ERIC Conference 2018

On 21st March, the fourth Exploring Research in Cornwall (ERIC) Postgraduate Research Conference was held at the Environment and Sustainability Institute (ESI), Penryn Campus. ERIC is an annual event supported by the Doctoral College but organised by a postgraduate researcher committee.

ERIC hopes to celebrate the quality and diversity of research across the University of Exeter and allows early-stage researchers to attend and become more familiar with a conference environment. It is also an opportunity for PGRs to deliver a talk or present a poster on their research. This year’s themes were: Creative Methods, Changing Worlds and Understanding Nature.

We were delighted to be able to hold ERIC in the ESI and welcomed Professor Juliet Osbourne, Director of the ESI and Chair in Applied Ecology for Exeter University to deliver an opening speech. Ten students then presented talks on their research throughout the day and the breaks provided an opportunity to network and browse the posters. It was fantastic to be able to accommodate talks and posters from students across diverse disciplines, from politics and geology to the Life Sciences.

We also welcomed two keynote speakers from the University. Dr Frank van Veen, Associate professor of ecology and conservation provided an insight into his research on conservation and tourism in Kruger National Park and illustrated how the research from the Cornwall Campus is far-reaching and helping to answer important questions internationally.

Professor David Hosken, an evolutionary biologist and Dean of Strategic Development of the Cornwall Campuses also explained his work on sexual phenotypes, and particularly those associated with sexual selection and sexual conflict. To close the day, David presented his ‘top tips’ for early researchers, including, perhaps most importantly, ‘enjoy it’!

The prize for the best poster was awarded to Mel Weedon: Effects of parental ageing on offspring body mass trajectories in wild European badgers.

The runner up for best poster was Silu Lin: An evolutionary explanation to fertility decline.

The prize for the best talk was awarded to Emma Lou: The home-ranging behaviour of reintroduced orangutans.

The runner up for best talk was Beki Hooper: Killer whales, yellow slime and spa trips: using leftover DNA to elucidate ecologically relevant information.

Overall, the day was a great success and we hope that ERIC can be held again next year. Thank you to all our speakers and to the students who attended or participated and to Sean Meadon and Katie Shanks for acting as judges and providing great feedback on student talks and posters.

Special thanks to Dr Chris Wood and the wider Doctoral College team for their support throughout. Thank you also to the ESI team for allowing us to hold the event in the ESI and their help in making the event a success.

ERIC Committee: Alexandra Gardner (Chair), Ben Phillips, David Sünderhoff, Shari Mang, Thomas Pownall, Angela Hayward, Amina Ghezal, Rachael Smith and Emily Carter.

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

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

Soapbox Science: a celebration and cheer for female scientists, and one of the best experiences I had during my PhD

Isabel is a PhD student in the Complex Disease Epigenetics Group as part of the Alzheimer’s Society Exeter Doctoral Centre. Her PhD focuses on evaluating genomic consequences of Alzheimer’s Disease pathology.



It all started with an application…

I was introduced to Soapbox Science in 2016, a few months after I moved to the United Kingdom to join the University of Exeter as a PhD student. When I first heard about it, I was very happy to find there was such an initiative in place, immediately feeling very enthusiastic about participating in it. Although I was not very confident I would be selected, and was afraid it would be too early in my career to do it properly, I still decided to turn my enthusiasm into an application to be a speaker anyway. To my surprise, my application was successful. I could not put into words my excitement when I read the email telling me I was selected to be a speaker at Soapbox Science Exeter, and little did I know then that it would turn out to be one of the best and most fun experiences I had so far as a PhD student – from the preparation, training, interviews, networking, inspiration from other female scientists, to actually standing in the soapbox per se. From that moment on, Soapbox Science won a very special place in my heart. Even after my involvement as a speaker came to an end, I remained accompanying Soapbox Science closely, always wishing to return and continue being involved. Two years later, Dr Safi Darden and Dr Ana Neves challenged me to join them as organizer of Soapbox Science Exeter and my answer could not have been other than “yes”. The three of us are looking forward to receiving enthusiastic applications for Soapbox Science Exeter 2018 from inspiring female scientists, which can be submitted here.

Exeter Soapbox Science organising team. From left to right: Dr Ana Neves, Dr Safi Darden, and Isabel Castanho.

