3 Minute Thesis- What made me enter!

Elisabeth is a final year PhD student studying astrophysics. In her research she aims to detect planets orbiting other stars, and understand how these interact with debris dust – similar to the Asteroid and Kuiper belts in our own solar system. When not worrying about writing a thesis, she enjoys running and playing the flute.




I’m in the unusual position of having given three minute pitches of my PhD four times: twice with the University’s Three Minute Thesis competition, and twice through a similar Three Minute Wonder competition run by the Institute of Physics. I was lucky enough to compete in the Three Minute Wonder final, where we spoke at the Royal Institute in London. Having grown up watching the RI Christmas Lectures I was pretty star-struck by that experience – and it’s not every day that you get to speak on the same stage where Faraday and Dirac have delivered lectures.

I would definitely recommend this competition to anyone, since it’s a really unique and exciting way to be able to share your research. For me there have been several clear benefits.

Firstly, it’s opened doors: I’m passionate about science communication, and I’ve been offered science communication opportunities as a direct result of these competitions. In September the IoP invited me to spend a week touring the South West and visiting schools to deliver science talks: I delivered 16 talks, to over 1000 kids, and had a brilliant time in the process. I was also invited to give an academic seminar at Bristol by someone who had seen my 3 minute piece, which is of course useful for forging academic connections.

Secondly, it’s a huge confidence builder. The competition feels like a very high pressure form of presentation because of the precise time limit (and the huge clock!). The first time I performed a pitch, I literally froze in on stage and my brain went blank. That was pretty horrible experience – but by repeatedly going through the process I’ve become much more comfortable presenting my science, which has been hugely beneficial at conferences and when giving seminars. If I had to freeze somewhere, I’d much rather it be at a relatively low-stakes competition like Three Minute Wonder than at a conference where there might be potential employers in the room!

I love my research, and I love talking about all things exoplanets – and events like this have given me more understanding of what the public do and don’t know about my field, and how I can simultaneously make my subject accessible and avoid dumbing it down. I really value that this means I can speak about my work in a more casual setting, and that my friends and family can start to understand what I do with my time. I am also excited by research more generally, and watching the other competitors – and talking to them afterwards – was a fascinating overview of some of the diverse research happening across the university – from microchips to autism.

Finally, I recently had a postdoc interview where the opening question was “So how about you just give me a two minute summary of your research so far?”. Interviews terrify me, and this one was at a very highly ranked university so I was definitely feeling the pressure – but I think managed to get garble a decent two minutes out, and I’m sure that my Three Minute Thesis and Three Minute Wonder experiences helped me to do so. And you know what? I got the job.

Written by: Elisabeth Matthews

Images of Research: Tea Ceremony

In 2016, I was a Category Winner in the Images of Research competition with the photograph entitled “Tea Ceremony”, which came under the category heading, ‘Society and Culture’. My second entry, “A Life Left Near Behind”, was also featured in the public exhibitions, in the Sustainable Futures category.

Tea Ceremony- Anastasia Sommerville-Wong

“Tea Ceremony”, is an example of the ‘tangification’ of under-represented and often intangible heritages, such as the blended inheritances, experiences and identities of mixed race children. As a researcher (at the time in intellectual property law), writer and photographer, I combined these skills to create an image which would capture the power of visibility, dissemination and copyright when it comes to protecting cultures and peoples who are frequently under-represented or misrepresented in the mainstream media. I am pursuing an academic career in creative writing but my background is in history, and I remain deeply committed to rediscovering and promoting the understanding of lost and under-represented histories, through creative exhibitions and publications which can help to debunk myths, undermine stereotypes and open our minds.

I am therefore passionate about the imaginative creation and curation of digital cultural and heritage content for educational purposes. While editing my first novel, I am exploring in particular, how literary fiction may be engaged with in new ways, using the latest in digital technologies and design. I am also interested in how it can simultaneously entertain, enlighten and inspire us towards healthier and more sustainable cultures and environments. I am fascinated by the ways in which our received cultural heritage, including that which is conveyed in literary fiction, journalism and other forms of creative writing, gives us our sense of identity and purpose, resulting in our differing beliefs and visions of what constitutes ‘the good life’ or ‘the good society’.

A Life Left Near Behind- Anastasia Sommerville-Wong

Both images were originally taken for my research-inspired arts initiative, which aimed, through collaboration between researchers, independent artists and the creative industries, to communicate research data, discoveries, questions and insights in new and exciting ways that will have more impact on policy-makers and the wider public than traditional publications. “A Life Left Near Behind” is a photograph of an installation I created with a poem I originally wrote for my Poetry of Places project. The project explores the ways in which we interpret and are formed and transformed by the natural environments we experience. The project uses fusion art-forms to convey the value to be found in earth’s natural environments, particularly the value of these environments for our health and well-being, and frames this thinking from a human rights perspective.

