Why we will continue to Shut Up and Write

Many of you will have seen on Twitter that we have reached the end of out University of Exeter Alumni Annual Funded Supporting PGR Writing Project. But never fear – the practice, and the community it has created, is here to stay. You will have noticed a number of changes over the past few months – a rebranding as Shut Up and Write (SUAW), a new name and logo for the Microsoft Team, a new webpage, and a new Twitter account. In response to MANY requests, we’ve even got our own T-Shirt, which you can now purchase from Inkthreadable (sold at cost price!). These changes are to help us – and by us I mean tour amazing PGRs – better communicate what we do to University of Exeter PGRs, and the rest of the sector.

As part of this, I will be working with members of the SUAW community to write a collaboratively authored journal article. This article will share the initial aims for the project, and how it changed and evolved due to a) COVID-19 and b) the PGR community. A large portion of the article will be auto-ethnographic stories and lived experiences of the PGR community, and the impact SUAW has had on them and their research.

To prepare us for our first ‘writing day’ on Thursday 26th August (email k.preece@exeter.ac.uk if you would like to join us!) we are asking the SUAW community to describe SUAW in 3 words. We are using Menti to collect and visualise the responses, and will use them alongside a literature review to develop collaborative writing tasks for the day. So we have a request – can you describe SUAW in 3 words for us please? So far we have 30 responses and some themes are already developing. Given we have over 200 members of the SUAW ‘team’, we would love to get over 100 responses to give us some robust, representative data to work with. Here’s what we have so far…

I want to end by sharing my heartfelt thanks to the PGRs who have embraced SUAW as their own, and made it in to the kind of vibrant, supportive community we couldn’t have imagined when the project started. The impact these sessions have had, especially during COVID-19, has been transformational. The journal article is being written collaboratively to truly represent what this project has been – a collaboration, made possible by our amazing PGRs. Thank you.

Kelly Preece, Researcher Development Manager

Exploring the Key Components of Public Engagement

Megan Maunder is a third year PhD student in Mathematics, CEMPS at the University of Exeter. She is the beneficiary of an STFC studentship for a “Multi-Spacecraft Investigation of Solar and Heliospheric Plasmas”.  A strong believer in engaging the wider public in the scientific process, she runs a variety of outreach and public engagement sessions with the University’s Widening Participation Team and external groups. She is currently the Advocacy Team lead for the Royal Astronomical Society’s Early Career Researcher Network, working to creating more inclusive and accessible environments within Astronomy and Geophysics.

Throughout June the Researcher Development and Research Culture team ran events as part of a new series funded by the Association of Commonwealth Universities, exploring the key components of Public Engagement:

  • An Introduction Public Engagement and Evaluation for Engagement
  • Creative Engagement Methods
  • Co-production in Research
  • Impactful Public Engagement with Research

The four sessions were led by public engagement experts from across the University and showcased a range of disciplines, activities, and approaches including multi-disciplinary and co-produced public engagement case studies. A variety of career researchers attended, from those getting started to those looking to develop new projects and hone their expertise.

Here are some Top Tips from our sessions to help guide you:

  • Make sure to have an ‘elevator pitch’ Prepare a few sentences to describe your research in jargon-free language for a non-specialist audience. Having this ready to go is a good foundation for starting your public engagement journey.
  • Ask around, find out what projects already exist, and talk to those already involved. There are often meaningful funded opportunities for early career researchers to start their own projects or get involved in existing ones. Learning about what others are doing can be a source of inspiration and advice; there may be existing projects you can get involved in.
  • Focus on your audience. The ‘public’ is not a homogenous group; there are different types of publics, think about what group you specifically want to target, what you already know about them, and why they might interested in your research and how that fits in a broader context. Your sessions and plans should be aimed at this group. This is key to developing meaningful engagement.
  • Think about your motivations. Why you want to get involved in public engagement, what you hope to get out of it? You may even focus on working with a group that can help you with your work and focus on creating co-produced research creating a clear two-way dialogue with your target group. Using Logic Models may help with this as you develop your plan.
  • Think about the logistics, not just costs, locations but evaluate how much of your time you can commit to a project. How much time is involved in preparation and development, delivering content and hosting events, and then time spent on post-production like editing and impact evaluation?
  • How are you going to evaluate the impacts of your activities? Think about what evidence you might need and how you are going to store and analyse any data, especially if this is required by your funder. Remember to check if you need ethics approval!

