Doctoral School awards funding for nine exciting Researcher-Led Initiatives

A photograph of people's hands stacked one on top of the other, over a wooden table.

We are pleased to announce that nine Researcher-Led Initiatives, with a real potential for meaningful impact, have been awarded funding following review by a panel including Dr Katy Petherick (public engagement coordinator), Prof Jeremy Niven (graduate student mental health and wellbeing champion) and Katy Stoddard (Doctoral School).

The themes this year covered mental health and wellbeing, training and development, and public engagement, and each of the applicants impressed us with their well-considered projects, as well as their resourcefulness in adapting to the ongoing uncertainty around Covid-19.

Congratulations to all of the researchers who put together a successful bid. In these difficult times it is a real boost to see such innovative projects coming from our doctoral community, and that the Doctoral School is able to fund such important work is something we are very proud of.

Read on for details of each of the RLI projects, and keep an eye out for more details on how you can get involved in the coming months.

deCOALonise Europe! Tracing the supply chain of coal and anti-coal resistance
Andrea Brock (Global Studies)

A collaboration with the activist group deCOALonize Europe, Andrea’s publication will explore the impact of coal extraction on indigenous and marginalised communities, and the historical connection between coal and colonialism that is reproduced in today’s trade relationships. By drawing the legacy of colonialism into the climate debate, the aim is to inform and inspire people to action.

Tea and Talk in the Time of Covid-19
Devyn Glass (Psychology), Louise Elali (MFM) & Aanchal Vij (English)
The Hive Scholars are sending wellbeing care packages to doctoral researchers who may be feeling isolated during the lockdown, accompanied by a virtual Tea & Talk session to connect researchers on 24th June. If you’d like to get involved you can sign up for a care package.

Teaching Problem Solving and Analytical Thinking Through Coding and Programming
Julia Jackiewicz (MPS)

Inspired by Sussex’s outreach programme, Julia will run a coding club with primary schools in her local area in Poland, targeting children at a crucial age for interest in STEM subjects, and hoping to engage and inspire them with hands-on activities and creative thinking.

BAME Role Models in Science
Kamillia Kasbi (Life Sciences)

Kamillia’s initiative tackles the lack of BAME representation in the sciences, and academia in general. By creating profiles and portraits to highlight BAME scientists and their varied career pathways, the project will motivate and engage BAME students, and create a connected support network for BAME PhD researchers at Sussex.

Unsilencing Pakistan’s #metoo Survivors: A Delayed Coming Out
Saba Karim Khan (Global Studies)

Aiming to uncover the narratives of women in Pakistan who have experienced abuse, Saba’s documentary film, based on firsthand testimony, will raise awareness of the harassment women face, look at the social and cultural barriers that prevent them speaking up, and consider whether western #metoo strategies may need to be adapted in the global south.

Media, Arts & Humanities PhD Creative Outlets
Kate Meakin, Manuela Salazar & Katharina Hendrickx (MFM)

Kate, Manuela and Katharina build on their MFM Peer Support Group RLI last year to encourage wellbeing and community among PhD students in the new MAH School, by providing a space for researchers to relax and engage in creative practice, encouraging them to take a break from study, and facilitating discussions on the broader PhD experience.

MPS One-Day PGR Conference
Fabrizio Trovato, Hannah Wood & James van Yperen (MPS)

The MPS PGR Conference will showcase and celebrate the research of the School’s PhD researchers, promote networking and collaboration between the Mathematics and Physics communities, and offer a learning experience for new researchers, Masters and undergraduate students alike.

Zoom(ing) In on Nostalgia: Wayback Weekender
Aanchal Vij (English)

Aiming to foster community and a sense of belonging among distanced PhD researchers at Sussex and beyond, Aanchal will curate a weekend of shared indulgence in nostalgic popular culture – including films, music and literature – and provide a space for PGRs to come together for informal discussions and connection.

Chinese Acupressure Massage for Sedentary Researchers
Violet Wei (English)

Violet’s project will build a platform for doctoral researchers to learn about the potential benefits of acupressure massage from a qualified practitioner, promote relaxation, and raise self-awareness of health and wellbeing, at a time when many of us are more sedentary than ever.