During my three years at the University of Exeter, public engagement and impact were at the heart of my work. I was an Associate Research Fellow at the University of Exeter (2014 – 2017) in the School of Law, working on the Europeana Space Project. This was a high profile, international and multi-stakeholder project funded by the European Commission. I worked in close collaboration with 29+ partners in the creative industries, culture sector and across disciplines in higher education, as well as with independent artists and cultural entrepreneurs. We sought to facilitate the creative reuse of digital cultural content for educational and commercial purposes, job creation and economy boosting across Europe. I was also academic host to an artist in residence for the ACE funded Exeter Enquiries project, and I ran my own Culture-Makers Project in collaboration with the Royal Albert Memorial Museum and Art Gallery, which was funded by a Researcher-led Initiative Award and a School of Social Sciences and International Studies Strategic Discretionary Award.

I am now a researcher at the University of Plymouth, working on the AHRC funded project ‘Imagining Alternatives: Utopia, Community and the Novel 1880-2015’. Impact and public engagement are once again central to my role, as I am responsible for creating and editing content for the project’s webpages, and for organising the workshops, public lectures and initial ‘Feasts for the Future’, in collaboration with our partners at Regen SW, a not-for-profit social enterprise which helps local communities develop ambitious renewable energy and energy efficiency projects.

We tend to look at our communities in the light of the past and all the environmental challenges we face because of it. At the heart of the ‘Feasts for the Future’ project, is the idea that if we look at ourselves from the perspective of possible future communities instead, we will take more positive action in the present. By sharing a meal and telling stories about the ground-breaking renewable energy and energy efficiency projects taking place successfully in our region and around the world, we can develop a realistic and cooperative vision of what our communities could be like in the future. This vision may be more effective than the ever-present threat of destruction and disaster in motivating communities to take on ambitious projects that will transform the way we live. Our project web pages will be live soon, and links to these and further information about my research can be found on my blog at www.somervillewong.wordpress.com.

The Images of Research competition highlights the importance of using different forms of media to capture the interest of those outside your field; across disciplines, across borders, and across industries. Humans are creatures of five senses, and the reality is, no one will want to know about your research, let alone engage with the detail, if the exciting ideas and the potential of it are hidden behind a smokescreen of semantic quibbling and jargon. Academics are increasingly expected to enter into knowledge exchange with other professionals and to reach a wider audience with their research findings, in addition to fulfilling the requirements of traditional academic publications. I believe that if we maintain our accuracy and our integrity, this change can only be a good thing.

Written by: Anastasia Sommerville-Wong

If you are an ECR who wishes to submit an entry to this year’s Images of Research, the deadline is: Sunday 6 May- 23:59 (GMT). Full details about the competition can be found here: http://www.exeter.ac.uk/doctoralcollege/early-career-researchers/imagesofresearch/ 

Fisheries Fun in the House of Parliament

Hi! I’m Katherine Maltby, a PhD student in the Biosciences department here at the University of Exeter. I’m in my final year, working on a project looking at the impact of climate change on fisheries in the south west of the UK. So far, my project has involved producing future projections of climate change impacts on fish stocks, as well as interviewing fishermen to explore their perceptions of climate change and its potential impacts. As part of my PhD I decided to take a break and undertake a placement at the Houses of Parliament to find out more about how scientific evidence is used in policy and decision making. You can find out more about my research adventures on my personal blog: https://fishingforecast.wordpress.com/

For the past three months I’ve been fortunate enough to undertake a fellowship at the Parliamentary Office of Science and Technology (POST), which was sponsored by the British Ecological Society. It’s been a whirlwind of interviewing, writing and all things fish! My fellowship finally culminated with a new POSTnote on UK Fisheries Management that was launched at a packed breakfast briefing attended by many MPs and Peers in Portcullis House on 21st February.

In case you’re wondering what POST or a POSTnote is, let me fill you in. POST is essentially Parliament’s in-house source of science advice, providing independent, impartial and balanced analyses of public policy issues related to science and technology. By doing this, it provides MPs and Peers with information in an accessible and timely way that can help to increase understanding and awareness on often-complex topics. POSTnotes are one of the main mechanisms through which POST provides this information, and these are four-page briefings that summarise current knowledge on a topic. To go about producing one is a well-formulated step-by-step process, normally starting with a desk-based literature review to help develop the scope of the POSTnote and get you up to speed on what topics you’ll cover. For my POSTnote, I had to cover how science advice is generated and used in fisheries management, the UK and EU fisheries management practices currently in place, and the opportunities and challenges for UK fisheries management in the future. With Brexit, a new fisheries policy is currently being developed and so my POSTnote has hopefully been well timed to help inform discussions and debate on these topics.

