Reflections on supporting our doctoral students

Posted in: academic support, mental health and wellbeing, postgraduates, staff development, students' union, support

Recently, I was pleased to see Oli Schofield receive well-deserved recognition for the work he is doing with our doctoral community, enhancing researcher development resources, and creating innovative new initiatives. Well done to Oli and everyone involved across the university.

This caused me to reflect on my own experiences as both a doctoral student and a supervisor and the challenges doctoral students may face here in Bath and across the sector.  Some common challenges resonate across both the taught and doctoral spheres, such as meeting deadlines, a demanding workload, and external pressures like work, family or health which can all have an impact. However, there are some challenges which are often doctoral-specific, such as independent working, shifting deadlines, uncertainty about each stage of the PhD, as well as maintaining a positive working relationship with your supervisor.

When I think back to when I first supervised doctoral students, the amount of training and development opportunities for supervisors was very limited as was the specific support for students. Both have grown significantly over recent years here at Bath.  Refamiliarizing myself with the Support for doctoral students webpages highlights that trying to resolve challenges as early as possible is always the best approach. For supervisors and their students this can sometimes feel overwhelming, but it is important to remember that there are many support mechanisms across the university.

While a doctoral student’s supervisor is generally their first port of call with any challenges, this can sometimes be challenging, especially if they do not feel 100% comfortable speaking to their supervisor about an issue. Instead, they could speak to a contact in the Doctoral College, another member of their supervisory team, or the Director of Studies for PGR students in their department or faculty.

There are also lots of options outside the academic and Doctoral sphere depending on the issue. Student Support Advice are always a good starting point and can help signpost to a variety of support services, or help students link in with specialist wellbeing and therapeutic services. The wider Student Support teams also offer specialist Disability and Money Advice appointments. Plus, if a student is away from Bath (and potentially undertaking research in another time zone!) they can always access the 24/7/365 Be Well-Talk Now service.

For specific issues around harassment, bullying, discrimination and sexual misconduct then Support & Report is our recommended route, and gives students (and staff) the option to report something anonymously, with their contact details, or through a person they trust.

It is also important to recognise that a student might want to get independent advice from someone outside the University, or outside their academic department. In these circumstances the SU Advice team are vital, as well as our PGR Independent Advisors who are appointed by Senate.  The Independent Advisor Service for Postgraduate Research Students is not normally a doctoral student’s first port of call as hopefully they can resolve issues as soon as possible with their supervisor or one of the teams mentioned above. However, they provide a vital service in advising PGRs around doctoral-specific difficulties, such as challenges or conflict with supervisor(s), progression at confirmation and viva, appeals and complaints, and dignity & respect issues. They also run the training session for PGRs, 'Supervising your supervisor and your PhD experience' which can be booked through the Doctoral College.

If you’re a supervisor who wants to up their skills on student wellbeing, signposting, professional boundaries, and responding to student disclosures, then remember to complete the mandatory Pastoral Support and Safeguarding Training provided by the Student Policy & Safeguarding team. Or if you are an experienced academic member of staff who feels like you have the skills to be an Independent Advisor then we are recruiting now. Hit the link below to find out more!

Posted in: academic support, mental health and wellbeing, postgraduates, staff development, students' union, support

We are recruiting an Independent Advisor for Postgraduate Research Students


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