SPRU PhD Forum (Thursday 14th & Friday 15th May 2020)

The 26th annual SPRU PhD Forum is going online this year, with presentations live streamed on YouTube over two days. You can access the full schedule below:

Thursday May 14th – live on YouTube: SPRU PhD Forum Day 1
Friday May 15th – live on YouTube: SPRU PhD Forum Day 2

Two further sessions will take place on Zoom – on Thursday afternoon, a workshop on researcher wellness during Covid-19, provided by Sussex Doctoral School; and on Friday afternoon, a panel on academic career development from the ST Global Consortium. If you would like to join, email for Zoom links.

Join the LinkedIn group and follow on Twitter for regular updates, and contact for further details.

Research Project: Interested in learning to practice mindfulness? (free Headspace subscription)

Researchers at the University of Sussex would like to invite University of Sussex students to take part in an online study investigating the usage of mindfulness mediation, provided by the well-known course Headspace.

The PROMISE 2 STUDY (PRedictors Of MIndfulness-based Self-help Engagement 2) investigates how mindfulness can improve wellbeing and reduce levels of work-related stress.

By taking part in this study you will receive a free six-month subscription to Headspace, worth £59.94! You will also have the opportunity to be entered into a prize draw to WIN one of three £25 Amazon vouchers.

Follow the online survey link for more info or to participate, or follow the QR Code to the right:

If you have any problems with the link or QR code, please email

Write for Wellbeing with a Mass Observation diary on 12th May

Woman sitting on a lawn and writing in a notebook

By Suzanne Rose, Education & Outreach Officer at the Mass Observation Archive

[This post was originally published on the University of Sussex Library Staff Blog.]

“Writing is an incredibly powerful tool, because if you can be yourself when writing, then you have what might be a rare space in your life for completely genuine self-expression and self-reflection. Who you are is important – and finding and expressing that is important to Mass Observation, as well as to other people” – Kim Sherwood, Writer.

12th May is Mass Observation’s national diary day and we welcome day diaries from people across the country recording their everyday lives. The more ordinary the better. Of course, we are currently living in extraordinary times and so we are expecting this year’s crop of 12th May diaries to be anything but ordinary.

If, like me, you’ve been juggling home schooling, home working and looking after your own health and well being and that of your family, I would recommend sitting down and writing. You could even download and print off a diary template from the MO website, so your kids can join in too. We welcome drawings as well as written diaries and everyone is invited to take part.

A child's handwritten Mass Observation Day Diary from 12th May 2013, with a drawing of flowers, bees, butterflies and a yellow sun.
Example of a child’s 12th May Day diary and drawing. Credit: Mass Observation Archive

The benefits of writing have long been documented. It’s true, sitting down and taking time to breathe, let alone write, can only be a good thing. Life can be incredibly busy and anxiety inducing at the best of times, and it’s fair to say, we are currently living through, if not the worst of times, then certainly the strangest.

To this end, MO has partnered with the Oxford Centre for Life Writing to support a project called Life-Writing of Immeasurable Events, which will provide opportunities for people to write their lives and encourage creative responses. Professor Brett Karr of the Tavistock Institute of Medical Psychology and Regent’s University London, offers his personal reflections on the psychological urgency of life writing in an essay written to launch the project.

Of course, you might not have the time to write endlessly, but do remember to keep a day diary on 12th May. I will be recording my day. Not just because it’s one way that MO can record the present for future generations, but for myself. So I can take a moment to breathe, reflect and think about the small things. Everyday life often feels mundane, a bit Groundhog Day, sometimes easily taken for granted.

I want to take a moment to be mindful. To be thankful and to notice all the little things that make up my day. Whether that be walking my dog in the sunshine and watching him gleefully play with a stick. Standing underneath a blossom tree and scooping the fallen petals into my pockets, like I used to do as a child, or curling up on the sofa with a G&T at the end of the day. After all, these are the days of our lives.

Cherry tree covered in pink blossom
My local blossom tree. Credit: Suzanne Rose

Further information on how to take part in 12th May can be found here: #12May20

Looking after your mental health and wellbeing during the Covid-19 pandemic

As a doctoral researcher you will currently be facing a lot of uncertainty. You might be worried about your funding or visa status, juggling study with family or work, or dealing with disruptions to your research. That is to say nothing of the psychological impact the coronavirus pandemic is having on all of us.