About Soapbox Science…

Soapbox Science was co-founded by Dr Nathalie Petorelli and Dr Seirian Sumner to increase the visibility of women in science and challenge gender stereotypes about the ‘typical’ scientist. The first Soapbox Science event was held in London in 2011, reaching Exeter for the first time in 2015.

Even today, the public perception of ‘a scientist’ is still that of the male researcher, so initiatives such as Soapbox Science are irrefutably vital to change misconceptions and highlight that women can be (successful) scientists as well. Moreover, science, as many other areas, is still male-dominated, particularly in higher positions. An example of this is that less than 10% of all professors in the UK are women. And the problem does not seem to be related with attracting more girls to science. Although some fields are more unbalanced than others (Maths, Physics, Computer Science, and Engineering, as a few examples of scientific areas with a higher percentage of males compared to females), the major problem seems to be related to career progression, particularly when it involves balancing a successful career with building a family, which can become quite challenging and often impossible for some women. By having an all-female group of speakers, Soapbox Science events aim to raise these issues and promote and encourage female scientists and the science they do. Needless to say male colleagues are more than welcome to join as collaborators and volunteers.

Join us!

Soapbox Science is open to any enthusiastic female scientist, from PhD students to Professors, from academics to industry researchers. Come bring your work to the streets and help us inspire and encourage the next generation of scientists.

Soapbox Science Exeter:
Soapbox Science Exeter on Twitter: #ExeterSoapbox
Soapbox Science website:
Soapbox Science Twitter: @SoapboxScience

Written by: Isabel Castanho- PhD student in the Complex Disease Epigenetics Group as part of the Alzheimer’s Society Exeter Doctoral Centre




Dementia Researcher’s cycle to Paris fundraising for the Alzheimer’s Society

Eilis Hannon is a Bioinformatician in the Complex Disease Epigenetics Group in the University of Exeter Medical School. Eilis’ research focuses on improving our understanding of the molecular processes involved in the development of schizophrenia and other neuropsychiatric disorders. She has an interested in the dynamic nature of human brain development and the way genetic variation influences this process.


About a year ago, 6 researchers from the University of Exeter signed up for the Alzheimer’s Society London to Paris fundraising cycle ride. We all work on different aspects of dementia and have benefited from funding from the Alzheimer’s Society, so this was our opportunity to give something back whilst pushing ourselves beyond our comfort zone of sitting behind our computers, or in our lab coats.

In the spirit of the ride we combined forces when it came to the fundraising and therefore set ourselves an ambitious target of raising £12,000. A few posts on Facebook, Twitter and other social media got us off to a good start but we knew we would need a few traditional fundraising activities to maintain the momentum and interest in our efforts – so we geared ourselves up for a few cake sales. All the cyclists (and many colleagues) got involved with the baking and we offered a wide range of cakes, biscuits and some bespoke themed delicacies including neuron cupcakes and the main event – the brain cake. A classic 3 layer Victoria sponge on the inside, covered in fondant worms and glazed with raspberry jam. It worked well as a centrepiece to draw passers-by in to the stall with some people even willing to try a piece. Across a coffee mornings and 2 cake sales held in the Forum at Streatham, St Luke’s campus and the RILD building we raised more than £1000 towards our total.

With the fundraising in hand, our attention turned to training for the actual cycle. In addition to commutes, quick spins before or after work and extended weekend rides, we also tackled some local Sportives such as the Dartmoor Classic, Jurassic Beast and the Nello. There were sore knees, thighs, close calls with tractors, flat tires, lots of energy bars, jelly babies and unfortunately one broken wrist which meant our six was down to five for the actual event.

The start point was Blackheath Common in South London and early on Wednesday morning, along with 100 other cyclists all raising money for the same cause, we set off to Paris via Dover, Dunkirk, Cambrai and Soissons. The first day was arguably the hardest; busy roads through London, windy lanes with steep up and down stretches through Ken,t and the added pressure over getting to the Ferry on time! Once in France the main challenge was the distance (70-100 miles per day) and hours in the saddle. Personally, I suffered tightness and an ache between the shoulder blades from hunching over the handlebars, although this did distract somewhat from the other side effects of cycling for 8-10 hours. The “hills” in the route were no match for those we had tackled over Dartmoor, Exmoor, Blackdowns hills and Quantocks in our training, and in some ways were the most enjoyable bits. As promised, France truly was a joy to cycle through, with far fewer cars, and the wider more open roads across rolling terrain making for pleasant viewing.  After four days in the saddle, covering 250 miles in the sun, wind and rain, we cycled the final few miles across the cobbles (!) around the Arc de Triomphe and up towards the Champs D’Elsysee en masse, all wearing our blue and red Alzheimer’s Society Jerseys.

