Are you preparing your poster for the upcoming Postgraduate Research Showcase?

Are you preparing your poster for the upcoming Postgraduate Research Showcase? Kirsten Thompson, one of last year’s prize winner’s, offers her thoughts and tips for designing a poster.

Making a good poster, a really good poster, is not as easy as you might think and is an incredibly good skill to acquire. Think about attending large conferences with 4,000 delegates and hundreds and hundreds of posters. Do you want to spend the time reading the text of every one? Which ones catch your eye? Make you want to stop? Which ones do you walk away from feeling inspired and actually understanding the new discovery?

I found designing my poster for the University of Exeter Postgraduate Research Showcase 2016 a task which forced me to really focus the key findings of my research. I had to distil several years of research into a very small word count. I work on a deep diving oceanic Southern Hemisphere whale which we only very rarely see alive – Gray’s beaked whale. Almost all we know about this species is what we have inferred from genetic analyses. My poster attempted to tell the story of how this research has evolved and how the methods we have used have developed our understanding of the biology of such an enigmatic species.

Secrets of the Dead
Kirsten Thompson’s Winning Poster- Secrets of the Dead: Examining genetic kinship in Gray’s beaked whales

I was absolutely delighted to be the Winner of the STEM category! I am a part-time student also working part-time as well as being a mother to three teenage children. It was incredibly encouraging to have won this award, not only to be the recipient of the Amazon voucher, but also to be given recognition for the time, care and thought spent.

PGR Showcase Display in the Forum

I learned a huge amount and here are the key things that really stand out for me both when I was designing my poster and when I have spent hours floating through aisles of poster boards looking for one that will change my life (or research).

  1. You have less than one minute to capture your reader’s attention. Whose attention are you trying to capture – who is your audience? Make sure that the poster is inviting and the lettering is big enough. An abstract of 200 words is a useful test to make you focus the key findings of your work. Make sure that this abstract is easy to find. If you want the reader to take away key messages, draw the eye to them with bold. At least one good figure that tells your story will be appreciated.
  2. Less is more. Don’t make the poster too busy, it will take too much time to read and make the reader work too hard for the prize.
  3. Enjoy the process. You will learn a lot and if you love your research, let this joy flood out onto the page with some creative flair!
  4. Ask for advice from your co-authors. They also know your research and will probably have presented many posters in their time. The final decisions are yours, but if co-authors are willing to give advice you may learn something.

The University of Exeter Postgraduate Showcase is a valuable opportunity to trial your skills in presenting your research to a cross-disciplinary audience. You don’t have to win a prize to learn something and if you enter every year throughout your degree you will certainly hone your skills. It also gives you an opportunity to talk to people who know nothing about your work. Acquiring this skill will be critical as you present to much larger audiences and develop your career, whether in academia or not.

Written by: Kirsten Thompson- College of Life Environmental Sciences

This year’s showcase will take place all day 15th-17th May in the Forum Street, with prize ceremony on Wednesday 17th May starting at 14:00. For further information about the Postgraduate Research Showcase and to view previous winning posters visit the website here.

Why should I enter Three Minute Thesis?

An 80,000 word thesis would take 9 hours to present

Your time limit…3 minutes

Three Minute Thesis (3MT®) is an academic research communication competition developed by The University of Queensland (UQ), Australia. Run in the UK by Vitae, 3MT® challenges doctoral candidates to present a compelling spoken presentation on their research topic and its significance in just three minutes.

We held our first 3MT® competition last year, with our winner Simon Dickinson going on to represent Exeter in the National Semi-final. Here’s why Simon thinks you should enter 3MT®:

I found the 3MT® competition an incredibly valuable experience – not only in further developing my public speaking skills, but in giving me space to think about actually what I’m trying to achieve. It’s always difficult during the PhD period to take the time to return to articulating your core intentions, but in designing my 3MT presentation I was given space to do this in a way that also developed my communication and engagement skills….Most of all, however, it’s good fun – and if you treat it as such then I think your presentation (and research) comes across in a much more powerful way!

