Dear Research…

Giada Alessandroni has recently completed a a funded PhD in French Studies. Her research explores literary representations of female homosociality in female-authored fiction of the Belle Epoque (1880-1914).






Exeter, Saturday 24th November 2018

Dear Research,

When I first met you, you were only a timid idea, barely formed in my head. Look at you now: you’ve grown into a full manuscript, you’ve been submitted and you’re in the hands of some incredibly bright professors. I know what you’re thinking, but you don’t need to be scared; I’m sure that they will like you too, and I’ll remain by your side no matter what they say.

We’ve known each other for about three years now. During this period, you’ve seen me through some of the most exciting times of my life: when I bought my first house; when I got my first (and last) tattoo; when I started overcoming my fear of driving on (the wrong side of) the road.

Thanks to you, many good things have happened to me, like meeting extraordinary people and spending time in Paris, reading and strolling by the Seine like a real flâneur.

Remember when we found that signed first edition in a library and I got all emotional? You always say that I cry too much. What about that day when I introduced you to a room full of people and we finally went public? I thought my heart would burst during those long twenty minutes.

I knew that we were right for each other from the moment that someone gave us money so that we could move in together and start sharing our lives. Sure, things haven’t always been perfect, and we had a few bumps along the road, but all couples do. For example, you can be very possessive, and you never bore the thought of being apart. You’ve kept me from my family and country, and sometimes you got under my skin. In fact, some people say that our relationship is toxic. However, I never doubted our love. You’ve changed my life for the better and for that I will always be grateful.

I am writing to tell you that I cannot marry you after all. You know how much you mean to me, but the truth is that you belong to academia and I… well, I don’t know where I belong yet, but if I figured you out, then I’m sure that I can figure the rest of my life out too.

I hope that one day you will turn yourself into a best-selling academic book. But if you’d rather stay on the shelves of a library, collect some dust and wait to be picked up by chance, that’s ok too. Either way, know that you’re important to me and I will always remember you.

Truly yours,


Written By: Giada Alessandroni, PhD Researcher in French Studies.

Lottie Tour 2018

Beth McGill is a 3rd year PhD researcher in the Biomedical Physics Group. Her research investigates the mechanical properties and biochemical signalling of the human red blood cell and how these are affected by certain diseases, like diabetes mellitus.

November 5th – 9th marked Tomorrow’s Engineers Week, a week dedicated to highlighting the opportunities available to young people in the Engineering and wider STEMM fields. Numerous outreach projects are run throughout the week and this year I found myself involved with one run by the Women’s Engineering Society (WES). I found their project whilst scrolling through my Twitter timeline and decided that it was perfect to get involved in!

The project #LottieTour is in its third year and I was tasked with bringing a small doll to work with me and creating a picture diary of what we got up to for a week, which baffled my supervisor! The diary would then be shared over social media during Tomorrow’s Engineers Week. By placing the realistically proportioned Lottie Dolls in actual STEMM settings, the aim is to capture the imagination of young girls and boys and expose them to the variety of careers available in the field.

Lottie joined my research group in mid-October and as with any new starter, a lab induction is the first thing that needs to be ticked off the list. She was given a tour of the Biophysics wet lab, seeing where we prepare our samples and the equipment we use to do so. 

On day 2, Lottie performed an experiment to see how much ATP is released from red blood cells (RBCs) as they are squeezed through the narrow blood vessels. ATP is an important signalling molecule in the microcirculation that aids the RBC in controlling local blood flow. It can be measured using the enzyme luciferase, found in fireflies, that catalyses a reaction to produce light. Lottie can be seen with our shearing device, a syringe pump used to push blood though a narrow cannula, mimicking blood flow through our blood vessels.

My working day on Wednesday is usually filled with data analysis and group meetings – not very exciting for our guest – but in the evening Lottie joined my Brownies (aged 7 – 10 years old), to talk about her Tour. They were all very excited to hear that Lottie had travelled to the International Space Station with Astronaut Time Peake in 2015!

