Research Culture: Feeling part of a research community and developing a sense of belonging

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I have always felt that it is vital that doctoral students understand what research is being done in different groups and departments within a university if they are to feel part of a research community. They can really benefit from the advantages of being part of a broader peer group, whether that is within the department, the faculty or school or across the university.

That is why I have been heartened to hear about the events and activities that took place last summer within the Faculties and the School that aimed to enhance understanding of the research being done in different areas and disciplines and developing a sense of belonging. These initiatives were informed in response to  student feedback in the Postgraduate Research Experience Survey (PRES) and drew on funds provided by Research England targeted at improving research culture.

These activities and events were all well-attended by students and staff and many students have said that they were helpful in developing a better understanding of the research being done in different groups and departments, and especially in developing a sense of feeling part of something bigger. They were certainly a refreshing return to the in-person experience after the long break caused by COVID-19.

I would like to thank all those who have helped organise these activities and events. These initiatives, and the many others that have been put on to help enhance our research culture, have given us a useful foundation to build upon. I look forward to attending similar activities this year, including the Doctoral Research Showcase, which is being organised by the Doctoral College and will be held in June 2023.

Best wishes, Sarah.

Initiatives developed in 2022 in response to the Postgraduate Research Experience Survey (PRES) using Research Culture funding

The School of Management organised a series of four seminars where senior Professorial staff were invited to talk about their early careers, and progression through their academic life. Each session included a Q&A session with the PhD students. Discussions also took place regarding publishing in journals, choosing publishing partners etc.

The Faculty of Humanities and Social Sciences organised a mixture of department-specific and cross-Faculty events last summer. These included departmental workshops involving students and staff followed by an afternoon event where new research groupings were discussed; writing retreats with writing exercises and interactive sessions run by staff; a department conference with student presentations, keynote speakers and workshops, followed by a social event; sessions for professional doctorate students on creating an online interactive environment; and a Research Day with presentations from students and staff. These department- or programme-level activities were followed by an informal faculty-wide evening gathering.

A Doctoral Symposium was held in the Faculty of Engineering & Design on the theme of ‘Towards a Zero Carbon Future’. This was a student-led event with a keynote speaker, Professor Keith Clarke, a leading advisor on sustainable development within the global infrastructure and construction sector, followed by student presentations and poster sessions. Prizes were awarded for the best presentations. The day finished off with a creativity session led by ‘Hot Poets’, who describe themselves as ‘a creative endeavour that aims to uncover and powerfully communicate the scientific truths about climate change’, with a challenge for students to write a haiku that conveyed the science, motivations and emotional implications of their research in relation to climate change.

In the Faculty of Science, Research Culture funding was used to support a faculty-wide doctoral research event as well as activities in individual departments. Feedback from doctoral students indicated that they would particularly welcome the chance to learn about research activities from their colleagues in other departments, and so the Faculty held a doctoral research afternoon event where all doctoral students in Science had the opportunity to present their research as a poster or as a short talk. Prizes were awarded for the best posters and short talk.

Rosa Kowalewski, a PGR student in Mathematical Sciences who has been employed as a Research Culture Project Support Officer and who was at the event, commented:

The Faculty of Science Doctoral Research Event provided an opportunity for PGR students to network with their peers in other science departments and to find out about their research. The main part of the event was a poster exhibition where 29 posters from all different science departments (Biology, Computer Science, Chemistry, Mathematical Sciences, Pharmacy and Pharmacology, and Physics) were showcasing research across the faculty. In the 'Snap! your doctorate' competition participants could give a glimpse of their project in a single image. A highlight of the day was the presentation by the guest speaker Dr Joanna Jenkinson, GW4 Director. Joanna's inspiring talk showed alternative research-focused career options outside the University, like managing and developing research programmes for research councils. She also gave firsthand tips for PhD students to expand their skillset.

The feedback on the event was very positive and it is hoped that a similar event can be repeated at a Faculty level to provide more opportunities for Science students to foster new interactions and collaborations outside their departments at Bath. The following departmental events also received support from the faculty-allocated funds:

  • Department of Chemistry: Bolland Symposium, a two-day event was run by the Chemistry PG Exec and comprising PG talks and posters and a talk from an inspirational external speaker.
  • Department of Computer Science: Lunch and Lightning Talks gave an opportunity for students to present their research to their colleagues in a three minute presentation format.
  • Department of Physics: held a postgraduate and staff networking event and barbecue.
  • A poster event in Mathematical Sciences that gave new PhD students an opportunity to identify students in higher years with related research interests.

This year the Doctoral College will be organising an institutional-wide Doctoral Research Showcase to celebrate individual and team successes by bringing together our doctoral awards, incorporating our Three Minute Thesis competition, and providing a networking opportunity for the doctoral community to expand their networks and raise the profile of their work. This event will be held in June 2023.

Simon Gane, Head of PhD Student Administration, Doctoral College.

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