You can watch Simon’s fantastic 3MT® here for inspiration!

We are holding an internal 3MT® competition to determine who will represent the University of Exeter in the 2017 National Semi-Finals. Heats will take place throughout May 2017, culminating with a University Wide Final on 30th May 2017. A total of £600 Amazon Vouchers will be awarded as prizes for 1st, 2nd and 3rd place. To enter, simply submit your online application form by Friday 7th April at 5pm!

Anarchy in the academy: why create an academic poster?

Academia is an institution predicated on convention. The choreography of our words, actions and – dare I say it – ‘outputs’ is implicitly shaped by the historical establishment. As well, of course, as by contemporary agendas: the need to publish; to be measurable; impactful; REFable. Typically, we operate in sentences and paragraphs, charts and graphs, chapters or papers. Images are often secondary, whilst for some they are a seemingly unaffordable luxury.

The academic poster is a form of knowledge communication which explodes the boundary walls of academic convention, opening up a space for alternative forms of expression. Prose is often ousted, or at least demoted, as shapes and forms, space and image shoulder the semiotic load.

The academic poster is an act of liberation – perhaps even peaceful protest. Not only for the researcher, but for his or her research. In our thesis we all tell the story of our research, except it’s not the story; it is merely a story: the tale we choose to tell as we navigate our way along the doctoral path: through supervision meetings, conferences convening colleagues, and chapter revisions, towards the Mecca to which all PhD students are directed: the successful viva. Subverting the linear constraints of the thesis, the academic poster provides a stage upon which an alternative research narrative may unfold.

It is for the reasons above that I was drawn, some months prior to the submission deadline, to start planning an academic poster for last year’s postgraduate research showcase. I understand the constraints within which we as scholars must operate, and I know how to do so. Yet I am of an academic generation that is hungry for change, for opportunities to express, communicate and engage in the research process in new and innovative ways, a generation that has not been in the game for long enough to believe that change is not possible.  The postgraduate researcher showcase provided me with a platform upon which to enact my frustration with the academy simultaneously with my belief in the power and value of alternative mediums of academic expression.

What is more, I don’t know about you, but I have to do a lot of reading and writing as a PhD student. Creating a poster gave me a break from obsessing over paragraph, chapter and thesis structure, as I was forced to think about colour and composition. It also made me feel good knowing that I was creating something that others would be able to engage with without having to burrow into line-crossing, multi-clausal sentences.

Creating an academic poster enabled me to see my research differently. Simple as. It also forced me to think about how to make my research interesting to an audience that isn’t composed of geeky linguists like myself. It required me to take off my academic blinkers and think about my research from a real world perspective. I have benefited from the activity, as has my research. I can’t really comment on the effects it might have had on others, although it did win the prize for most innovative poster, so I must have done something right. Which is interesting in itself, because what I did was cover my poster with actual swatches of wool. And the judges voted for it. Which goes some way to proving the point above: that there is power and value in alternative forms of academic communication.

So my advice would be to do two things: become proficient at operating within the rules, but also know how not to. Disrupt the norms, push the boundaries and challenge conventions, because that, dear colleagues, is what academia is really all about.

Sarah Foxen- College of Humanities

You can view Sarah’s and other winners posters here.

Training and Development this week for PGRs – 27th March 2017

This week, we are running the following courses for PGRs which still have places:

Event Date Time Campus Booking?
Preparing for your Viva WEBINAR 27/03/2017 1100-1200 Online Book your place through My Career Zone here for Exeter and here for Cornwall.
Job Interview Techniques 28/03/2017 1000-1200 Streatham Book your place through My Career Zone here.
Researchers in Schools Recruitment Event 29/03/2017 1300-1400 Streatham Book your place through My Career Zone here.

Want to know what other training and development is available? Browse our Events on My Career Zone under Researcher Development Exeter or Researcher Development Cornwall.

Are you a distance student? Or don’t have enough time to leave the library or lab? Then access our wealth of online training resources, including elearning courses, WEBINARs and much more here.