Most of the other participants were taking part because someone close to them had, or has Alzheimer’s Disease. The Alzheimer’s Society not only funds scientific research but also helps support patients and their families with small grants, Dementia Cafes, Singing for the Brain® sessions, and Dementia Advisers, Dementia Support Workers and Side by Side volunteers. Most of our fellow cyclists were more familiar with the support and information services that the Society provides, and while they whole heartedly support the research aspect, it is an area they are less familiar with. I think it was mutually beneficial, therefore, for us to hear about individual experiences, spend time and discuss the work we do. As scientists rather than clinicians, we perhaps forget all too easily the reality of having Alzheimer’s for both patients, family and friends. We know the statistics on the numbers affected and the cost to the economy, but this experience, more than anything, renewed our perspective and focus on the ultimate goal of what we do day-to-day. With the proof of our exploits posted on social media, the final donations came flooding in. Combined with all the other riders we raised an incredible £321,066, showing the value of these group efforts in generating momentum and enthusiasm for the cause, which ultimately leads to more donations.

Research in Focus: Mindful Colouring

Chloe Asker is a 1st year Human Geography PhD student, who has just started a thesis entitled ‘Mindful geographies? Towards the therapeutic geographies of mindfulness.’ Her previous Masters work studied adult colouring practises and their relationship to wellbeing.
Twitter: @chloeasker

In February the Doctoral College held a ‘Wellbeing Week’. It was a week full of enriching activities and workshops based around PGR wellbeing. Mindful colouring formed part of the activities taking place on campus. Colouring worksheets were circulated around departments and colleges, and many PGRs spent a blissful moment colouring in-between the lines.

I am excited that the Doctoral College takes mindful colouring seriously, as often it is mocked as a ‘childish’ practice. As a geography student, this teasing is something that’s fairly common. The one joke or comment that stands the test of time is: ‘geography, isn’t that just colouring in?!’ This classic statement is often greeted with a fair amount of eye-rolling and exasperated sighing from the geographers questioned, and for many years during my Undergraduate degree, this had been my reaction as well.

However, during my third year of my degree, I became aware of, and experimented with, a trend in ‘therapeutic’ and ‘mindful’ adult colouring practices. From here, instead of seeing colouring-in as an infantile practice, or as something to be mocked, I wanted to seriously engage with and understand this trend and its implications for wellbeing.

How did I research this?

The main aim of the research was to understand whether colouring is a mindful1 and therapeutic2 practice. To do so, I drew on qualitative methodologies of auto-ethnography and participant ethnography.

My auto-ethnographic practice allowed personal insight into colouring and mindfulness. Since I am not a trained mindfulness practitioner I needed to develop my personal knowledge of the practice. So I spent a considerable amount of time practicing mindfulness and colouring, I then reflected my experiences in a research diary.

The participant ethnography stage took place in a local mental health and wellbeing charity3 where I organised drop-in colouring sessions for clients who accessed the facility. The colouring and meditation sessions were followed by discussion and questionnaires.

What did I find out?

Two main themes came out of this work.

The first was that colouring cultivated an immersive awareness that simultaneously stretched out the moment, by paying close attention to it, but also made it fly by as we entered ‘flow’ (Csikszentmihalyi, 1997). This ‘flow’ space acted like a mental retreat: we were still embedded in everyday life, but we had found a therapeutic and immersive part of the world.

To illustrate this, one participant fed back to the group: “I was so focused and thought of nothing but colouring.”

Here, her colouring practice completely filling her consciousness, taking her away from everyday anxieties and worries. Instead, she was cultivating her attention on the micro-spaces of the page and of her hand-on-the-pencil-on-the-paper in motion. The attention to our bodily rhythms is something that we so often neglect. Colouring allowed this participant to come back to the body, and cultivate a mindful sense of awareness.

Secondly, a couple of participants felt that the colouring was more frustrating than helpful. For example, the minuscule details on the page caused discomfort for people with eyesight difficulties.

“I’ve been sitting there with reading glasses on, and still can’t see, I have to stop when the eyes go, that’s the downside.”

