A note from the Doctoral School – PGR experiences during the Covid-19 pandemic

On Thursday 16th April the Hive Scholars and the Doctoral School co-hosted an online session for PhD researchers to share their experiences of the Covid-19 pandemic. The online session was complemented by the Scholars’ Padlet Wall, where experiences could be documented anonymously. Thank you to everyone who attended the session or left a comment, we value your contributions.

The aim was to create a space for researchers to give their views on how Covid-19 is affecting their lives and their work, to provide an opportunity for discussion, and to give a voice to the shared issues of the PhD community.

From the session, it was clear that many of you are facing difficulties, from disruption to research and family responsibilities to uncertainty around funding, visas and tutoring. The key message from the forum was that all PhD researchers are being impacted at the moment, whatever your financial or personal situation. The stress of living through a public health crisis is affecting everyone.

For many researchers, there are uncertainties surrounding finances. This is a complex area, which is subject to review as the impact of Covid-19 is understood. Finances and scholarship issues will also vary depending on how your studies are funded. As this was a key question from the online session we want to be clear that at the current time there is no provision for Sussex-funded scholarship extensions or for PhD fee waivers. If you are experiencing financial difficulties, the university’s Hardship Fund is open to doctoral researchers (if the fund is new to you, the Scholars have published an introduction on their blog).

Albertus Schoeman, the PGR Rep in the Social Sciences, kindly summarised the views expressed in the session and reported these to the Doctoral Studies Committee on Friday 17th April. His report details how Covid-19 is impacting research and wider life in six main areas:

  1. Research disruption
  2. Childcare and family responsibilities
  3. Issues for international PGRs
  4. Funding and scholarships
  5. Self-funding PGRs
  6. Financial guidelines and doctoral teaching

The Doctoral Studies Committee supported the points raised in this summary, and is committed to the promotion of PGR issues within the university. As an outcome of the meeting, there will be a survey led by the elected PGR representatives in your area, to gauge the potential need for extensions across all PhD researchers.

In addition to this survey, we would like to draw your attention to the national Vitae/SMaRteN survey looking at how Covid-19 is affecting researchers, which we encourage all PGRs to complete. The Vitae survey closes on Sunday 3rd May.

Lastly, at the session we discussed a list of useful resources and campus services that you can access at this time. Please share with friends and colleagues as needed:

With best wishes,

Prof George Kemenes (Director of the Doctoral School)
Miles Willey (Head of the Doctoral School / Research Student Admin Office)

RDP online course: How to edit your own writing

Every researcher needs to edit, whether you’re working on your final thesis, a chapter, or a journal article. We have therefore worked to give you the tools and support for getting your writing into shape.

Instead of a one-off session, this course will provide you with on-going access to materials and guidance from the facilitator, Dr Catherine Pope. Through activities and tutorials you will cover:

  • How much time do you need for editing?
  • Improving your structure
  • Signposting your argument
  • Maintaining consistency, clarity and connections
  • Wrangling with grammar and style
  • Proofreading your own work
  • Soliciting and implementing feedback

Visit Sussex Direct for more info and to sign up. We will change the date for the course regularly in order to keep it on our Events page. If the course is fully booked, sign up to the waiting list and we will contact you.

Three Minute Thesis Interview: Noora Nevala (2019 Winner)

The Doctoral School recently caught up (virtually) with Noora Nevala, the winner of the 2019 Three Minute Thesis (3MT) competition, to find out about her 3MT experience and her top tips for those interested in taking part in this year’s remote competition.

If you’re feeling up to the 3MT challenge, researchers are invited to apply for a chance to win £500 towards research and a place in the Vitae UK semi-finals, with two additional prizes of £250 for the runner up and people’s choice awards. 

Noora (left) receiving her certificate and cheque for £500 from Dr Ruth Sellers (Senior Lecturer and ESRC Future Research Leader Fellow)

Hi Noora, could you tell us briefly about what your 3MT journey was like?

Well, I firstly have to say that the whole process was extremely rewarding and taught me much more than I expected. I had been recommended the competition through a friend, and as I already knew that I enjoy public speaking, I was keen to take part. Although I’m confident with public speaking and did all the training, I started to doubt my abilities after meeting the other participants! Everyone had such interesting topics and great ways to explaining them that it felt quite a challenge to make my own topic to stand out. Fortunately, we got such good feedback from each other and the trainer that it was easy for me to notice which parts I should focus on to get more practice.

How did the training help you prepare?

It really made me think how important it is to make your talk “alive” through hand gestures, facial expressions and tone of your voice. This can have a huge difference on how the audience receives what you say. The Doctoral School provided all the participants with a training day and some pre-work to help make us to think about our topic outside the box. As I’m not very artistic and haven’t done any “free writing” for over a decade, the pre-work felt surprisingly challenging when I needed to draw a picture of my thesis or write it as a script for a children’s book! However, these tasks forced me to get more creative and really think about how to capture people’s attention.

What did you gain from the experience overall?