The penultimate day of Lottie’s tour saw her investigating how toxins interact with the cell membrane, using a Langmuir Trough (as pictured), and on the final day, Lottie experienced work of the wider Biophysics group. She first spent the morning investigating Natural Photonics, looking at how structure can give rise to colour using insects for inspiration, and the afternoon learning all about how Super Resolution Microscopy can be used to image protein structures within our cardiac muscle tissue.

Lottie’s Exeter time is now available to see on Twitter (@BethMMcGill) and you can use the hashtag #LottieTour across all social media platforms to see the full extent of her tour. If you would like to get involved next year, please contact WES and let them know!

What Next? Finding the right workplace for your needs and skills – a personal career journey

Cap’N Kelly

Kelly Louise Preece is the Researcher Development Manager for PGRs in the Doctoral College. You’ll recognise her face from workshops, her voice from WEBINARs, and her jokes from the 90s. You can follow her on twitter for musings about Researcher Development and the PGR experience…interspersed with tweets about superheros and sewing.




Last week I was delighted to present at the SWDTP Conference at the SS Great Britain. I was asked by organisers Anastasiia Kovalenko and Debbie Kinsey to talk about careers beyond academia – and more specifically about my career ‘side-step’ from an academic to a professional services role. The ‘personal’ aspect of the presentation resonated with people, so I tweeted a version of the presentation. Here is the twitter thread if you’re interested in what my 5 year old desire to be Queen, and my current job in Researcher Development, have in common…

Ten Steps for Dealing With Feedback, adapted from Get A Life, PhD

Kelly Louise Preece is the Researcher Development Manager for PGRs in the Doctoral College. You’ll recognise her face from workshops, her voice from WEBINARs, and her jokes from the 90s. You can follow her on twitter for musings about Researcher Development and the PGR experience…interspersed with tweets about superheros and sewing.


I really like Get a Life, PhD’s post ‘ How to Respond to a “Revise and Resubmit” from an Academic Journal: Ten Steps to a Successful Revision’ as its practically focused. As such, I adapted the ‘Ten Steps to a Successful Revision’ to develop ‘10 Steps For Dealing with Feedback’ – specifically your supervisor’s feedback on a draft of your thesis – for my How to draft your thesis WEBINAR. Here they are – I’ve used quotation marks to make sure I’m giving Get a Life, PhD due credit 🙂

Step One: Read or listen to the feedback.

Feedback on your draft thesis may come to you in a variety of different ways – an email, as track changes on a word document, or in a supervision. If it is the latter, I would suggest audio recording your supervision – that way, you can focus on discussing how to approach the re-draft rather than making sure you write every word down.

The first thing you need to do is to read or listen to the feedback: carefully.

Step Two: Take some time out.

Don’t try to tackle revisions whilst you’re feeling overwhelmed/angry/lost/confused/hurt…take some time out. Do something for yourself. Watch someone in your Netflix queue. Read a (fiction) book you’ve been dying to get to but not had the time. Go for dinner with the friend you key missing. Spend time with your family. Go away and stay with family/friends for a few days. Treat yourself and get some distance.

Step Three: Create an Excel File to List the Revisions.

When you are ready…

‘Create an Excel file with four columns in which to put the suggestions for revisions.’ Label the columns: “Supervisor”; “Suggestions”; “Response”; “Done?”.

Step Four: Extract the suggestions from the reviewers’ and editors’ letters.

Revisit the feedback ‘to extract the suggestions for revision and put the suggestions in the Excel file. This step requires the painful and painstaking process of closely reading [or listening to] the [feedback] and extracting all of the useful suggestions. On some occasions, the [feedback] can contain useful information, but not relay the information in a congenial fashion. The beauty of this step is that you can rewrite the suggestions and not have to look at the mean-spirited [feedback] again. For example, [your supervisor] might write: “One major problem with this [thesis] is that the research methods are suspect.” You can re-write this as: “Provide a more accurate and complete discussion of the data collection.”’