If you are feeling anxious about any aspect of your personal or professional life, or you’re simply feeling overwhelmed, it is okay to ask for help; the services and resources below may be useful.

If you don’t know where to start or even how you are feeling, join our online workshops to discuss wellbeing and mental health knowledge and experience in a safe space. The Looking After Yourself during the Covid-19 Lockdown workshop on Wednesday 6th May will give you the tools to think about your own unique mental health needs, how you can help yourself concretely, and when you may need professional help. Book a place on Sussex Direct.

You may also be interested in these upcoming RDP workshops:

  • The Healthy Researcher: how to look after yourself and keep going (12th May)
  • The Productive Researcher: how to keep writing (14th May)
  • Stress, Resilience and Strengths: a digital workshop for researchers (4th June and 7th July)

University services are open, and operating virtually. The Student Life Centre are trained to help you if you’re struggling with anything from emotional, relationship or financial difficulties to health problems, self-motivation or university procedures. Get in touch with them on The Student Support Unit is available online for disability-related enquiries (this includes high levels of stress/anxiety lasting at least six months): email

Silvercloud is a free, interactive self-help app promoted by the counselling team – see their self-help webpage for details, and guidance on other common psychological issues.

The Doctoral School wellbeing website, developed by the Office for Students-funded U-DOC project, includes video interviews with PGRs, links to university services and tools for self-care. Our new suggested self-care strategies gif is available to download as a PDF poster, if you’d like to use it as a visual prompt in your work space.

The Wellbeing Thesis website was co-created by King’s College London, Derby University, PhD researchers and the Student Minds charity. The Managing Adversity topic may be particularly useful, alongside bitesize videos on breathing exercises, chair yoga and getting a good night’s sleep. See key themes on the homepage or use the menu to explore videos and downloadable resources.

If you’re seeking support for yourself or a friend the Student Minds website has a section on coronavirus, and one of their consultants, Dr Dominique Thompson, has blogged about coping with coronavirus anxiety. Follow her DomInSixtySeconds YouTube channel for more.

And if you are feeling isolated and want to connect with other PhD researchers we’ve pulled together some of the key platforms elsewhere on the blog. See the new Things To Do During Lockdown section on the Student Hub for ideas.

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 if you have questions or need advice on any aspect of your application.

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. 

Tell us how Covid-19 is affecting you and your PhD research

Collating PGR Experiences During the Covid-19 Pandemic
Thursday 16th April (12:00 – 13:30), Online (Zoom)

The Doctoral School is hosting an online session for PhD researchers to share experiences of the Covid-19 pandemic. We want to hear your views on how it is impacting your research, and how we are responding to this fast-moving situation.

This is a space for voicing how Covid-19 is affecting you, a chance to talk with us and your fellow PGRs and to make sure the PhD community is heard at university level. Your anonymised responses will be presented to the Doctoral Studies Committee on 17th.

The aim is for us to listen, not to answer individual questions, but we will collate all the issues raised and seek responses. If you want to comment anonymously, or cannot attend but would like to have your say, please use the Hive Scholars’ Padlet Wall (no sign-up is required, just click the pink + icon in the bottom right and start typing – note: the text box may appear in a different location on the page).

The panel will consist of George Kemenes (Doctoral School Director), Miles Willey (Head of Doctoral School), Albertus Schoeman (PGR Rep), and Devyn Glass (Research Hive Scholar).

Follow this link to Sussex Direct for more info and to book a place. If you have any queries contact

Please note: All attendees will be sent a link via email to join this online session before it takes place.

NEW Spring/Summer Online Training Series for researchers working remotely

The first installment of our Researcher Development Online Series which we’ll be running between now and the end of the academic year is up on the RDP event listings page.

It’s a combination of our regular workshops and sessions tailored to help you cope with living and working remotely, including new webinars from coach Catherine Pope on becoming a healthy researcher and a productive researcher during a time of crisis.

If you sign up you’ll receive an email with the link to join on the day of the session. Facilitators are using a variety of online platforms and we’re all learning as we go along, so any feedback will be really useful.

We will be adding new titles over the next few weeks so keep an eye out for further details, and email if you have any issues or queries.