Destinations of Leavers in HE (DLHE)

The Destinations of Leavers from Higher Education (DLHE) survey collects information on what all leavers from higher education (HE) programmes are doing six months after qualifying from their HE course. The below data is from the 2014-2015 DLHE data on PGR graduate destinations – it should give you an indication of where our PGRs work after completing their doctoral studies with us.





Career Profile – Dr. Tracey Sara Sweet

Name: Dr. Tracey Sara Sweet

Current Role: Head of Science at Brixham College

PhD Subject and Graduation Year: Chemistry – 2001

First job/employer following PhD:

Institute of Cancer Research

What were your reasons for your career choice, including why you left, or stayed in, academia?

When I finished my PhD I was unsure about continuing my career in research. I felt a little unfulfilled working in a research laboratory and I was not sure if this was because I had become disinterested in my PhD research or whether it was research as a whole. I took up a post-doctoral position at the Institute of Cancer Research because I was very interested in the work and I thought that this would enable me to really make a difference through the research I was doing rather than carrying out research for the purpose of Chemistry itself.

How many jobs have you had since completing your PhD?

Since completing my PhD I have had 3 jobs and about to commence my fourth.

Could you briefly describe your career path?

After completing my PhD I worked as a post-doctoral research scientist with the Institute of Cancer Research. I worked in the Cancer Research UK laboratories and I was involved in drug discovery and optimisation. After working there for 18 months I began to realise that the aspects of the job I most enjoyed were training graduate and PhD students and presenting my research findings. I had always thought about teaching as a possible career path for me so I decided to go back to Exeter University to gain a Post-Graduate Certificate of Education in Secondary Science (Chemistry). Upon successful completion of this I took up a teaching post at Okehampton College where I worked as a Teacher of Science before being appointed to Head of Chemistry. I stayed in this job for six years before moving to South Devon College, which is a college of further and higher education. This role involved teaching Chemistry to A Level, Access to HE, BTEC and GCSE students. I also taught Biochemistry to foundation degree students and I was the Chemistry lecturer and admissions tutor for the BSC Extended Science (Year 0) course. Typically I would work with students of age 16-adults. During this time I was also involved in some research work with the University of Bath. I am about to start work with Brixham College in September. I have taken up a position of Head of Science with them.

What does your current job involve on a day to day basis (briefly)? Any highs and lows, skills needed and developed?

Day to day my job involves teaching science, chemistry and environmental studies to students of 11-18 years. I also manage the running of the science department and ensure that teaching and learning is of a good to outstanding standard; monitor the progress of students; communicating with parents; reporting of department and student progress and performance management of department staff. The highs of the job are working with young people and making a difference in their lives. To be successful in this you need to be determined and have resilience. Working in education can be extremely demanding emotionally and physically. It can take up a lot of your own time if you want to do an excellent job. You have to be prepared to make some sacrifices but also be aware that that you still need to build in time for yourself and family.

Do you have any key messages to current PhD students, particularly any looking for a career in your field?

Get some experience in fields that you think you might be interested in. There is no substitute for trying out something to see if it is the path for you. Do not rush into a career path; take your time after completing your PhD before committing yourself. Personally, it would have been better for me to get a temporary job to earn money and give me some time to consider all my options.

Could you share any tips on effective CVs/Job applications/Interviews for entering your chosen career?

Tailor your CV/application to each job you are applying for; use words from the person specification in the advertisement in your application; read examples of CVs and applications; be succinct; support any statement you make about your skills with specific examples.

For interviews look at example questions and practice your answers. Read through your application before the interview and try to think of more examples of the skills and qualities you have. Think about why you want the role you have applied for and what you can bring to the role.

Do you know of any useful sources of information/vacancies for careers in your field?

The best place to look for education vacancies and information is For general information about careers I found very useful.

Have you any general tips for successful career planning and/or career decision making?

It is important to think about your skills and the kind of things that you enjoy doing and the environment you would like to work in. Once in a role, think about how you would like to progress and look for opportunities to gain experience in different aspects of the role.