Step Five: Re-arrange the suggestions for revision in a logical fashion. 

‘Oftentimes, two [supervisors] will both mention in different ways that you need to build up the conceptual framework or the literature review. If you group all of the literature review suggestions together, it will be easier to tackle the revision systematically.’

‘Organizing all of the suggestions for the Introduction, the Literature Review, the data analysis, etc., will make it easier to respond to’. Of course, if done in track changes this is pretty easy, but helps you collate verbal comments etc. with these.

Step Six: Decide how you will respond to all of the suggestions. 

‘If the suggestion is to more clearly define the difference between “transnational” and “transborder,” then you can write: “Add one paragraph to the conceptual framework that clearly explains the difference between transnational and transborder, and why this distinction is useful.” Be sure that the suggestions you lay out for yourself make it clear what the next step is.

Note: Respond to all of the suggestions. There may be some suggestions that you disagree with. This is fine, but you have to make a conscious decision not to respond to any particular suggestion. For example, [your supervisor] might suggest that you return to the archive to explore more biographical features of a certain person. You can respond that this step is not necessary for your argument. Place all of your instructions to yourself for how you will respond in the third column’ for use in your next supervision meeting or when sending through your next draft.

Step Seven: Tackle your revision plan, step by step. 

‘Now that you have made a clear plan for revision by outlining all of the suggestions and have decided how you will respond, you can tackle the revisions one by one. If you feel intimidated, start with the easiest ones. Usually, the easy ones will be something along the lines of: “Find and add a quote from Diana’s interview that elucidates how subjects talk about discrimination.” Even easier: “Add citation from Stephens (2009) about transnationalism from below.”’

Step Eight: Double-check

‘Go back to the original [feedback], and double-check to make sure that you have not missed anything.’

Step Nine: Do a final read-over.

‘Read over your [thesis] to make sure that you have maintained the flow and argument in each chapter and overall, even after having made the revisions. Read it without thinking about the feedback, but imagine a reader who is unaware of your original version or the feedback, as that reader is now your intended audience.’

Get a friend or colleague to give it a read for you. Ask them to give you feedback on clarity, flow and argument, or perhaps just to proof-read it for typos!

Step Ten: Submit!

Either: another draft, or the final thesis!

Written by: Kelly Louise Preece- Researcher Development Manager for PGRs

On crippling inadequacy, #remoteretreat, and chocolate cheesecake brownies

Edward Mills is a PhD student in the Department of Modern Languages. 

I’m now into the third year of my PhD, and — to be brutally, painfully honest — I’m not as far along in the project as I’d hoped I would be. After a tricky (albeit ultimately successful) upgrade viva, which knocked me back a bit, I’m still, to this day, terrified by the idea that my thesis might not be sufficiently rigorous, or have a sufficient theoretical underpinning, to merit completion, let alone examination.

One response to this problem, of course, is to read about it, and indeed there’s long been something of a cottage industry surrounding ‘how-to-write-a-thesis’ books. These books take several forms, and describe themselves in many ways, with recent examples variously proffering ‘blueprints’ for writing practice, ‘bodies of ideas’ for students and supervisors, and (in one case) claiming to be an out-and-out ‘guide to the secrets’ of the PhD process. The volume that’s been doing the rounds in my brain recently, though, dates from 2014: Eric Hayot’s The Elements of Academic Style: Writing for the Humanities. The name references the famous Elements of Style, a fact that Hayot himself cheekily acknowledges in his introduction. If the classic work is predominantly a style guide, though, it’s Hayot’s comments on writing practice that have rung truest with me as I reflect on what’s really been holding me back over the last twelve months. In his chapter, ‘Eight Strategies for Getting Writing Done’, Hayot offers a very honest observation not on how he writes, but rather on how — or why — he doesn’t write. What gets in the way?