A huge thank you is extended to all our session presenters and to those who presented their work and case studies.

A suite of resources exploring these concepts in more detail, developed by Megan, will be available on our ELE page in the coming weeks.

How to survive a viva: new online resources coming soon

Edward Mills (@edward_mills) is a Postdoctoral Research Associate in the Department of Modern Languages and Cultures, working on the AHRC-funded ‘Learning French in Medieval England’ project. He completed his PhD at the University of Exeter in 2020, where he was an active member of the PGR community.

 

 

 

Regular readers of this blog will likely already be familiar with the range of workshops, and webinars that the Researcher Development and Research Culture team offers to PGRs. During the pandemic, a number of PGRs have been working with Researcher Development to add an asynchronous element to this suite of offerings, and have put together a wide range of resources for the Researcher Development ELE page on all aspects of the doctoral experience. These range from advice on working with your supervisors specific tips for writing journal articles; and as I write this, ten of these resources are available, with more to follow in the near future. All of these resources are built around the principle of being ‘by PGRs, for PGRs’; that is, they draw on our own experiences to ensure that they are as relevant and precise as possible. While (much to my surprise) I’m no longer a PGR myself, I have been delighted to be able to be involved with the project in a related capacity, and one that also draws on my own experiences: over the past few months, I’ve produced a virtual ‘workbook’ on the topic of the viva.

The resources will soon go live on the Doctoral College’s ELE site, and I’m really pleased with how they turned out. In putting my resources together, I tried very hard not to reinvent the wheel: since the viva’s such an established part of any research degree journey, there’s an enormous amount of fairly generic advice out there that can be found with even a cursory Google search, which didn’t need repeating in another format. Instead, I decided to focus in on the multimedia potential of resources on ELE, and chose to structure much of the resource around interviews with three experienced supervisors and examiners, interviewed by a recent ‘viva survivor’. Each of these academics — Bice Maiguaschca, in Politics, Jon Blount, in CLES, and Michelle Bolduc, from Modern Languages and Cultures — was incredibly generous with their time, and the end result is three fascinating conversations that really illuminate the more commonly-overlooked aspects of the end-of-thesis period. Is it possible to pass a viva if your examiners disagree with you? Does publising extracts of your thesis prior to the viva render you ‘intouchable’? How can you best handle in-viva nerves? Answers to all of these questions, and more, await your ears, and are available both as excerpts scattered throughout the the resource and as full episodes three episodes of Kelly Louise Preece’s podcast, R, D, and the In-Betweens.

I really hope that you find the resources useful, and that the podcasts make for interesting listening. As ever, feedback is more than welcome, so please don’t hesitate to get in touch if you have any questions, comments, or musings on all things viva-related!

Writing non-academic job applications

This post is written by Cate Bennett, Researcher Development Manager (ECRs) and is part of our new PGR Career Planning Guide.

Just like your CV an application form is your personal marketing document. It is your opportunity to introduce ‘you’ to a potential employer and therefore your first opportunity to showcase the relevant skills, experiences and personal attributes that you have and that they are looking for.  Your key focus must be to tailor your application to the role.

Before you compose anything, have you …

1.    Carefully read the form, accompanying documents and instructions through from start to finish? Ask yourself: do I have all the information to hand that I will need to complete this form successfully?

The above may sound obvious, but you’ll be amazed at how many people don’t do this and then find they are wasting time hunting for key pieces of information, for example; key dates, names of qualifications, examining body details, employers’ addresses and strong examples to showcase evidence. Remember, follow instructions to the letter and don’t leave sections blank, unless you really have nothing relevant to say.

On top of all of this, many forget to seek the permission of their potential referees. It is vital that you ask whether they are happy to be your referee; if you don’t, you may find that a reference won’t be forthcoming!

2.    Carried out your research? Ask yourself: what do I know about this organisation and the sector it operates within?

Your research should not be limited to the organisation’s website and application materials. Often you can find out a lot about an organisation through following them on LinkedIn, Twitter, and Facebook etc. Read the press and sector specific magazines and journals.

