing away after each session (30 minutes before and 30 minutes afterwards).

To apply for this position please email your CV and a covering letter to reds@sussex.ac.uk as soon as possible. If you have any questions please contact Beth Kent, Student Wellbeing Coordinator, beth.kent@sussex.ac.uk.

Researcher Development Programme: December 2019

Here’s a quick round-up of events coming up this December as part of our Researcher Development Programme. Keep an eye out for new sessions soon to be added to our events listing for the Spring term.

Communicating your research to non-specialists
Wednesday 4th December (13.30 – 16.30), Fulton 203
Communicating your research to non-specialists in a concise and engaging way is a premier skill for researchers: not everyone does it well, yet everyone has the capacity to do so. This intensive workshop brings together the crucial factors for success.
More info and book a place

Interviews for PhD Researchers
Wednesday 4th December (15.00 – 16.30), Careers and Employability Centre, the Library
What can you expect in an interview? Whether you have had ten interviews or zero, interviews can still be a daunting prospect if you’re not prepared. That’s why we are here to help you. Find out how to succeed at interviews for roles inside and outside of academia after your PhD. This session will look at different styles and approaches to help you market your skills effectively.
More info and book a place

Preparing for your Science viva
Wednesday 4th December (10.00 – 13.00), Ashdown House 103
The doctoral viva can be a daunting experience for which you need to be well-prepared. This workshop will de-mystify the viva process and requirements, and provide you with useful guidance on preparing for the big day. You’ll also hear examples of real questions and experiences from recent successful vivas across different Schools, and benefit from the opportunity to participate in a mock viva.
More info and book a place

Looking Out for One Another in the PhD Community
Thursday 5th December (09.30 – 12.30), Arundel Building 205
Looking Out for One Another is a workshop for all doctoral researchers who are looking to support fellow researchers who may be struggling with their mental health. You will gain the skills, knowledge and confidence to support your peers while also looking after your own mental health.
More info and book a place

Figures, images and visualising information
Tuesday 10th December (10.00 – 13.00), BSMS 2.10
Displaying information in a visual format is an excellent way for researchers to communicate their work. You can enhance your research papers, thesis, conference posters, presentations and public engagement activities with accurate and clear visual representations. This workshop is designed to introduce participants to various types of visual formats including standard graphs, information visualisations and graphics for publication.
More info and book a place

Posters: designing, presenting and networking
Tuesday 10th December (14.00 – 17.00), BSMS 2.10
This workshop is designed to introduce participants to effective poster design and networking strategy. It will also touch on some online tools and technologies that may be helpful for poster presentations. Short group exercises, case studies and the facilitator’s personal experience will be included to illustrate key points.
More info and book a place

Looking After Yourself during the PhD
Wednesday 11th December (14.00 – 16.30), Fulton 203
Undertaking a PhD can be an exciting time. You are focusing on your own research in real depth, doing something which is personally meaningful and developing new skills, confidence and autonomy. But a PhD is a marathon, not a sprint. It is vital that you look after yourself and ensure you have the personal resources to succeed in a challenging environment. Built upon recent research, this workshop examines the mental health and wellbeing challenges linked with doing a PhD and provides tools to manage those challenges and maintain good mental health, as well as to cope with mental health difficulties.
More info and book a place

Xmas Xtravaganza
Friday 13th December (17.00 – 19.30), Room 76, Falmer Bar
Doctoral Researchers are invited to the 2019 Xmas Xtravaganza, hosted by the Hive Scholars and the Doctoral School! Get your creative hats on, and join us in Room 76 between 5 – 6pm for some Christmas crafts – make your PhD topic into a Christmas bauble! The creators of the best baubles will win points for their team in the pub quiz, which will run from 6:30 – 7:30pm in Room 76. The quiz winners will win some festive prizes, and the first drink is on us! There will be also be mince pies for added festivity!
More info and book a place

Participants Wanted: PGR/Postdoc Focus Groups on Career Decisions

Vitae are seeking to recruit current or recently graduated PhD researchers (from all disciplines, especially from Physics and Maths) for focus group participants to further understanding of PhD career decisions.

The focus groups are part of a project Vitae are running on behalf of the Brilliant Club, a University access charity that runs ‘Researchers in Schools’, a teacher training programme aimed at PhD graduates and researchers. The project aims to understand, amongst others things, the career decisions of PhD and Postdoctoral researchers and how they access information on careers, including teaching.

There will be two focus groups in December:

  • The London area focus group will be held at King’s College London, Strand Campus from 10-11.15am on Monday 9th December 
  • The West Midlands area focus group will be held at the University of Birmingham from 10-11.15am on Monday 16th December 

Reasonable travel expenses will be reimbursed and each participant will receive a £20 book token to thank them for their participation.

If you are available to take part, please email Rachel Handforth: rachel.handforth@crac.org.uk

Bursary places available for PhD students: Resilient Communities Conference

There is an opportunity for PhD students to attend the Cumberland Lodge two-day residential Resilient Communities Conference taking place Thursday 27 February – Friday 28 February 2020.

The conference explores thought-provoking, challenging and innovative examples that can lead the way towards more inclusive forms of community life and opportunities for shared commitments in the wake of events or developments that fracture and divide local populations. It will seek to explore pressing questions such as:

  • How can social cohesion be fostered to create communities which are more robust and resilient to such disruptive events?
  • How can fractured communities be brought back together and reconfigured in their wake?
  • How can different actors – state, civil society, local people and others – collaborate and respond to conflict and decline, whilst promoting positive trajectories for the future?

There are five bursaries being offered for the conference, to support PhD students working in relevant fields with the costs of travelling to and from Cumberland Lodge. All conference costs, shared accommodation and meals will be provided free of charge.

To find out more about the conference and to download the bursary application form (uploaded as a PDF on the right-hand side), please visit the Cumberland Lodge website. The deadline for applications is Monday 20 January 2020.