It’s my last day in before a bit of a holiday so a chance to have a quick catch up on things that have been happening and to highlight a couple of great activities that are on the horizon…
Workshop 9 January
The first of our team workshops took place on 9 January in the Edge. 22 staff from across the three Graduate Schools, the School of Management, Skills and Careers came together to talk about how we can work together to build a stronger sense of Doctoral community and what improvements we could make to the experience of our doctoral students.
The first question we set ourselves was “How can we make sure all new doctoral researchers get a great welcome and induction including those who arrive outside of the main September / October intake period and those who are not on campus for the start of their studies?” Breaking into small groups we talked about what was working well or not so well in our own areas, brainstormed some new ideas and thought about whether there were existing activities or ways of doing things that weren’t serving our students well. We then came back together as a group to discuss. The aim of the session was to generate as many ideas as possible and the teams didn’t disappoint. It was great to hear so many examples of creative thinking applied in different areas. Some of the things we talked about were:
- How to make our communications with new doctoral students more engaging, relevant and useful
- The benefits and practicalities of peer mentoring arrangements
- Specific challenges around induction and some strategies that have been trialled
- Support for students who start mid-year
- The particular needs of professional doctorate students and the importance of the residentials to their early experience
We had a brief stop for tea and scones (purely to fortify us for some more hard thinking of course) and then ploughed on to consider “What can we do to make sure that all of our doctoral students (including those who are studying part time or from a distance) have the best possible experience and feel part of a vibrant research community?” Some of the points we touched on here were:
- Recognising and supporting multiple layers of community
- How to encourage and better support student-led activities
- How to support on line communities especially for students who are not campus-based
- How to catalyse cross-faculty / interdisciplinary networking
- Better support and guidance for students and supervisors
- Considering what relevant activities and support we should provide for students in their second and third years
- Making sure skills training is what students need and taking advantage of technologies
Thank you again to those who took part. As you can see from this summary the first workshop highlighted a range of challenges and solutions all of which will continue to be shared and discussed across the University. I’ll provide an overview of the other three workshops in future posts.
Research Rocket on 2nd March
Do come along to the University’s Research Rocket event on Thursday 2 March to find out how our doctoral students and early career researchers are making a difference in helping to create healthy futures. Chaired by the Pro Vice Chancellor (Research) Professor Jonathan Knight, the event will run from 17.15 to 19.30 in 10W 2.47 and will include an opportunity for drinks and networking. There is already an exciting list of confirmed speakers from across the faculties and School of Management. If you aren't able to join us in person the event will be livestreamed
You can find out more and register your interest at
Three Minute Thesis
This year’s 3MT Faculty Heats will take place on Wednesday 29 March in the Graduate Centre at the University of Bath. These will feed through to the University’s 3MT Final, to take place on Saturday 6 May as part of the University of Bath Festival. The Three Minute Thesis challenges doctoral students to explain their PhD research and its significance to a non-specialist audience in only three minutes using only one slide and no props. A great chance to hone your presentational skills.
I look forward to talking again in a few weeks’ time. In the meantime do continue to let me have any thoughts, suggestions and comments about our doctoral provision at firstname.lastname@example.org.
It’s been a while since I blogged and there’s plenty to report. Since my last post lots of work has been going on behind the scenes on how to grow the support for our doctoral community. It has been agreed that the University will establish a cross-institutional Doctoral College under senior academic leadership.
As Professor Knight mentioned in his post in December a new role of Pro-Vice Chancellor Doctoral and International has been established to steer the development and growth of the Doctoral College, as well as leading on international development and enhancing our reputation for quality doctoral provision. The recruitment process for this position is now underway
And the work continues…
Doctoral Provision Project workshops
A big thank you to all those who took part in the staff workshops in January. The four workshops were held at The Edge and covered Improving Doctoral Community and Experience, Doctoral Recruitment and Admissions, Supporting Doctoral Training Entities and the Administration of Doctoral Students and Degrees.