You may, through reviewing your own network, identify individuals who have knowledge of your organisation of choice. Using LinkedIn Alumni may help you identify graduates from the University of Exeter who are working within the sector you are trying to break into and even the company you are applying to. Why not use your common experience of studying/researching at Exeter as a way to connect through LinkedIn and start a conversation!

Attending employer events and fairs run through the University and elsewhere will also provide you with opportunities to have key conversations with recruiters.

3.    Identified the key elements your potential employer is seeking? Ask yourself: if I was the recruiter what would make this application form stand out for me?

Pay very close attention to the advert, job description and person specification.

If, in the advertising materials for the post, you are offered the opportunity to find out more about the role before applying, embrace it! Make contact with the person listed and prepare for your conversation in advance. Don’t ask questions for which the answers could be easily found through the website, or application materials. Think about what you need to know to support your decision making around whether the role and the organisation are right for you and to help you target your application further.

4.    Explored and understood the language of the sector and organisation? Ask yourself: does this organisation use an applicant tracking system (ATS)?

An applicant tracking system helps companies organize candidates for hiring and recruitment purposes. These systems allow businesses to collect information, organize prospects based on experience and skill set, and filter applicants’. 

Although you may not be able to find out whether an ATS is used (currently, it appears to be large organisations that utilise them), taking time to do your background research and looking at the language in the recruitment literature and on the organisation’s web pages will give you the opportunity to use the language that an ATS will be looking for. Try to weave this naturally through your application form and remember:

  • No spelling mistakes! The ATS will miss important keywords if misspelled.
  • Consider the keywords, buzzwords, technical terms, experience and skills used in the organisation’s recruitment material and in the industry
5.    Identified your skills and personal attributes and the experiences you will use to evidence these? Ask yourself: what are the essential and desirable criteria for this role? What else have I learnt about this role through my research and discussions? What experiences will therefore allow me to evidence my most relevant skills and personal attributes?

Don’t just consider standard work or study based examples; what other things have you done or do you do that makes up who you are? Always keep in mind relevance; you are looking for examples across your various experiences that will allow you to evidence skills, experience, enthusiasm and potential. Don’t forget that some experiences that, on the one hand, may not seem related to the role, on the other may be ideal for showcasing the development of key transferable skills that you can’t showcase from more directly related examples.

6.    Considered the language you will use to confidently convey your potential and enthusiasm through the examples you use?

Make it positive, for example, don’t use ‘I feel’, ‘I think’, ‘I had to’. You need to confidently convey your actions using ‘power verbs’. You may find the information found via this link will help you get into the swing of this technique:#.

 

Now that you are ready to start composing your personal statement and/or answer questions posed by the employer on the application form, consider the following …

1.    If the application form comprises a personal statement section i.e. the blank box which gives you the opportunity to explain why you are applying for the role and why you are suitable, how will you design it so that it’s easy to see how you match the key criteria laid down?  Below is just one approach you could consider:

  • An introductory paragraph that sets the scene i.e. explains why you are interested in the organisation and role;
  • Followed by a themed approach to showcasing how you meet the essential and desirable criteria. i.e. can you theme the elements of the desirable and essential criteria into simple headings and then provide the relevant evidence as to how you meet the criteria? Although theming may not always be possible, where it is, it will may make it much easier for the recruiter to spot how you meet their requirements, rather than trawling through long paragraphs of text trying to identify them. Unless instructed otherwise, it is often suitable to break-up paragraphs with bullet points, allowing you to highlight the key elements you want to stand out. When providing an example to showcase skills and experience, consider using the STAR technique (see section 2 below for details);
  • Brief summary, but not a repetition, of your interest in the role and organisation.

Remember: make the recruiters life easy, don’t write a novel, use a logical structure, be succinct, to the point and provide evidence to back-up your claims. Follow instructions, including those relating to word count or number of pages! If there are no such instructions, often 2-3 pages of A4 is suitable, but if in doubt you can always contact the organisation for clarification.