Career Profile – Dr. Daniel Holdaway

Name: Dr. Daniel Holdaway

Current Role: (as at 2013): NASA Global Modeling and Assimilation Office.

PhD Subject and Graduation Year: Mathematics – 2011

What were your reasons for your career choice, including why you left, or stayed in, academia?

I wanted to continue my research into numerical weather and climate prediction. My current job is an academic government hybrid. It’s a research position with an emphasis on publishing work but without teaching. I enjoyed the academic environment but I left to take a great opportunity. In hindsight it was easier to find this kind of position than something academic, especially since I’d had limited teaching experience throughout my PhD.

How many jobs have you had since completing your PhD?


Could you briefly describe your career path?

After finishing undergraduate I enrolled in a Masters and then a PhD. My research field is numerical weather prediction and I worked closely with the Met Office throughout graduate school. After completing my PhD in 2010 I briefly worked as a postdoc at Exeter University, in partnership with a local company building a prototype wind turbine. The work concerned the use of computational fluid dynamics to determine the optimal position to place the wind turbine, based on local wind flow. A secondary goal was to model the wind stress on the turbine. In early 2011 I moved to Washington DC, USA and began working at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center. There I am attached to the data assimilation group and am working on the use of satellite observations of clouds and precipitation to improve weather predictions. Our goal is to improve the data assimilation system so that we can make use of state of the art satellites such as the upcoming Global Precipitation Measurement mission. These instruments will provide very detailed information about clouds but current limitations in weather models prevent their proper use.

What does your current job involve on a day to day basis (briefly)? Any highs and lows, skills needed and developed?

My day to day work is very similar to a PhD, except with a few more meetings! Most of my time is spent on my central project. For the most part I am left to my own devices and report to various advisors every 2 weeks or so, or when I am stuck with something. There are around 20 people working in our group and we support each other quite a lot. I spend around 15-20% of my time publishing work, preparing for conferences or preparing internal reports. As with any research project there are highs and lows when ideas either work or don’t work and you constantly need to learn to deal with this and get past it. I have had to learn a lot of skills related to running the weather model and scripting when using a super computer. These are not skills that I was able to develop during my PhD since it was theoretical but are skills many PhD students from the US come armed with. As a result it was quite a fast learning curve.

Do you have any key messages to current PhD students, particularly any looking for a career in your field?

Learn as much as you can when doing your PhD. Don’t get hung up on doing something ground-breaking, see it as a learning exercise. Most of my PhD didn’t work and it was very frustrating at times. But I made it through; got it written and now everyday I rely on techniques and skills that I learnt. When looking for jobs don’t be afraid to apply for anything! Often I feel organisations are just looking for smart people and will hire around the positions advertised and even create positions. They’re looking for someone that can learn something new quickly and independently.

Could you share any tips on effective CVs/Job applications/Interviews for entering your chosen career?

Google is your friend! You can also ask your PhD advisor or other more senior people in your department for help and examples of CVs. There are lots of differences between the CV you write for different jobs/fields so it can be hard to provide general help.

Do you know of any useful sources of information/vacancies for careers in your field?

Metjobs is a mailing list run from Reading University that’s very good. Also climlist in the USA. Mathjobs and are quite good if you’re looking for something academic. Another good one is Apply for general post doc programs, e.g the NASA post doc program. There are literally thousands of potential opportunities. And even if you don’t get it you might make a connection that helps you get something else, that’s how I got my job at NASA anyway.

Have you any general tips for successful career planning and/or career decision making?

I’ve never really say down and made a formal career plan and my plans certainly fluctuated throughout my PhD (probably because of choosing an impossible project!). I think with academia/research you have to be quite flexible. Never miss an opportunity to make connections. Go to conferences and introduce yourself to people who work in your field.

Career Profile – Dr. Andrea Day

Name: Dr Andrea Day

Current Role: Senior Operational Analyst

PhD Subject and Graduation Year: Behavioural Sciences – 2012

How did you become interested in the area that you work in?