Over twenty members of staff attended each workshop with staff from each of the Graduate Schools, School of Management and other areas with responsibilities for doctoral students and programmes, involving more than fifty people in total. There were high levels of engagement during the mix of whole group and small group discussions with lots of energy in the room. I received lots of positive comments from participants about how much they had enjoyed the opportunity to talk to and share ideas with people from outside their immediate area.
Special thanks too for the active involvement of the Graduate School Managers in planning and facilitating these sessions. We look forward to reviewing all of the ideas formulated by the groups and working more with staff to realise the Doctoral College. I will be reporting back to you in my next post on workshop input and outcomes.
As the project ramps up look out for more posts and further internal communications coming through. And, as ever, please feel free to contact me with any suggestions or questions about the project or the change process either using my direct email address email@example.com or at firstname.lastname@example.org. We will gather these all together and respond making them available to everyone
A few things are telling me it is my first day back in work after a holiday – the first one being that I have forgotten my library card / key. That wouldn’t matter so much if it wasn’t that all kitchen facilities are on the other side of a card-locked door and 4W café is not yet open. I suppose I will just have to wait a bit longer for a caffeine fix. The other reminders are my scarily tidy desk, my hazy memory of passwords and the fact that I can’t seem to remember with any clarity what my job actually is. So by way of a little memory jolt and to while away the minutes until coffee can be mine without doing anything too taxing on the brain I’ll share one of the things I can remember from before I went away (Madeira by the way – thank you for asking).
Induction has been consistently highlighted by both doctoral students and staff as an area we could improve on. One thing in particular that existing students have explained that they would have appreciated during their own early weeks is a visible and neutral point of contact to answer simple queries and provide or signpost help. In response to this we are planning, this year, to deploy a small group of existing doctoral students from across the faculties to provide peer-to peer support during the period late September to early November. By creating an “induction team” of fellow students we hope that barriers to seeking support will be minimised and to send a clear message that the focus is on student interests. The team will have a visible presence in the new Graduate Commons, Graduate Centre and across campus – providing friendly faces, signposting new doctoral students to relevant events, facilities and support services and helping to create a positive doctoral community experience from day one. It’s very much a trial and will be developmental.
Of course peer to peer support is nothing new - many departments are already running mentoring or buddy schemes for doctoral students. The induction team will be expected to support and mesh with such arrangements where they exist. Hopefully we may also inspire a few more mentors for the future.
If you are an existing doctoral student interested in taking part or a member of staff working with doctoral students do check out the details via JobLink https://www.bathstudent.com/jobs/vacancy/3584/. The roles are paid, provide great opportunities to develop personal and transferable skills such as coaching, team working, events and communication skills and may even generate that nice toasty feeling that comes from doing something worthwhile. The closing date for applications is Sunday 4th September.
OK, now for coffee…
Security have just advised me of a change to the access arrangements to the 10 West building which might affect you if you plan to use the Graduate Commons on levels 4 or 5 late at night.
Basically the access control equipment on the outside entrance doors to 10 West building is still not yet fully operational. This means that, for the time being, the building can only be accessed during the hours when it is unlocked. The building will routinely be open between 5am and 11pm Monday – Friday. Outside of these hours Security will secure all entrance and exit points and the building will be alarmed. It is therefore no longer possible to remain in the building after 11pm.
If you experience any problems the best recourse is to contact Security:
Wessex House 2.20
At weekends the building will generally be locked but Security will be happy to open it for you on request.
For those of you that have not yet discovered it the new Graduate Commons is a brand new dedicated space for postgraduate students in all disciplines. It includes a variety of individual and group workspaces across nine rooms on levels four and five of 10 West. At present the area is still on a soft opening so permanent opening hours and access arrangements have not yet been determined. Doctoral and other postgraduate students are however, welcome to use it and library cards should already be programmed to allow access to these areas. Do take the opportunity to make use of the new facility and let us know what you think. You will probably notice that it is currently quite plain and sparsely furnished. This is deliberate so that we can take feedback about how to best use the various spaces and what additional furniture would best suit users' needs. More furniture will be on order soon! And it would be great to hear any ideas you have about how we can improve the functionality and appearance of the space.