The next step of producing a POSTnote involves interviewing relevant stakeholders from academia, industry, government and the third sector to get their perspectives and essentially help flesh out the POSTnote. I really enjoyed this part and getting out and speaking to people, although this didn’t help with reducing the number of topics that I wanted to consider writing about!  Finally, and most importantly, after all of this information gathering the writing process begins. As a fisheries scientist myself this was something I struggled with at the start of writing as for me everything seemed important and I felt it needed to be included. As the writing process went on, I realised that this a) simply wasn’t possible and b) wasn’t entirely necessary – in order for people to understand a topic it doesn’t mean they necessarily need to know everything single thing about it. It was my job to tell them the key points, issues and concepts in the simplest and most logical way possible. The POSTnote has to go through numerous reviews before being published including an internal review, external review and final sign-off, in addition to all the drafts in between! It was a tough job but I think I learnt a lot of new skills about how to communicate scientific topics to a policy audience. I then finally launched the POSTnote at a breakfast briefing which I organised to provide an opportunity for MPs and Peers to discuss fisheries and the issues surrounding science and management.

Aside from producing the POSTnote itself, the fellowship was also a great way to learn more about how Parliament works and how evidence is used in decision making. I had a hall pass for the whole Westminster estate which meant I could attend events, debates and anything else that was going on (including getting a pint or two at the infamous Sports and Social Bar!). Some highlights included going to Prime Minister’s Questions, an evidence session for the EFRA select committee’s inquiry on ‘Fisheries’, being involved in a ‘fake parliament’ exercise that was held in a temporary chamber and also attending the annual fisheries debate in the main chamber.

Overall, working at POST was a brilliant experience and I can’t thank the British Ecological Society and POST enough for giving me the opportunity to work there. I would really recommend doing the placement to other PhD students – you can get funding through numerous research councils as well as learned societies. It gave me a whole new perspective on how scientific evidence is used within decision making and the need to communicate this evidence clearly, accurately and effectively. Here’s hoping that this new POSTnote will be useful in informing further debates and discussions on future UK fisheries policy!

Written by: Katherine Maltby (final year PhD researcher in Biosciences)

The Challenges of a Part-Time, Distance PGR Student

Passionate about languages, cultures and international affairs, Anne gained her Bachelors Degree in Modern Languages from Coventry University in 1997 and a Masters Degree in International Relations from the Instituto Universitario Ortega y Gasset in 2002.  In 2005 after four years studying and teaching English as a Foreign Language in Spain, Mexico and France, Anne embarked on a career in software sales.  Her roles involved working with multi-national clients across the EMEA region, predominantly in Europe and the Middle East.  Events in the Middle East over the past few years however, reignited Anne’s interest in this region and a desire to return to academia.   In 2016 therefore, Anne enrolled as a part-time, distance Doctoral Candidate in Middle East Politics at the University of Exeter, where she is furthering her research into the Kurds.  In her free time, Anne loves to play tennis, swim and read as much as possible about the world around us.

In 2015, aged 41, I was feeling unfulfilled. Despite having built a successful sales career in the software industry, I was stagnating from an academic and intellectual perspective. At this time, the Kurds were back in the news as the front line against ISIS in Iraq and Syria.  Since I wrote my Master’s thesis on the Kurds back in 2002, the resurgence of the Kurds in the international media piqued my interest and I started to think about doing a PhD.

It wasn’t the first time I had considered it, but at my age and this stage in my career, it seemed like a ‘now or never’ scenario. By now however, I had a mortgage to pay, so returning to full-time study seemed like an impossible dream. Nevertheless, I started researching PhD’s in Kurdish Studies and came across the University of Exeter.

Having emailed the PGR department, Zoe Humble arranged for me to meet Professor Gareth Stansfield, who suggested that I enrol part-time.  I had never even considered part-time study before. Not only were the fees lower, but also I could still work full-time, which meant I didn’t need to worry about funding or paying the mortgage. No need to relocate either (I live in the North Cotswolds), as only monthly contact is required and this can be via Skype.