I learned a whole new set of ways how to make my presentations more engaging and how to use these depending on the target audience. Before 3MT, I used to always prepare for a talk in the same way, but now I spend more time on thinking about what I should do new this time. This has proven to be quite important, since giving the same talk in the same way repeatedly makes giving the presentation quite dull, and the audience can easily pick up on that feeling.

What advice would you give to someone taking part?

My advice is to really think about the main reason why your research matters and why people should care about that too. Make sure that your excitement for the topic translates through your talk as that’s another important way to get people interested. As researchers, we are mostly trained how to give a talk to other researchers and experts. Even if we are experienced and good at giving these talks, 3MT and public engagement is something completely different.

Thanks for taking the time to speak with us today Noora. Will you be tuning into this year’s competition?

Of course! I can’t wait to see the amazing research and presentations at this year’s event.


Are you up for the 3MT challenge and following in Noora’s footsteps?

Get involved in this year’s (remote) competition by completing the short online expression of interest form and visit our 3MT webpages for full eligibility criteria and further information.

The deadline to submit your entry is Friday 15th May.

RDP Remote: six new workshops from UEA Online Training Series (May and June)

We are pleased to add six workshops covering qualitative research issues, publishing, and looking beyond the PhD to research proposals and your first academic posting to our Researcher Development Programme.

The workshops are part of the University of East Anglia’s Online Training Series delivered by Dr Simon Watts, and will be exclusively available to University of Sussex doctoral researchers.

Academic Publishing
This session will introduce and discuss the practicalities of academic journal publishing. Various means for choosing a target journal will be considered, as will the mechanics of writing an effective paper (including a summary of the aims of each section of an academic report).
Sussex Direct booking link

A Comparison of Qualitative Methods
This session will compare and contrast the aims, data collection preferences, analytic style, limitations and appropriate usage of four different qualitative methods – grounded theory, thematic analysis, interpretative phenomenological analysis and narrative analysis – in order to identify the types of research questions that suit each method.
Sussex Direct booking link

Qualitative Interviewing
This session will consider three different types of interviewing (structured, semi-structured and unstructured), but with a particular focus on semi-structured or ‘qualitative’ interviewing. Other issues covered will include the nature of interview questions, the design and structure of an effective interview schedule and the mechanics of conducting a successful interview (with different people and to deliver on our research aims). 
Sussex Direct booking link

Analysing Qualitative Data
This session will consider and discuss a range of issues relative to the micro-analysis of qualitative data, including the analyst’s perspective (the aims and nature of their engagement with the data), coding systems, how to choose extracts for analysis in a systematic fashion, the meaning and importance of interpretation, generalising from qualitative findings and various write-up issues, including the relationship between the analysis and discussion sections of a qualitative report and the creation of impact.
Sussex Direct booking link

On the Job: Securing a First Academic Post
This session will focus on a number of relevant issues, including the need to establish an academic identity, how to recognise a ‘gettable’ post, and particularly the generation of effective and job-tailored application paperwork (including CVs, personal statements, and covering letters).
Sussex Direct booking link

Preparing Impactful Research Proposals and Grant Applications
This session will consider the writing of effective research proposals and the best ways to create a compelling ‘case for support’. Coverage will include the generation of a clear rationale, the statement of a defined and delimited set of research aims and questions, the proposal of a study (or series of studies) – as well as appropriate methods and analyses – that will clearly deliver on the stated research aims.
Sussex Direct booking link

Last call for applications to the Researcher-Led Initiative Fund (deadline 30th April)

You have one more week to apply for up to £750 from the Researcher-Led Initiative Fund, to support an activity that enhances your research development or brings your fellow researchers together.

These are trying times, and applications that address any aspect of remote working, online training, or researcher wellbeing and connection are strongly encouraged.

The fund is open to doctoral and early career researchers at the University of Sussex, to organise an initiative focusing on:

  • mental health, wellbeing and community among researchers
  • public engagement
  • researcher training and development

Whether you want to host an online symposium, curate a virtual exhibition, set up a weekly film streaming club or get into podcasting, we want to empower you to turn your ideas into reality.

The deadline for applications is Thursday 30th April 2020.

See the RLI Fund website for more information and to apply, and contact us researcher-development@sussex.ac.uk if you have questions or need advice on any aspect of your application.

New Careers Workshop: Boosting your career skills from home (29th April)

Wednesday 29th April, 13.00 – 13.30 (Online)

The Careers and Employability Centre (CEC) has announced a new session next Wednesday 29th April, exploring how you can continue to enhance your career skills remotely. Top tips will be shared on how to explore your options, develop your commercial awareness and how to be active online.

If you are nearing the end of your PhD you may be concerned for the future, but remember the skills and experience that you gain during this uncertain time can be added to your CV and discussed with any future employers.

You can sign up to the session here via Sussex Direct and will receive a weblink for the event the day before.

This is the latest remote workshop from the CEC series for doctoral researchers, including:

Employment Opportunity: Tutoring in schools with the Brilliant Club Scholars Programme (2020/21)

The Scholars Programme is run by The Brilliant Club, an award-winning university access charity. They recruit and train doctoral and post-doctoral researchers to deliver programmes of university-style teaching to pupils in schools that serve under-represented communities.

Why become a Scholars Programme PhD tutor?