If you have any ideas or comments please do let me know, either by email or by leaving me a note on the board at the entrance to the large Grad Commons room on Level 5. Or just pop in and see me in 10W 4:47 to let me know what you think.
PGR Forum 2nd June 2016
The last few weeks seem to have flown by. I have been getting up to speed with how things work and starting to pull together ideas for how the Project might progress.
One of the main challenges during the last month or so has been how we can make sure that we are able to draw on the experiences of current research students and those people around the University who are already involved in supporting them. To that end Jonathan and I have had lots of individual and small group discussions and have hosted several larger consultation sessions.
The first of these was a PGR forum on 2nd June which we organised in collaboration with the Post Graduate Association (PGA). We were pleased to be able to “christen” the new Graduate Commons by holding the event on level 5 of 10West which also gave research students a chance to familiarise themselves with, and let us know what they thought about, their new facilities . (This did involve quite a lot of jiggery pokery with furniture for which I am eternally grateful to the porters who moved 80+ chairs from level 2 and back again for us without letting their smiles slip). It was great to meet with over 50 research students on the day and to talk with them (amongst other things) about what makes a strong community, how we could make induction better and what could be done to improve skills and support. These are all areas that we need to focus on sooner rather than later so that we can start to make a real difference to the student experience. There was some lively discussion and it was great to see students so engaged in the process, not just for their own benefit but also to improve things for those students yet to start.
We organised a separate forum for staff in the Graduate Schools and Professional Services departments. So many people wanted to take part we ended up having to split this over two days in late June / early July with over 70 staff participating from right across the University. Jonathan outlined project progress whilst I gave a brief overview of student input so far. Then we split into small discussion groups to talk about perceived areas for improvement, current barriers to progress and potential actions to take away. Simon Inger from Staff Development facilitated the discussions and made sure that we all got the chance to have our say to help shape the future. There were lots of great ideas and it was really satisfying to encounter so much positivity and a real willingness to collaborate across the University to see how we can make things better. I will be looking in more detail at the outputs from these sessions and other sources over the coming weeks to help make sure that the Project focuses on the right things and builds on areas of current strength.
Adam Kearns has now taken up the new role of Students’ Union Postgraduate Officer and we were pleased to welcome him along to the PGR Forum and staff discussion event. Adam is clearly keen to ensure that the Students’ Union plays a full part in improving the experience of doctoral students and to get personally involved in the Project.
Looking forward to the next weeks and months there will certainly be a lot more talking to come. If you would like to be involved in the Project and we haven’t already been in contact please do get in touch. I’d love to hear from you.
We will be looking to further develop opportunities for students and staff to get involved. In particular we want to talk more with Directors of Study and other academic staff and to better engage with, and capture the views of, those students who are not based full-time on campus. Other priorities will be making sure that we put in place a clear Project plan and governance arrangements and working with the Grad Schools and others to firm up on induction arrangements for 2016. More about which to follow.
I started my new role as Project Manager for Doctoral provision a couple of months ago...on April Fools' day to be exact. Despite that slightly inauspicious timing things have been going well since then and - apart from a couple of weeks sunning myself on a Caribbean beach in May (simultaneously providing the midnight buffet for the island’s resident mosquito population) - it has been super busy.
I first came to the University in 1989. Which is a very long time ago. As LP Hartley famously wrote "The past is a foreign country: they do things differently there". Well the University was definitely a very different place back then. I seem to remember we only had about 6000 students, the Sports Training Village wasn't even a twinkle in anyone's eye and we were still calling ourselves Bath University (I recall the major effort that went into to the rather snappy rebranding to University of Bath). Bath's star was definitely yet to rise.