Let’s start with fear. I am terrified — seriously terrified — of academic writing. Nothing that I do confronts me as strongly with a fear of total, consuming incompetence and inadequacy. (Hayot, p. 17)

Dramatic? Predictably. Over-the-top? Possibly. Accurate? Painfully. Hayot absolutely nails the role played by fear in inhibiting academic writing, and on reflection, I’ve come to realise that this is an absolutely accurate description of what goes on in my head. It was a pattern repeated throughout my second year: I’d turn up to work in the morning and, sitting at my desk, feel a rising sense of panic as the minutes ticked by. Week by week, I would see the self-imposed chapter deadline creeping closer, but for some reason, even opening up my writing software felt like the hardest thing to do. Clicking on that little icon at the bottom of the screen would mean that I’d have to look again at what I’d written earlier, and inevitably conclude that it ‘didn’t sound right’ or ‘didn’t make sense’. Never mind that it was an early draft; that it could all be improved later; that beating myself up wouldn’t help a jot. Perusing the padded, pathetic prose that paraded in front of me always seemed to bring back that nagging fear: I’m simply not good enough for this. Worse still, comparing myself with the performative culture of academic Twitter, where everyone seemed to be doing just fine, left me in a double-bind: I felt as though I didn’t know what I was doing, and even if I somehow managed to work it out, I’d never catch up with my friends who were merrily finishing chapters, writing articles, and teaching specialist courses in medieval literature.

I’m ashamed to admit it, but my response to that fear, over my second year, was largely to run away from it. Perhaps unsurprisingly, then, I produced a lot of other ‘stuff’ during my second year, teaching Madame Bovary to first-year undergraduates, talking to a lot of school students about the medieval period, playing in two orchestras, competing with a local brass band, representing the University at chess (badly), designing posters and conference programmes, and gaining a rowing coaching qualification. These are all things I’m glad to have done, but none of them were the reason why I was (somehow) being funded. Instead, these were prime examples of what Hayot calls ‘virtuous procrastination’: the kind of things that keep you incredibly busy during the day and are fulfilling and rewarding, but which, on closer inspection, do nothing whatsoever to pop the rapidly-expanding bubble of ‘thesis panic’ that you feel every time you look at the calendar and realise it’s already March. Hayot astutely identifies teaching, which many PGRs do, as one such example:

Academics who procrastinate have a hard time noticing that they’re doing so, mainly because they have moved beyond the more obvious forms of undergraduate procrastination (going out with friends, playing video games, frequent tanning, etc.) to its advanced and subtler virtuous modes. […] Writing (as opposed to teaching) makes us feel weak and afraid; serves only ourselves; and is not, on a weekly basis, the subject of any institutional demand. (Hayot, p. 27)

In short, I’d been busy but not productive, picking the low-hanging fruit wherever I could and trying desperately to cover up a lack of progress with the gloopy papier-mâché of tempting side-projects. So what changed? Well, I certainly haven’t found the magic cure for writing fear: whenever I start writing, I’ll always be thinking (at least partly) about the many medievalists out there who are obviously much better than me. Nor have I simply absorbed the entire contents of Eric Hayot’s book: like the chocolate cheesecake brownies available in the Queen’s Building café, it’s a thing best enjoyed in small chunks. What I have done, though, is stumbled across something that’s helped me to face the fear, and reduce procrastination into the bargain: Twitter. The same website that can be so soul-crushingly performative also has its lighter side; in my case, it’s been the #remoteretreat hashtag.