When I was researching group emotions for my PhD I started developing ideas on self-sacrifice. Why do some people give their lives and suffer horrific injuries for others? This led me to reading a lot about the military and one thing led to another and I was offered a visit to Headly Court (Defence Medical Rehabilitation Centre). A visit led to a contracted placement there, and due to my experiences at Headly Court I have always had a keen interest in close combat and infantry, which is the area much of my work has been dedicated too.

How did you get to where you are today?

From Headly Court I formally joined the Ministry of Defence as a Numerical Scientist by responding to an advert in the “New Scientist”. I worked for over four years on a variety of tasks and projects related to close combat and infantry which involved research into better equipment, medical procedures on the battlefield, mental and physical health. I was asked to consider joining the Defence Science and Technology Laboratory (Dstl) which I did almost two years ago and now work within the Close Combat and Analysis Team (CCAT).

What does your current role involve any skills and/or personal qualities needed?  

My role predominately involves problem solving. I will have a Customer (Military or Civilian) who believes they have a problem, question or requirement. My first course of action is to define the what (problem, question, or requirement), then start planning the how (what has been done before, what is in scope of the research, what is out of scope, where is the risk, what resources are required, what are the timelines), then carry out the research and write it up in plain English! Brief the customer with the findings and answer any questions. In many ways, the same skills that are demonstrated in a good academic are what are needed for my role. I have found undertaking a PhD and utilising the transferrable skills invaluable. However, you also need to be able to work under considerable pressure with a fair amount of responsibility. Team work is essential and understanding delegation. Building and maintaining relationships and ensuring people have confidence in your decision making abilities are vital. Finally, being an effective communicator and having a good memory when you are put on the spot by someone senior is also beneficial!

What do you enjoy most about your role?

I enjoy working alongside the Military either in the field or in the office but with far more autonomy than is granted to Military serving personal. I enjoy travelling to destinations I would otherwise not have seen and meeting people whose lives are vastly different to mine. I get to play with new technology and equipment, conduct field trials and learn new scientific techniques and methods. My work is complex, challenging and vast. My work is always varied and requires flexibility and the ability to adapt to changing events quickly. When things are tough it’s good to know that my team and I make a positive difference to the situation we are involved in.

Are there any things that are not so good?

The work can be stressful as the responsibility you are given and tight deadlines can add pressure. The salary is terrible and the work days can be very long!

Has anything surprised you about your role?

Nothing has surprised me about my role, though I am always surprised when asked by old University friends “well wouldn’t you prefer to do something else?” The honest answer is no! No other job would give me the challenges and experiences this one has given me. When I want to sample a different area or try something else, I take the opportunity to move within a diverse organisation and try another area of Defence.

What key tips would you give to any students who might be considering entering a similar field today?

  • Check the eligibility criteria for working in the Ministry of Defence;
  • Check the Civil Service job site;
  • Why not try a University student placement opportunity with Dstl?
  • When applying for a job, ask yourself do you meet and can you provide evidence of the job criteria asked for? Evidence does not need to be military experience, draw on your research experience, work experience and other transferrable skills;
  • Before interview, ask yourself why do you want to work in Defence or the particular area of Defence you are applying for?
  • Do you understand anything about UK Defence and Security policies?
  • If unsuccessful, ask for feedback from the selection/interviewing panel.

Career Profile – Dr. Nicky King

Name: Dr Nicky King

Current role: Director of Studies for Natural Sciences, Senior Lecturer (E&S) in Biosciences at the University of Exeter

PhD Subject and Graduation Year: Chemistry, 2005

What is your disciplinary and educational background?

BSc Chemistry with European Study

PhD Chemistry

I am a Senior Fellow of the Higher Education Academy

What made you decide to become an academic?

I didn’t really, I just fell into it. An opportunity to do some chemistry teaching at the university opened up just as I finished my PhD. I knew I wanted to stay in science but hadn’t found the right post-doctoral position. It also worked for me personally as my boyfriend, now husband, was working in Exeter.