2.      You may find that the application form contains competency based questions. To answer these successfully you’ll need to identify the specific competency/competencies sought. Where this/these may not be obvious, you may find it helpful to refer back to the person specification and job description. Your next step is to pick a strong example from previous or current experience that will help you evidence not only the skill, but the level of your competence in using it. Read the question carefully, if you are being asked for ‘an example of a time when you …’ use one example only.

To help you with structuring your answer and writing succinctly, try using the STAR technique:

S – briefly describe the Situation

T – briefly describe the Task (often you can combine the S&T)

A – clearly explain the Action you took. This is the section in which you provide the detail of what YOU did. Here you must talk about ‘I’. The recruiter needs to know what you did to be able to identify your skills and personal attributes. This is the part of your answer you spend the most time on.

– explain the Result/s of your action/s. Most people forget to include the outcome of their actions. Don’t skim over this!

Sometimes it may be appropriate to add a second ‘R’ = Review to explain what you’ve learnt or done differently since this experience to showcase your development.

Often competency questions are word limited – remain within the word count!

An infographic of the STARR technique - Situation, Task, Action, Result, Reflection

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

3.      Strength based questions are more commonly asked at interview but may sometimes be asked on application forms. These questions are used to identify candidates whose own strengths and preferred working style matches the job role, therefore trying to ensure higher motivation and performance in successful candidates.

  • Utilise strong examples of when you have used the specific strengths asked for and     articulate, where appropriate, how they could be of benefit to the organisation
  • Make sure you draw on experiences from all aspects of your life – academia, voluntary work, clubs/societies, paid employment, gap year / travel etc.
  • Just like every other aspect of the application process make sure you answer honestly. If you pretend to be someone you’re not and are successful in securing the position it may not be a good fit for you. 

 

Final Words of Wisdom

  • Wherever possible, give yourself plenty of time to carry out the background research and the drafting of your application; it can take hours to write, so don’t put yourself under pressure. It is wise to take a break, once you’ve written your first draft, and then come back to it to read it afresh, you’ll often find that you can hone it further.
  • Whether the application requires a personal statement or answers to specific questions which are word limited, draft in Word first, then spell and grammar check; not every online form has a spell checker.
  • If you decide to copy and paste from a previous application form be very, very careful that you are copying the right information! It is more common than you think for applicants to copy across the wrong information, including the name of the previous organisation. It is often better to re-type than copy and paste from an old application form.
  • In Word use the word count checker for the elements of the form that are word limited, not every form will cut you off when you have reached the maximum words allowed. Anything written in excess of the word count is unlikely to be read!
  • Be aware that when copying and pasting into the online form, formatting may change. Make sure you give yourself time to go back through your text to reformat where necessary – visual impressions do count!
  • Don’t lie, be positive, clear and concise.
  • The careful use of bullet points can help draw the eye to key elements of your experiences. They can also help you stick to the facts rather than writing a novel. They help breakup blocks of text which are onerous to those who have very little time to read your application.
  • Proofread – you first then others.
  • If you would like to find out more about disclosing a disability at application stage, please visit the following web pages and listen to the podcasts.
  • Without fail, tailor your application and always follow instructions!

Getting started with your research degree

As part of our Induction for new postgraduate researchers we ran a question and answer panel on Getting started with your research degree. It was a fantastic session, and many thanks go to our panellists Cathryn Baker, Jamie Cranston, Fatima Naveed, Malcolm Richards, Sarah Richardson and Jo Sutherst for their time, advice and candor. For those who were unable to attend the event live, it is available as a recording summarised for your below.

Getting started with your research degree – advice from researchers

  1. A research degree can feel really overwhelming, especially at the start. Remember everyone feels like this, and your are not alone!
  2. Make your project more manageable by breaking it down in to smaller chunks and settings achievable goals.
  3. Your supervisors are your anchor – use them!
  4. Build a supportive academic community that helps you to dare to dream big, but also grounds you.
  5. Don’t compare yourself to people around you. Their project, supervisors, research methods and working habits are completely different.
  6. Don’t keep your worries to yourself – talk to your supervisors, your PGR pastoral tutor and your peers.
  7. Remember the research degree is the start of your academic journey – not the destination.

 

The ever-elusive PhD work-life balance

Gemma Delafield is a third year PhD student at the University of Exeter’s Land, Environment, Economics and Policy Institute. Her research focuses on determining where in the UK to locate future energy infrastructure particularly with regards to the impact on the natural environment.