The principle behind #remoteretreat is very simple: it’s effectively a distance version of the ‘writing retreats’ that have become increasingly popular in recent years as an antidote to the somewhat-isolating nature of Humanities PhDs. The key principle of a ‘retreat’, or indeed of any shared writing endeavour such as ‘Shut Up and Write’ or Exeter’s own ‘Write Club’, is one of mutual support. You work in ‘blocks’ throughout the day, safe in the knowledge that other PhD students are doing the same, and you come together on Twitter at the end of each session to share (i) your results, and (ii) GIFs of food and tea. The main advantage of #remoteretreat for me has been its consistency: since it’s decentralised, a different person can run each day’s session, and it allows me to work from my (fairly quiet) office while still feeling part of a writing community. On any given day, there’s a good chance that someone, somewhere will be running a session: I just check in, say hi, and — once I’ve started — usually find that producing something, however rough-and-ready it may be, becomes much less scary.

Of course, a ‘solution’ like this isn’t for everyone, and certainly shouldn’t be taken as a silver bullet. Nor am I entirely ‘cured’ of the fear of writing: if you’re reading this a month, or even a week, after it was published, there’s still a good chance that I might right now be curled up in a corner, terrified of opening up Microsoft Word yet again. I certainly do feel better, though, and would recommend having a go at anything that allows you to break out of the bubble of PhD study and channel your desire to work into a productive community. The Doctoral College here in Exeter is running a range of workshops and writing groups throughout November as part of WriteFest!, and I’d heartily encourage you to attend at least a couple.

Oh, and one last thing: I don’t mean to imply by any stretch of the imagination that everything you do as a doctoral student can be classified either as procrastination or as thesis-writing. Other activities are important, and — in all seriousness — play a crucial role in helping you to maintain your focus throughout the PhD process. I may have started writing again, but I’m certainly not going to follow this up by quitting all of my side-projects.

After all, if it were ‘thesis-or-bust’, then writing this blog post would itself be a fine example of virtuous procrastination, and that can’t possibly be right.

Join in the Remote Retreats, running most days of the week, using the hashtag #remoteretreat. You can follow Edward on Twitter (@edwards_mills); thoughts, comments and cute GIFs are all very much appreciated.

Preparing For Your Viva – Our Top Tips

Kelly Louise Preece is the Researcher Development Manager for PGRs in the Doctoral College. You’ll recognise her face from workshops, her voice from WEBINARs, and her jokes from the 90s. You can follow her on twitter for musings about Researcher Development and the PGR experience…interspersed with tweets about superheros and sewing.


We’ve had a few PGRs tweeting us recently asking for viva advice and top tips. Although we have some great advice and resources of our Preparing For Your Viva ELE page, I thought it would be useful to write a short post about the advice we share in our viva workshops and WEBINARs. So here are our top ten tips:

  1. Before you start preparing, take a break. You have been working flat out on your research you at least 3 years, and have no doubt spent several intense months engrossed in the writing and editing of your thesis. Take some time away from it. Go on holiday like Dr. Emily Johnson did. Get perspective on your thesis to better enable you to defend it in the viva.
  2. When you’re reading your thesis, you’re bound to notice spelling, grammar and typing errors. It’s normal. Make a list of corrections, print them out and go in to the viva prepared to share them with your examiners.
  3. Re-reading the thesis is useful preparation, but it’s not enough.
  4. Do a mock-viva – with your supervisors, your peers, your friends, your family…practice talking about your research again after months of focusing on your writing.
  5. Practice summarising your research – vivas often beginning with a question asking you to summarise your thesis or key findings, to help settle you in.
  6. Prepare answers to your nightmare questions – whatever you fear being asked about the most, prepare and practice your answers. Chances are your nightmare questions won’t come up, but you’ll feel better knowing how to answer if they do.
  7. Read new material that has been published – your examiners may ask you how a new piece of research impacts on your thesis!
  8. Remember what is being examined – there is nothing mystical about research degree examination – your examiners assess your research according to a fixed set of criteria.
  9. Remember – you are the expert! Your examiners are experts in their field, and they may be an expert in yours – but they are not the leading expert on your research or thesis. You are.
  10. As much as you can, try and relax. Nerves are normal. You’ve done the hardest bit already – doing the research, writing the thesis. What an achievement! The viva is your chance to demonstrate and affirm everything you have learnt throughout your research degree.