I soon realized however, that getting accepted on to the Graduate programme was only the first challenge. Managing a stressful, full-time job that involved travel, combined with the demands of an aging Father and Father-in-Law, who live at opposite ends of the county, soon proved to be the bigger challenge. My job involved spending long hours in front of the computer if I wasn’t on the road. This meant tired eyes that didn’t feel up to more computer-based work in the evenings. On the upside, I got lots of reading done in my first year. As for the actual writing, well, let’s just say I’m playing catch-up and have to be extremely disciplined in my approach to writing.

The other disadvantage of being a distance student is that I often miss out on seminars and workshops. This in turn means that I miss out on the social side of university and don’t often get the chance to discuss my research with anyone. Attending more of the online webinars on offer has helped with this though. Since the sessions are interactive, you get to share your thoughts and opinions with others and hear theirs in return.

It was through one of Kelly Preece’s webinars that I ‘met’ Elsa, another student in a similar position. Together, we’re now starting a Facebook page for part-time, distance graduates to share their experience and make us feel more like part of the student community. You can join our online community Facebook community here. We’d love to hear from more of you about the challenges you face and how you’re overcoming them or if you need help that the university or the community can provide.

Written by: Anne Blanchflower- Middle East Politics PhD researcher

LinkedIn Profile

Why enter PGR showcase?

I completed my Biological Sciences degree here at Exeter, before continuing on into an MbyRes. I undertook a joint project between Dr Helen Dawe and Dr Isabelle Jourdain here in Biosciences, which has now progressed into a PhD funded by the Vice Chancellor’s Scholarship. My project focuses on ciliopathies, a class of severe diseases caused when your cells signalling antennae – called “cilia” – do not form or function correctly. A ciliopathy patient with a mutation in a mystery protein was discovered back in 2012, and it is my mission to figure out how this mystery protein helps to build cilia!

I think I heard about the PGR Showcase from an email newsletter that circulated around the department. My first thought was that the event was probably only aimed at PhD students. After all, I was only a few months into my MbyRes, and figured that I didn’t really have enough data to present. However when I spoke to my supervisors about it, they told me that I could definitely produce a poster from what I had so far, and that it would be a useful exercise in learning how to present my research. So I decided to go for it!

My poster ended up being about 50% explaining the field, and 50% my own results, so I needn’t have worried about not having enough data. The best advice I received from my supervisor was to take out as much subject-specific jargon as I could, keep it simple, and to make the poster as visual as possible. After all, the showcase is a University-wide event, so I needed to convey (in my case) Biological Sciences research in a way that someone who studies English Literature could understand.

I considered the day a useful learning experience, and just assumed that Best Poster would be awarded to a PhD student. So I was very surprised and grateful when I won best STEMM poster, along with a £250 voucher! I think it’s great that the competition is judged not on the amount of results you have, but on your ability to present your research to an audience who are not familiar with your field (or even your discipline!).

As well as presenting your poster, getting to walk around and have a look at all the other entries was a great opportunity to learn about some of the other PG research that is going on across the University. The competition was also good practice – when I had the opportunity to present my results at a national conference later on that year, I not only already had experience making a poster and organising my results into a story, but also more confidence when explaining my research to people I had just met. I’d really recommend applying, even if you’re a Masters student – you’ll get a lot out of the day, and a shot at a great prize!

Written by: Lauren Adams (1st Year- Biosciencse PhD Student)

Twitter: @L_Adams08
LinkedIn: laurenadams08
Email: lauren.adams@exeter.ac.uk

International Women’s Day 2018- Why I got involved?

Skye is working towards a PhD in Biophysics at the University of Exeter. Her research looks at the physical properties of cell membrane and how these affect susceptibility to a parasite toxin, amoebapore. In general, she is interested in parasitology and multidisciplinary approaches to science. In addition to practicing research skills, Skye hopes that she can improve her teaching abilities and contribute towards the postgraduate community during her time at Exeter.

For International Women’s Day 2018 the Doctoral College will be holding an event to showcase the valuable women we have in this research-focussed community. This event is not only important for our community but emphasizes that we are engaged in a global celebration of progress towards gender equality. The first International Women’s Day was in 1911 and it is gratifying to see the changes that have been made. It is a day both to reflect on our progress and to motivate us to continue making changes for the better.

The World Economic Forum 2017 global gender gap report indicated that, as it stands, it will take 200 years to reach gender parity. Therefore, the official theme for International Women’s Day 2018 is #PressforProgress. This theme reinforces the need to keep putting the pressure on to achieve equality. The IWD website urges us to choose one action to #PressforProgress, giving five areas to choose from. My favourite two are to forge positive visibility of women, and to celebrate women’s achievements.