These experiences often lead to the abandonment of the exercise, and were sometimes met with a reluctance to try again. Also, some were hesitant to begin the practice; one participant felt they could not complete the colouring sheet ‘well enough’. Some found a personal pressure to attain a high standard of colouring, as they were measuring themselves against others and critically evaluating their own work.

These brief snapshots have shown that the therapeutic nature of colouring is subjective and multifaceted. For some it is met with a sense of anxiety due to their perceived potential at ‘failing’, or issues of accessing the material. But, for others it really does work, providing them with a retreat and a mindful immersion that is attentive to their breath, body, colouring pencils and the page. Overall, taking these engagements seriously is important to open up discussions about, and share experiences of wellbeing and mental health.


During the Doctoral College’s Wellbeing Week last year, colouring-in flyers and posters were posted around campus, find them here:

Free mandala colouring pages can be found here:

Some recommended colouring books:

Basford, J., 2013. Secret Garden: An Inky Treasure Hunt and Colouring Book. Laurence King Publishing.

Marotta, M., 2014. Animal Kingdom: Colour Me, Draw Me. Lark Books.


1I took a conceptualisation of mindfulness from John Kabat-Zinn’s widely used definition: ‘paying attention in a particular way: on purpose, in the present moment, and nonjudgmentally.’ (Kabat-Zinn, 2016, p. 4). There are many debates around this definition, and its possible simplification of Buddhist practice (for more detailed discussion see: Sun, 2014; Wilson, 2014)

Since becoming a PGR Chloe has set up a regular ‘wellbeing wednesday’ event in the Geography department with Emily Husband. The Doctoral College are supporting Chloe to run a Festive Craft event on Thursday 14th December from 3-4pm in Old Library Rooms 4&5. Come along to make your own research ‘bauble’, and enjoy some tea, coffee, mince pies and chat! You can sign up here.

CEMPS Early Career Researcher Network Conference

Emma is a Research Fellow in the Vibration Engineering Section and an ECRN rep for Engineering.  Her research focus is on active and passive control of human-induced structural vibrations and having designed and commissioned the world’s first permanent active control system for concert-induced vibrations she’s currently developing a smaller, commercially attractive active control system for office floors.


The CEMPS Early Career Researcher Network (ECRN) ran their annual mini conference on Friday 3rd November in the Living System Institute.  The day started off with a lunchtime networking session, followed by introductory talks from Professor Ken Evans, Professor Nick Stone, and Professor Richard Everson.  Attendees were then invited to present to everyone and give a lay summary of their research in a challenging 60 seconds or less!  Following on from this, the poster session commenced and gave researchers a chance to quiz their peers and find out more about some of the great research that’s going on in different research groups and in other disciplines.  The day was concluded with a presentation from Karen Leslie, Head of Researcher Development and Research Culture at the Doctoral College, who also kindly presented awards for best 60 second talk and best poster as voted for by attendees.


Congratulations to Dominique Meyer for best 60-second pitch and runner-up in the poster competition, and to Congping Lin for best poster, both winning Amazon vouchers for their efforts.  Feedback from the day showed that this was a really well received event and very successful in encouraging Early Career Researchers to talk about their research with others in the college.  This was the first of several events to be organised by the CEMPS ECRN group.  Future planned events include an introductory workshop session for how to use LaTeX, as well as a Promotions Workshop, an Interview Panel Workshop with top CEMPS professors and many more! Plus don’t forget, if there’s a specific event that you would like to see run or just want more information, don’t hesitate to get in touch at .

Written by: Emma Hudson- Research Fellow in the Vibration Engineering Section and an ECRN rep for Engineering. To find out more about Emma and her work you can visit her web profile. 


Elevator Pitch

Natalie is a PhD student in the Centre for Doctoral Training (CDT) in Metamaterials. Her research topic is “Graded Index Magnonics” – studying and designing gradually changing refractive indices for spin waves in magnetic materials.

Twitter: @NataliePhysics


Sam is a PhD student in the astrophysics group. His research topic is “Observational Studies of Planet Forming Stars” – where he’s currently studying the disagreement between observations and theoretical models of low-mass, red dwarf stars.