 

 

Can I do a PhD and still have a life? This was the question I asked myself three years ago when I was deciding whether to apply for a studentship or not. The very thought of entering back into the all-consuming academic lifestyle that I’d witnessed whilst at university wasn’t very appealing. I did not want to spend the next four years of my life feeling guilty for not having done enough work.

So I made a pact with myself, I would apply for the PhD if I promised to treat it like a job. I would work 37 hours a week, take the annual leave I was entitled to and not work evenings or weekends.

I actively prioritised a work-life balance from day one. For me, this means:

  1. I start early and finish early as I know my brain doesn’t function properly after 4pm.
  2. As strange as it sounds, I record what I’ve worked on and how many hours I’ve worked each day. This helps me remind myself that I’ve done enough. I deserve that beautiful guilt-free evening/weekend/holiday.
  3. I book annual leave into my diary and politely decline if someone tries to sneak something into my calendar.
  4. I do not look or reply to work emails outside of office hours.
  5. If I’m having a day where my brain is so befuddled nothing is happening I either go for a walk to clear my mind or I call it quits and go home.
  6. If I work extra hours one week, I ensure I take time off the week after.
  7. I write a to do list to break down the day/week into manageable tasks to stop myself feeling overwhelmed.
  8. I remind myself that a PhD isn’t just about conducting research. A well-rounded PhD also offers you the opportunity to build academic networks, teach, attend conferences and communicate your research with stakeholders – there is no need to feel guilty for doing these ‘additional’ things.

I know the way I work wouldn’t work for everyone. If you work in a lab or have a family it might not be possible to work standard hours or it might be that your brain doesn’t actually start functioning until 4pm. But whatever your working style, find a schedule that works for you and stick to it.

I believe that research culture plays a big part in whether people feel like they can prioritise a work-life balance. Find the strength to say no when people ask you to work extra hours. Look out for your peers, remind them they do not need to feel guilty for prioritising their wellbeing over their work.

Most importantly be kind to yourself. Take breaks, whether that is a walk or a week’s holiday, so you can come back to your research refreshed.

Written By: Gemma Delafield. You can find out more about Gemma and her research by following her on Twitter @G_Delafield

 

Benefits of the ‘Researcher Development Programme’ – an ECR perspective

Marco Palomino is currently a Senior Lecturer in ‘Information Systems and Big Data’ at the School of Computing, Electronics and Mathematics at the University of Plymouth.

Before this, Marco was a Research Fellow at the University of Exeter Medical School, based at the European Centre for Environment and Human Health in Truro. His research and teaching focuses on the acquisition and analysis of real-time, web based information and emerging trends, opportunities and constraints that might affect the probability of achieving management goals and objectives. Marco had previously worked at the University of Westminster as a Visiting Lecturer after he gained his PhD in Computer Science from Downing College at the University of Cambridge.

One of Marco’s publications for work conducted whilst he was at the University of Exeter was selected by the publishing house’s editorial team as highly commended. He puts part of his success with publications, public speaking and his career progression down to the training he took place in, whilst at Exeter.

Whilst at Exeter Marco took the opportunity to engage in as much development as time would allow and came to several of the Researcher Development Programme sessions that are tailored towards Early Career Researchers (ECRs).

The training courses for early career researchers at Exeter are brilliant – entertaining, informative and applicable

I found the sessions on giving presentations and visualising data particularly useful. Indeed, one example which has stayed with me to this day, used the London Underground map as a reference point. It was a perfect way to demonstrate how information visualised for a particular audience, should often be adapted to suit the needs of a different group of users, even if the underlying data is the same.

The training and development sessions at Exeter were also immensely useful when I subsequently went to conferences to give presentations and now for giving and preparing my lectures. Things that I learned from the Researcher Development Programme keep coming back to me on a daily basis and have really enhanced the way that I work. They were also fun to take part in and highly applicable.

Sometimes these are simple things like ensuring that my slides are being understood by the audience by reducing the amount of text, maintaining clarity and simplicity. This is advice has also been of equal use for when I prepare my online teaching materials.

