Doctoral School

Researcher Engagement Project

A group of doctoral researchers joined us on the 22nd October to contribute to our Researcher Engagement Project, led by the Students’ Union in partnership with The Student Engagement Partnership (TSEP).  The project is funded by the Higher Education Funding Council for England, and is the first of its kind focussing on doctoral researcher engagement.

The first stage of the project took the form of a workshop that TSEP consultants delivered for interested doctoral researchers, to gain an understanding of how doctoral researchers would like to engage with the research community and wider institution, to shape and enhance your environment, and so your voices can be heard within institutional decision-making. It was a stimulating day, with lots of interesting discussion and ideas. The group discussed some of the challenges of doctoral research, such as:

  • Challenges of space- accessing study and communal spaces for doctoral researchers
  • Opportunities to discuss and debate research ideas varied, depending on your school
  • Relationships with supervisors- difficulties of matching expectations of this relationship
  • Adjusting from taught programmes to research study
  • Getting settled (finding accommodation, adjusting to life in a new town/country)
  • Accessing funding for doctoral research
  • Accessing timely research methods training
  • Prioritising the range of training and development opportunities, problems with clashing events
  • Finding/knowing the right people to talk to
  • Tensions of staff/student identity

Many of these issues have also been raised through the Postgraduate Research Experience Survey which took place earlier in the year (see recommendations). Doctoral researchers were then invited to consider how they would like a voice within the research community. This led to some interesting discussion around existing feedback mechanisms:

  • Doctoral reps- all Schools have a doctoral rep who they can alert to issues impacting their doctoral experience. The group felt however, that reps often become overwhelmed in dealing with issues around space and teaching, and are unable to make progress in other areas (such as helping to develop doctoral researcher communities)
  • University response to feedback- the group expressed frustration with slow progress, particularly on the issues of space and teaching
  • Annual review- Members of the group noted that they gave feedback through the annual review process, but were not clear that this was acted upon
  • Related to this, the group felt that once you had raised an issue with the right person (once you had established who this should be), it was often necessary to follow up; there is a lack of confidence in any responding action if not followed up.
  • Many doctoral researchers are part-time and have a professional career, or previous professional experience to draw upon, but this is often overlooked. More widely, doctoral researchers have high level skills and experience, and the group felt this was not recognised or utilized by the University.

The following recommendations arose from the workshop, the list also highlights those responsible for exploring these recommendations and taking forward subsequent actions:

  • Share full Postgraduate Research Experience Survey results and University/School level action plans with doctoral researchers- Doctoral School
  • Establish a regular forum for PGR reps to meet and share experiences, discuss ways they could work together to develop the doctoral researcher community, and form a collective stronger voice for inputting into university decision making – Students’ Union/Postgraduate Officer/Researcher Development Officer (Doctoral School)
  • Raise awareness of the Student Rep Scheme to doctoral researchers, providing examples of changes reps have contributed to -  Students’ Union/Postgraduate Officer
  • In the absence of a social space for doctoral researchers, organize more social and informal events- Students’ Union/Postgraduate Officer/Researcher Development Officer
  • Closer working between the Doctoral School & Student Union/Postgraduate Association- Sharing information on events, cross-promotion in newsletters, Doctoral School dropping in on fortnightly PGA coffee mornings- Students’ Union/Postgraduate Officer/Researcher Development Officer
  • Raise awareness of the Researcher Led Initiative fund as a source of funding for organising research events for discussing/debating research ideas- Researcher Development Officer
  • Raise awareness of doctoral school funding pages and Research Professional database of funding opportunities- Doctoral School
  • Develop guidance on common doctoral challenges, and the relevant sources of support and right people to talk to within Schools/at University level- Researcher Development Officer
  • Invite doctoral researchers with professional career experience to contribute to career development sessions, and assist in development of resources- Researcher Development Officer
  • Explore setting up a database of expertise for doctoral researchers to share/swap skills within the doctoral community- Researcher Development Officer / Postgraduate Officer / PGR Rep group
  • Report back on these recommendations and progress of the project to the PGR Rep group and through Doctoral Connections- Researcher Development Officer / Postgraduate Officer

 

Helen Hampson, Researcher Development Officer

Rose Taylor, Postgraduate Officer, Students’ Union

Doctoral School

E: doctoralschool@sussex.ac.uk
T: 00 44 (0)1273 87 7767