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:


https://twitter.com/MassObsArchive #12May20

RDP Remote: Ten new Library Research Support courses (May and June)

The Researcher Development Programme are pleased to add ten new courses from Library Research Support to the workshops and webinars available online. The Library sessions are running throughout May and June and cover a range of topics including reference management tools, open access publishing, and keeping up-to-date with the literature in your field.

Click on the Sussex Direct links next to each workshop to find out more and to book a place. All attendees will receive an email with a weblink and any necessary materials in advance of the date.

Literature searching with Scopus and Web of Science – With useful guidance from the Library Research Support team, this workshop will show you how to make the most of these two major resources and develop search techniques that you can transfer to other more subject-specific databases.
6th May, 12.00 – 13.30 Sussex Direct booking page
5th June, 10.30 – 12.00 Sussex Direct booking page

Finding theses and dissertations for your research – This session introduces several online tools that can be used to access dissertations and theses from academic institutions within the UK and beyond.
15th May, 14.00 – 15.00 Sussex Direct booking page

Using reference management tools – Reference management tools enable you to create a personal database of references relevant to your work. These tools can help you gather bibliographic data from a range of sources, organise and manage this data, cite references in your writing, and generate bibliographies. This course consists of a short video training session introducing three reference management tools – EndNote, Mendeley and Zotero – and a self-guided tutorial leading you through the main features of each, so that you can decide which tool suits your needs.
Sussex Direct booking page

The Using reference management tools course will be followed by three live Q&A discussions with the Library team. Explore the course materials, choose the tool that works for you then join the relevant discussion for help with any queries or issues:

Keeping up to date in your subject – this workshop will explore the tools and techniques available to keep you up to date with the research going on in your subject area.
11th June, 11.00 – 12.30 Sussex Direct booking page

Introduction to Open Access publishing (part of the Festival of Doctoral Research) – this session provides an introduction to Open Access publishing from both a researcher and publisher perspective.
16th June, 14.00 – 15.30 Sussex Direct booking page

Understanding publication metrics – this practical workshop will introduce you to some of the tools you can use to measure the research impact of authors, articles, and journals.
24th June, 11.00 – 12.30 Sussex Direct booking page

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 studentlifecentre@sussex.ac.uk. The Student Support Unit is available online for disability-related enquiries (this includes high levels of stress/anxiety lasting at least six months): email disabilitysupport@sussex.ac.uk.

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.

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.