However, some advice I gained has been fundamentally more important to my career, in general. I was always quite nervous speaking at conferences, but the advice I received whilst at Exeter about how to start a presentation, introduce myself and the content of the talk has proved essential. I use this now every day when I start my lectures and it has also aided in my preparation. Moreover, I used the technique for the interview for my current role, so it seems to work well.

My advice to current ECRs at Exeter is to make as much use of the training on offer from the Doctoral College as you possibly can, it really is excellent and can make a difference to your research activities as well as securing future roles. Finally, I am really happy to hear the plans for the future of ECR development at Exeter. The ‘ECR Hub’ and more bespoke training in the form of ‘Researcher-led Initiatives’ sounds like they are excellent additions.

Written By: This blog article has been compiled by Dr Chris Wood, Research Staff Development Manager in the Doctoral College, based on a discussion with Marco Palamino in February 2019.

Ways to be kind to yourself

The way we think and feel about ourselves significantly affects our wellbeing. We can be harsh and critical or kind and compassionate towards ourselves. For a lot of people, self-criticism is the default setting. This makes life harder and less pleasurable. Research has shown that if we are kind and compassionate to ourselves, even when things are going wrong, we are more likely to cope with life’s difficulties and be happier. Below are some ideas which you can implement to start being kinder to yourself and developing your self-compassion:

  1. When something goes wrong, forgive yourself. Move away from self-blame. Everyone makes mistakes. Accept these as ways to make progress.
  2. Notice what you are feeling without judging yourself. Everyone has difficult times in their lives. Our emotions are the result of a complex mixture of factors which are not our fault and over which we may have little control.
  3. Gradually train yourself to become more aware of your thoughts, especially those that are negative and self-critical. Mindfulness meditation practices can really help with this such as those on the Headspace app which offers a 10 day free trial or the guided audios on mindfulnessforstudents.co.uk.
  4. When you notice negative and self-critical thoughts, pause for a moment and then imagine that it is a friend of yours in your situation as you speak to yourself in your mind. We are often much harsher in the way we speak to ourselves than we would ever be with other people!
  5. Try to refrain from saying “I should”, “I must” or “I ought to” statements to yourself.
  6. Try not to compare yourself with others. Comparing how you feel internally with how others seem externally is likely to make you feel worse about yourself. Often people will hide their struggles so we can’t really know what’s going on for them.
  7. Let go of the expectations of others and of excessively high expectations you have of yourself. It’s good to aim to do well but putting too much pressure on yourself will have the opposite effect, causing anxiety and often lowering performance.
  8. Spend 5 minutes in the evening remembering kindnesses which occurred in the day.
  9. Focus on the progress you have made each day and appreciate even small achievements, rather than fixating on the tasks that are still on your “to do” list.
  10. Spend time with people who are supportive of you and help you to feel good about yourself.
  11. Plan at least one enjoyable activity for each day, even if it’s just something small like phoning a good friend for a quick chat or having a relaxing bath. Taking regular breaks from work will help improve your wellbeing as well as making you more effective when you are studying – it’s a win-win!
  12. Each day aim to do one thing, however small, to help you reach a long term goal.

If you would like to learn more about how to be kinder and more compassionate towards yourself, then you can book onto the one-off workshop “Being kinder to yourself” offered at the Reed Mews Wellbeing Centre by visiting the Wellbeing workshop page on the website. The Wellbeing Centre also provides a six week Compassion Focused Course for those who feel they would benefit from exploring this area in more depth. This can be accessed by booking a Telephone Referral Appointment (TRA) with the Wellbeing Centre.

Written By: Sarah Lane, Psychological Wellbeing Practitioner

How Can We Have Better Conversations About Mental Health?

Daisy Parker is a third year PhD student at the University of Exeter College of Medicine and Health. Her research focuses on developing training to support general practitioners when they’re talking to patients with emotional problems.