These two actions will be showcased in the Doctoral College International Women’s Day event on Thursday 8th March 2018, 10am – 12 midday. This event will celebrate the contributions from our female and non-binary PGRs and ECRs. We have a fantastic group of women who will present either their own research or their experiences as a female within their field of research.

I have personally involved myself in the organisation and think it will be a great and emotive session. I jumped in because I have previously benefitted from professional development groups designed for women at the University (e.g. Sprint). In addition, as a PGR, I appreciate supportive environments to communicate research, and I realise the importance of role models in a job made up of many self-directed tasks.

We have had confirmations of attendance from invited inspirational senior members of staff. These include Debra Myhill and Kim Soin who will attend and speak at the event. This mix of women from both early and established career stages will provide valuable networking opportunities and better visibility of potential role models.

Alongside the event there will be an online gallery of inspirational female and non-binary PGRs and ECRs who have been nominated by the University of Exeter community. If you are interested please do come along; the event is free! and registration can be accessed through Eventbrite.

Written by: Skye Marshall (PhD Researcher in BioPhysics)
Twitter: @SkyeMarshall1
Research Group Webpage
Personal Research Webpage

Women’s Suffrage: Celebrating the Centenary

Lisa is currently a first year History PhD student and the recipient of the Leverhulme Age of Promises studentship. Her thesis focuses on the parliamentary elections of women candidates in Britain between 1918 and 1931; before coming to Exeter Lisa interned as a historical researcher for a Member of Parliament.

Twitter: @LisaBerryWaite
Eprofile: http://eprofile.exeter.ac.uk/lisaberry-waite

As the 6th February arrived, I turned on my radio that morning to hear the news: the top story – the centenary of votes for women. That day in February marked 100 years since women over 30, who met a property qualification, were granted the vote in Britain. And what a fantastic day it was; for feminists across the country it felt like Christmas! That day we as a nation came together to celebrate this important milestone in history. That day we paid tribute to the suffragettes and suffragists who campaigned tirelessly for the vote, who endured police beatings and imprisonment for their suffrage activities. That day we remembered their heroic stories and celebrated their contribution to gender equality.

Soon after starting my History PhD at Exeter in November 2017, I joined the Exeter branch of the Fawcett Society (Fawcett Devon). The Fawcett Society is the UK’s leading charity campaigning for gender equality and women’s rights, and is named after the suffragist Millicent Fawcett. Gender equality is something I’m incredibly passionate about, initially sparked by my historical research on political women in early 20th century Britain.

Fawcett Devon holds monthly meetings and provides a hub for like-minded people to meet, discuss ideas and promote gender equality in Devon. To celebrate the centenary in local schools, Fawcett Devon at the end of January held its first school workshop at St James school in Exeter. This was the first event I organised as a member of Fawcett Devon, along with Yvonne Atkinson the branch coordinator. As my thesis looks at the parliamentary elections of the women candidates 1918-1931, and I’ve previously done a lot of work on suffrage, I took charge of the historical side of things.

Our Christmas Sash making social

The event was centred around Year 11 students re-enacting the House of Commons suffrage debate from 1917, where MPs debated whether women should be granted the vote. For this I took the original arguments from Hansard (the Official Report of debates in Parliament) and created mock debate for the students to re-enact. Arguments such as ‘women are too emotional and kind to be allowed to vote’ and ‘they would not be able to cope with the double burden of childbirth and politics’ highlighted the prejudice that women faced and the shocking arguments that MPs used.

To provide some background information to the students, I also gave an introduction talk on suffrage and how gender equality is still such a pressing issue today.

The event ended with students debating votes at 16; I was blown away by how passionate students were about this issue, and how engaged they were with the current political situation. It was great to hear their views on a topic that will directly affect them, after all many of the arguments that are used against 16 year olds voting, such as they are not educated enough, were once used against women.

The materials I created for this event have now been put together as a ‘school toolkit’ and been made available by Fawcett national to branches across the country, so similar events can take place around the UK which is very exciting!

This event was a great way to get involved in the local community and to top it off, BBC Spotlight filmed the debate and interviewed me, featuring it on the local news! While the work of Fawcett Devon links to my current historical research, it provides a nice break from my PhD and has allowed me to meet some fab people who are equally as passionate about gender equality. While the centenary day has passed, 2018 still has loads in store to celebrate the suffrage centenary, so why not get involved! For anyone interested in Fawcett Devon, we meet at St Sidwells Community Centre on the second Wednesday of every month, find us on Twitter at @FawcettDevon.

Written by: Lisa Berry-Waite, 1st Year PhD History Researcher