  • Support local pupils from underrepresented backgrounds to access university
  • Get expert training and real experience to develop your teaching and other transferable skills
  • Earn £500 per placement plus an additional £100 for designing a new course, and travel expenses
  • Disseminate your research to small groups of school pupils
  • Join a nationwide community of like-minded researchers making a huge impact on university access

To apply to work as a PhD tutor complete the application form. Successful applicants can select which terms they would like to work in and whether they would like to deliver multiple placements. 

You can find out more about the organisation and PhD tutoring on the Brilliant Club website and can also sign up for an information webinar here. If you have any queries, email The Brilliant Club at apply@thebrilliantclub.org.

Looking for a full-time position?

If you’re keen on working with young people, you can apply to the Brilliant Club’s other programme, Researchers in Schools (RIS), which is a full-time route into teaching for PhDs that incorporates elements from The Scholars Programme, along with a host of other features designed to get the most from your research skill set.

For more information on RIS, including funding and benefits, email apply@researchersinschools.org or visit the Researchers in Schools website.

PhD Wellbeing: self-care strategies poster now available

A new poster showing strategies for self-care to aid your wellbeing is now available to download from the Doctoral School website.

Prioritising self-care can be tricky at any stage of a PhD, never mind against the backdrop of a global pandemic. But taking time out to look after yourself will protect your wellbeing and give you more energy to process everything you are dealing with at the moment.

Informed by Sussex U-DOC Project research and designed by Louise Harvey, from Chimney Design, the poster suggests ways you could practice self-care in three key areas: workplace or professional, psychosocial and spiritual, and physical.

We will be printing physical posters once we are back on campus, and making those available to PGRs at all of our wellbeing events. Download the poster, use it as a prompt in your work space, and share with friends and colleagues.

The Looking After Yourself During Your PhD workshop on Wednesday 6th May will explore which self-care strategies could work for you, and give you space to discuss some of the barriers to self-care that you may be experiencing, particularly during the Covid-19 pandemic. Book your place on the RDP listings.

RDP Remote: six additional online workshops confirmed

In addition to the Social Media Bootcamp, we are pleased to confirm six additional remote workshops to the Researcher Development Programme, facilitated by the wonderful Dr. Sarah Robins-Hobden.

The upcoming sessions will address topics such as dealing with stress in the current context, effectively communicating your research, overcoming perfectionism and imposter phenomenon, and freeing up time and attention for your workload.

Stress, Resilience and Strengths: a digital workshop for researchers
In the acceleration of the COVID-19 pandemic you might be facing concurrent challenges of conducting your research from home, tutoring small humans, anxiety over the welfare of family members, a restructuring of your social life, dealing with persistent uncertainty and, it seems, a national shortage of toilet paper. This session could help you manage stress better, focus on your resilience when you need to, and create a greater sense of agency, while acknowledging and working with the very real limitations you might be experiencing.
Tuesday 21st April (10.00 – 12.00) Eventbrite booking link
Thursday 4th June (13.30 – 15.30) Sussex Direct booking link
Tuesday 7th July (13.30 – 15.30) Sussex Direct booking link

Communicating your Research to Non-Specialists (online)
This workshop will provide you with take-away tools to support you in understanding your audiences, choosing what to include and what to leave out, constructing an engaging and meaningful narrative, and how to tailor the detail of your research (and its impact) in accessible language.
Tuesday 5th May (10.30 – 12.00) Sussex Direct booking link

Tools for Handling Perfectionism and Imposter Phenomenon (online)
Experiencing either perfectionism or imposter phenomenon (or both) may mean you put yourself under more pressure to achieve, whilst at the same time you find your stress increases, productivity declines, and confidence becomes undermined. This workshop will provide you with a selection of techniques to manage your thinking and stress levels in a positive way, and to effectively handle perfectionist tendencies and imposter feelings if they arise.
Thursday 28th May (10.30 – 12.00) Sussex Direct booking link

Wrangling Your Workload (two-part online workshop)
Competing priorities, tight time frames and a sense of overwhelm are common in research roles, where researchers are striving for consistently high standards in an increasingly competitive field. In this workshop, we will review a range of strategies to reduce work-related stress in the research environment and empower you to free up time and attention for your own wellbeing.
Monday 22nd and Thursday 25th June (10.30 – 12.30) Sussex Direct booking link
Please note: This is a two-part course taking place on Monday 22nd and Thursday 25th June (10.30 – 12.00 on both days). Participants are required to attend both parts. 

RDP Remote: Writing into Meaning: voice, audience and reflexivity in writing (29th April)

Following the Creative Ways to Stimulate your Writing workshop earlier this month, we are happy to confirm the next workshop designed and facilitated by the tremendous ESW trio Dr Emily Danvers, Dr Tamsin Hinton-Smith and Dr Rebecca Webb.

The Writing into Meaning: voice, audience and reflexivity in writing workshop takes place on Wednesday 29th April (13.30 – 15.00) and explores the connection between who we are and what we write, and also what place audience, context and identity hold in the production of our ‘writerly’ voices.

Follow this link to Sussex Direct for more info and to book a place.