 

 

I have studied psychology in one way or another for over ten years, but that still didn’t prepare me for finding out that somebody I loved was suffering from depression. That gut wrenching feeling of knowing that a person you care about is in pain, but feeling powerless to do anything about it, is a feeling I’m sure I have shared with many other people. Having that conversation is not easy for any of us – including doctors. That is why for my PhD, I am investigating ways to help GPs have better conversations with patients with mental health concerns. But you don’t have to be a doctor to have a helpful conversation about mental health. Here are a few tips, based on my research:

  1. Listen attentively. Turn off any distractions, put down your phone, face the person with your whole body. Encouraging noises, such as ‘mhm’, lets them know that you are listening and encourages them to talk. Don’t be afraid of silence, try to avoid filling the gaps and allow the person to be able to gather their thoughts.
  2. Provide reassurance, and validate their feelings and decision to open up to you. It is often difficult for people to share their mental health problems. They may be ashamed or embarrassed, or feel that they are bothering you. Phrases such as “that sounds tough for you”, “I’m here for you”, and “I’m glad you reached out” are simple but effective ways of providing reassurance and validation.
  3. Remind them that there is help out there. Often, people do not feel that they deserve help, or that no-one can/will help them. Gently encouraging them to speak to their GP, or seek help from a charity such as Samaritans (call 116 123 in the UK) can be the endorsement they need. The university provides a number of sources of support which can be found at http://www.exeter.ac.uk/wellbeing/. You may also wish to offer to come with them to their doctor’s appointment for support.
  4. Don’t feel that you need to fix them. Simply being listened to, reassured, and supported is therapeutic on its own. Unless you are asked for advice, give it sparingly. A non-judgemental approach will help you to keep those channels of communication open.
  5. Finally, look after yourself. Listening to and supporting someone who has mental health concerns can be emotionally draining. You cannot pour from an empty cup, so make sure that you look after your own wellbeing as much as you can.

Find out more about Daisy and her research by checking out her University profile or following her Twitter @daisy_parker2

 

 

PGR Disability Network

Debbie Kinsey is a PhD researcher at Exeter Medical School examining museum programmes for people with dementia, with a particular focus on how including caregivers has an impact on the person with dementia, the carer, and the relationship between them. Her broader research interests include living well with chronic health conditions (particularly those acquired in adulthood), the arts and health, and accessibility in its many forms.

 

Dealing with a chronic illness or disability as a PGR involves many of the same issues as those without an illness/disability – finding balance between work and life, managing differing expectations, project managing (perhaps for the first time), etc. But those issues are often magnified for those of us who also have a health condition. For example, you may be more likely to need to take sick days or need to work less hours in a day. And there are also additional issues like navigating support services (or lack thereof depending on what you need), considering whether to disclose to supervisors or wider teams, and dealing with working in perhaps a very different way to your colleagues.

It can be quite isolating at times, particularly if you need to work from home or others around you don’t understand the difficulties of doing a research degree with a chronic illness or disability. But there are more of us out there than it can seem.

I’ve started a network for PGRs at Exeter with a chronic illness or disability, so we can find peer support, share experiences, and perhaps think about if there’s anything we would want to try to change or add to in the way the university (or funders) supports PGRs. It’s new, so we’ll work out what we want as we go. We might want to stick to just having an email list where people can post, or we could have a some coffee meet-ups, or we could invite university staff to talk to us about how they navigate academia with health conditions, or we could lobby the university to make changes in policy based on our experiences. It’s completely open and up to us.

Initially, the email list is set up on JiscMail. It’s set to private, which means that only those on the list can read the archive (past messages), and the list can’t be found in searches on the JiscMail site. The privacy settings are intentional, so that people feel able to talk openly. And though the doctoral college supports this network, it’s not run by them or any member of staff, which, again, hopefully helps people to feel they can be open without worrying that supervisors (or potential future employers) will read it. But we can decide as a group if we want to change that in the future.

If anyone wants to join, you can sign up via the JiscMail link below. Because the list is private, you have to be ‘approved’ by me to join, but I will do this automatically for Exeter University email addresses. You don’t need to provide ‘proof’ of your condition; you don’t need to be ‘bad enough’; you don’t need to have disclosed an illness or disability to the university or your supervisors. All that’s required is that you feel you would benefit from peer support and/or networking around coping with chronic illness or disability as a PGR at Exeter.

Click this link to sign up to the JiscMail.

Please feel free to email or tweet Debbie if you have any questions:
dk360@exeter.ac.uk
@debbie_kinsey