What has been your career path/trajectory to date?

I was an associate teaching fellow for two years before being promoted to teaching fellow in 2007. In 2010 the structure for those mainly involved in teaching here at Exeter changed and I was promoted to senior lecturer in the education and scholarship job family. The University has changed almost beyond recognition over the last 11 years and I’ve been in the fortunate position to be able to shape some of those changes and forge a career path which simply didn’t exist when I started. One of the things I’m most proud of is my involvement in the establishment of the education and scholarship job family to replace teaching fellows, which improves progression for those who are mainly involved in education and leadership of education and also raises our profile within the institution, putting us on a level playing field with the more typical education and research academics.

I’ve been involved in a number of scholarship activities over this time, in addition to a significant teaching load. I coordinate the schools liaison and widening participation activities for Biosciences, am engaged in pedagogic research around the transition from school to HE and also on the use of technology in learning and teaching. I’ve also been senior tutor in Biosciences and am now the Director of Studies for Natural Sciences, which is a new programme seeing our first graduating students this July.

What are the good bits about being an academic?

I love working with our students. Despite it sounding a bit corny I love making a difference to the students and hopefully passing on to them some of my enthusiasm for science and fascination with chemistry. I find work a much more boring (though less stressful!) place in the long summer holiday as it seems such an empty place without the students around. I think it’s easy for academics to become caught up in the stresses and administrative frustrations and forget how lucky we are that we get to pursue things which we’re really interested in and which excite us. It’s also a very flexible job and in many respects you have much more control over both your career trajectory and on your day to day work in academia than in many other jobs. You don’t have people telling you which bits of your subject you have to read, research and write about, you can follow your interests and academic curiosity. There’s also, in my experience, good flexibility for working at home and childcare responsibilities.

What are the bad bits about being an academic?

There are periods of a lot of pressure and at times an awful lot of admin, however particularly in E&S these are fairly predictable based on the academic cycle, which does make them easier to deal with.

Having said that academia can be family friendly and flexible this is often not the case early in your career where you will probably have many short term contracts which is really hard and can make it difficult to settle. I was very lucky that I was able to remain at Exeter and got a permanent contract fairly quickly but that’s certainly not true for many.

Do you have any tips or advice for PGRs seeking a career in academia?

Remember that you don’t have to work 100 hours per week in order to be successful, it seems that there’s a lot of pressure amongst PGRs and ECRs to work late into the evening and at weekends, but if you have a life way from the bench you’ll be more productive and happier when you are at it.

Learnt when it’s expedient to do something ‘extra’ and when to say no. There are lots of committees, focus groups and additional roles which will impact upon your research and for which there’s very little material reward, however some of these are worth doing because they increase your visibility within a department/institution and can lead to valuable networking opportunities. Similarly learn to say no when you’re too busy and there’s little reward, you have to be a little selfish with these things occasionally.

Career Profile – Dr. Mike Beer

Name: Dr. Mike Beer

Current Role: Head of Modern Foreign Languages and Classics, Exeter College

PhD Subject and Graduation Year: Classics – 2008

How did you become interested in the area that you work in?

Became interested in teaching after teaching as a postgraduate.

How did you get to where you are today?

Post PhD, I taught modules at the University of Exeter, the Open University and Exeter College. I took my PGCE and continue to combine teaching with research.

What does your current role involve, any skills and/or personal qualities needed?  

Besides my subject knowledge, my current managerial role involves time management skills, the ability to manage people and to delegate, chairing meetings and liaison with outside organisations.

What do you enjoy most about your role?

The opportunity to engage with my subject area.

Are there any things that are not so good?

Paperwork and pastoral duties for tutees.

Has anything surprised you about your role?

I never thought I would end up being involved in managerial activities and have resisted a move to this area in the past, but I find I enjoy it, it is challenging and I enjoy it.

What key tips would you give to any students who might be considering entering a similar field today?

Don’t be put off by the horror stories about teaching in the press. It’s much better than it is portrayed but you do have to make sure that you carve out a work/life balance.