Twitter: @smorrell


We’ve now launched the “Elevator Pitch” video series on the “Physics at Exeter” YouTube Channel – and we’re looking for budding volunteers to do a quick, super-simple explanation of their research to a lay-audience. Two of our former postgrads, Hannah Wakeford and Moncho Raposo, originally came up with this idea a few years ago – and we’ve been keen to reinstate the idea, since we have such a perfect location for it in the Physics tower. We’re keen for the general public, especially young budding physicists, to get an insight into the work we do here, and to see that we’re just a bunch of interesting, mostly normal (!) people who love science!

Another series of videos we’re starting to work on is called “Ask a Physicist / Ask an Astrophysicist” – we’re hoping to get local schools to send us physics questions from their students, and we’ll find an academic (at any level) to respond to them, in a 3 minute (or so) video. This is a fantastic way to inspire the younger generation about physics – we know we’d have been thrilled to have a physics expert answer our questions on a YouTube video!

To top off your helping of videos, we are also offering visiting academics and seminar speakers a chance to discuss their research in our “Guest Lecture” series. For this we want to give a broader view of other work that goes on around the world within physics and astronomy.

We’d really like to thank everyone who has been a part of this up until now, especially those who’ve helped get the channel off the ground. We also hope to advertise for volunteers to take part in either videos, or even help with editing videos / running the channel, on the notice boards in the physics lifts – physicists, please keep an eye out for this if you’d like to be involved!

Written by: Natalie Whitehead and Sam Morrell

Meet Malaka- Vice President for PGRs in the University of Exeter Student Guild

Malaka- Guild President

My name is Malaka Shwaikh, a third-year PhD student in Palestine Studies. I am also thrilled to be elected as Exeter Guild’s first VP for PGR students. Very excited to be working with you to ensure that the University and the Students’ Guild are inclusive and mindful of your needs and experiences. Whenever needed, I also critically hold the University to account, on all matters of postgraduate research-related.

I am responsible for representing your views and needs to the Guild and the University, with well-being, welfare and academic as my focus. I am striving to:

  • Represent issues facing postgraduate research students at the University of Exeter, and encourages the participation of these students in the work of the Guild and the life of the University
  • Ensure that the Guild is effective in its representation of postgraduate research students within the University, and that the organisation is sensitive to the needs of the whole postgraduate community
  • Provide guidance on the Guild’s communication methods, ensuring that all relevant information about activities, support and commercial services is effectively communicated
  • Provide support for the full-time Guild Officers in representing postgraduate research student needs, and where necessary, attends relevant University and Guild meetings

My priorities this year are:

Welfare: the PhD process can be both isolating and exhausting. I plan to work with both the University and the Guild to insure better mental-health tailored facilities are available for PGR students, at all times.

Social: I am working closely with the Postgraduate Society, and working to create a new Research Committee (that you can get involved in!). I want to ensure all students are involved in social activities that are not only good for networking, but also for studying – having reasonable breaks is always the best way to have more effective studying.

Academic: I want to ensure we get the best academic experience, not only as students but also as Postgraduate Teaching Assistants (PTAs), many of whom are struggling with unfair systems like eClaims, which is also on my agenda for review.

I am also currently working on a Research Hub – a safe place to share ideas, ask questions, find relevant details, and hold me to account. I will also be publishing a monthly blog update to tell you what I have been up to, so you can comment and share your thoughts on any of my progress or any setbacks. I’m really looking forward to having some interactive discussion with you all.

To contact me about any PGR-related issues, please email me at

Follow me on twitter: @ExePGR

Professor Andrew McRae shares his reflections on the doctoral journey as incoming Dean of Postgraduate Research

Professor Andrew McRae


Andrew McRae is Professor of Renaissance Studies in the Department of English; and  Dean of Postgraduate Research and the Exeter Doctoral College.



One hundred years of solitude ….?

Those students beginning their journeys towards a PhD this year are doing so precisely one hundred years after the first students enrolled for this degree (or, specifically, the ‘DPhil’) at the University of Oxford. Britain was late to the PhD: Germany had already been offering these higher research degrees since the early nineteenth century, and the United States since the 1860s.

The lack of this degree had not necessarily stunted the pursuit of knowledge in Britain. Charles Darwin, for one, never wrote a PhD dissertation. But perhaps for every Darwin there was an Edward Casaubon: the character in George Eliot’s magnificent Victorian novel, Middlemarch, who ruins not only his own life but years of his young wife’s through his unfinishable study of a key to all mythologies.