I originally came in to the University Finance Office as an accountant. Having recently qualified with KPMG and worked at Rolls Royce in Bristol in their internal audit department for a little while I was desperately keen to work for an organisation I could really believe in and engage with. It's not that I didn't believe in aero engines of course - they are obviously a very good thing to have fixed to your plane when you are heading off somewhere - but by the end of my stint at RR I could just about tell the difference between a Pegasus and a regular engine. For the uninitiated a Pegasus engine pointed downwards rather than sideways so they are not that difficult to tell apart! Let's just say I recognise my strong suits and engineering is not one of them. One of my proudest moments at Rolls Royce was receiving a certificate from Bath University's department of Mechanical Engineering to confirm I had completed a one-week course in gas turbine engineering. It's a very grand certificate - I still have it at home and whip it out occasionally to prove that I am not completely technologically challenged. Usually after I have been struggling to operate the DVD player for some time...
Having only previously worked in big corporates the University was a big culture shock for me. I had been a student of course so should have known something about how higher education works. But I pretty soon realised how blissfully unaware I managed to remain of the academic processes and activities that had underpinned my student experience. It was a new, strange and slightly daunting world. One thing that always remains in my memory, though, is the daily pilgrimage to the Senior Common Room (SCR) for morning coffee. It seems slightly decadent now to think that this was a daily ritual for most academic and professional services staff. But as a newbie into the University it was an incredibly useful daily opportunity to get to know my colleagues and mingle with staff from across the University in an informal way. And as time went on it was an immensely valuable way of keeping up with developments across the University – of course there was no email, homepage or blogging in the “olden days “so the grapevine really often was the only way to catch up on what was happening. More than anything else the opportunity to link with my peers made me feel part of a real community and started to create the ties that bound me to higher education as my future career.
Over the years since then I have had lots of roles in the University. The part of the Finance Office that I originally looked after developed a broader research support function and morphed into a separate University Research Office (RIS is its current incarnation). I worked on the "Swindon Project" which never did develop a sustainable University presence in Swindon but led to extensive learning partnerships with local colleges and an Office of Associated Colleges which set about tackling many of the challenges of collaborative educational provision. I also worked as contract manager and co-ordinator for a number of projects to support entrepreneurship and, particularly, female enterprise. That's not the whole list but you get the gist. I’ve done a lot of stuff. Most recently I've been working in Internal Audit - in one sense full circle for me but the context and profession has changed so much since my days at Rolls Royce that it never really seemed that way. That was a great opportunity for me to learn more about a wide range of aspects of the University’s operations from HR to Health and Safety; placements to assessment, finance systems to student recruitment.
So, to return to the present and the doctoral provision project. The concept is pretty clear – to see how the University can improve its support for doctoral students and the related processes, to explore whether we should set up a central Doctoral College (or something similar) and to suggest what form that might take to best suit Bath. The project is being led by Jonathan Knight, Pro-Vice-Chancellor for Research. I have to say it’s been a great pleasure working with Jonathan so far. His commitment to the quality of the doctoral student experience at Bath is genuinely inspiring. If you haven’t already tuned into his blog I‘d definitely recommend it to you, in particular his post on “improving provision for doctoral students” which sets the context for the project. I always love a bit of word analysis so this is a very condensed version of his post.
As you can see research students are right at the heart of the project. And, alongside developing the broader vision and project plan, the initial focus has been very much around responding quickly in areas where the University needs to act now in order to make a difference to the experience of doctoral students for 2016/17. Jonathan and I have been listening to the views of students and working with staff in various parts of the University including the Graduate Schools, LTEO and the Students’ Union to develop appropriate interventions. In particular we are looking at ways to improve the quality of information and induction for new doctoral students joining the University from this autumn and thinking about how we can help build structures that will support a real sense of doctoral community – both virtual and physical.
I’ve rambled on so I’ll leave saying more about what has been happening so far and plans for the immediate future for next time. Do signup for email updates (and also to Jonathan’s Blog of course) and I'll try to keep you bang up to date with project progress.
And I’ll try not to spend so much time reminiscing next time….