It seems to me that Casaubon should have done a PhD. That man needed the PhD: not as an excuse for his pomposity and overblown ambition, but as a way of directing and organizing the pursuit of knowledge. For the PhD, at its best, teaches researchers how to construct research projects that are at once ambitious yet realistic, pushing at the bounds of knowledge yet situated in the context of existing fields of research.

We have also got much better, especially in recent years, at thinking about a PhD as a piece of research that can be completed within a discrete period of time. It is never ‘perfect’, rarely ‘complete’, but always makes a contribution to its field. For the doctoral student, the PhD is an opportunity to pursue a passion while developing high-level skills that may prove valuable across a wide range of possible careers.

In the University of Exeter Doctoral College, we’re proud to be supporting over 1500 students on their paths towards a number of different research degrees, as well as early career researchers (ECRs) making subsequent, post-doctoral steps in their careers. And I’m delighted to have taken over as Dean this academic year from Professor Michelle Ryan, who did so much to establish the Doctoral College. I think we’re improving our provision of supervision, training and support all the time, but we’re always keen to hear suggestions for what we might do next. Please do contact us with any thoughts.

And when you take a break from your research – as you must – there is no better novel for any researcher to read than Middlemarch.

Written by: Professor Andrew McRae


Three Minute Thesis (3MT®) 2017

3MT Winners and judges

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

Their time limit…3 minutes

Three Minute Thesis (3MT®) is a National competition for postgraduate research students, run by research organisation Vitae. 3MT® challenges doctoral candidates to present a compelling spoken presentation on their research topic and its significance in just three minutes. The Doctoral College held a 3MT® competition on 30th May 2017, with 11 candidates competing to represent the University of Exeter in the National semi-final. A panel of esteemed judges assessed the 7 presentations according to the 3MT® judging criteria, with staff and students from across the University in attendance to hear about the cutting edge research of our postgraduate research students.

TIm GordonHolly EastElisabeth Matthews

The competition was a showcase of the fantastic research between undertaken at the University, by our equally fantastic postgraduate researchers. You can watch our prize winners – Tim Gordon (Marine Biology), Holly East (Geography) and Elisabeth Matthews (Astrophysics) – through the links included below.

3rd Place – Elisabeth Matthews, Astrophysics

Through the Looking Glass

The Very Large Telescope hosts the biggest telescope mirror in the world. It works as a massive zoom lens, allowing us to peak at the secrets that nearby star systems hide. Hidden under the bright glare of the starlight are planets, asteroid belts and comets: in fact, the latest research suggests that there are more planets than stars in the galaxy! To understand these systems, we need to use clever imaging techniques to peer through the glare of the star, and reveal the hidden planets. Join me on a journey through looking glass, where we learn how to peer through the star’s glare, and reveal the secrets on the other side.

2nd Place – Holly East, Geography

Maldivian coral reef islands: a drowning nation?

Coral reef islands are low lying (<3 m) accumulations of sediment produced by organisms on the surrounding reefs. They are of high ecological and socioeconomic significance, particularly because they provide the only habitable land in atoll nations. As a result of their dependence on locally generated sediment and low elevations, reef islands are regarded as extremely vulnerable to environmental change, particularly sea-level rise. My research aims to improve our understanding of Maldivian reef island vulnerabilities by answering 2 key questions: (1) what are reef islands made of; (2) how did reef islands respond to past changes in sea-level?

Winner – Tim Gordon, Marine Biology

Helping Nemo find home

Coral reefs are some of the world’s most beautiful, most valuable and most threatened ecosystems. Reef survival depends on healthy fish populations, which require reliable influx of new juveniles. Young fish spend their first few weeks of life in the open ocean before finding a reef to settle on, often returning to the place where they hatched. But navigation on this epic journey is becoming increasingly difficult in oceans dominated by chemical pollution, noisy shipping lanes and climate change. Our challenge is to preserve natural environments so juvenile fish can still find their way home – the future of coral reefs depends on them.

Tim was shortlisted for the National Semi-Final, but unfortunately had to withdraw from the competition to complete his field research as the Lead Scientist on a boat sailing to the Central Arctic Ocean.

We plan to run the event next year as a celebration at the end of our week long Postgraduate Research Showcase, on Friday 18th May 2018, in the Alumni Auditorium. We hope you will enjoy us, and encourage your students to present their research…in 3 minutes!