Still have more questions? Why not download Preparing For Your Viva – Frequently Asked Questions, which compiles all the questions and answers from our Preparing For Your Viva Q&A Panels.

Written by: Kelly Louise Preece- Researcher Development Manager for PGRs

Working Well

Kelly Louise Preece is the Researcher Development Manager for PGRs in the Doctoral College. You’ll recognise her face from workshops, her voice from WEBINARs, and her jokes from the 90s. You can follow her on twitter for musings about Researcher Development and the PGR experience…interspersed with tweets about superheros and sewing.



I have been busy over the last few weeks delivering our introductory training sessions – we’ve run these so far on how to be an effective researcher, future proofing yourself and your career and getting started with your literature review. No matter the focus of the course, myself and other presenters have inevitably been asked about good daily work habits for PGRs. After a session at our Penryn campus I tweeted a few top tips, and thought they were worth sharing in a blog post.

These top tips do, however, come with a couple of caveats. The first is that I am not perfect, and although I know I should be doing all of these things…I don’t always do them. I contributed to a Guardian article about study habits earlier this year, and we recognised in our team the irony of some of my advice as I have a tendency to overwork. I’m human, you’re human. If you think you have bad work habits, or you don’t always do the things you know you should, don’t beat yourself up about it.

The second is that these are 100% borrowed from other people and sources. I’ll try my best to appropriately credit the person or organisation that shared this wisdom with me.

  • Treat your research degree like a job. Do 9-5 hours (or an 8 hour day at times that work for you) and protect your evenings and weekends as much as you can. You and your research will be better for it.  Credit: Gemma Delafield, PGR in the Business School. You can find Gemma on twitter @G_Delafield.
  • Dr. Kay Guccione’s mantra is #takebreaksmakebreakthroughs is all about making sure you have regular breaks, throughout your day, week, and academic year. Try to take a 5 minute break at least every hour. Go and get a cup of tea and speak to your colleagues. Lots of our departments have weekly coffee mornings – if yours doesn’t, why not set one up?
  • Have lunch away from your desk. You are more likely to have those ‘aha’ moments when you are not focusing on the problem at hand. It’s how we process information.
  • And always take your annual leave allowance – yes you have one!
  • Take up a hobby or a regular self-care activity. They really help with work life balance. I sew and read copious amount of fiction, both of which keep my brain engaged but on something other than work. And sometimes if I need to de-stress at the end of the day, I just take my brothers dogs for a walk. Nature and fresh air can do you the world of good. As of course, can a puppy.

A necessary pictures of said dogs, because sometimes only cute animal pictures will do

  • If you don’t have immediate access to a puppy, BorrowMyDoggy is a great way to fill the animal void in your life, or if you have a car Charlotte our PGR and ECR Experience Officer recommends a relaxing walk around The Donkey Sanctuary in Sidmouth. If animals aren’t your thing, Biosciences PhD student, Rebecca Millard, was awarded a grant by the University of Exeter Annual Fund to set up weekly indoor hockey sessions to enhance mental wellbeing for Exeter’s postgraduate researcher community.
  • We can’t be 100% focused and productive 100% of the time. It’s not how we are made. When making to do lists, list creative and mundane tasks – those that require our best thinking, and those that are glorified admin (or what Edward Mills @edward_mills termed Gradmin). That way, you gave tasks to do that move your project forward when you’re feeling highly focused and motivated, and also when you’re feeling a little bit sleepy after lunch. This is great advice I got from Vitae!
  • Talk to your peers, learn from each other, create support networks and communities to get you out of the office or help you procrastinate and laugh on a Wednesday afternoon – just like Humanities Office C when they created PhD the Musical!


But most importantly, look after yourself. You can’t do your research if you don’t do you first.

Why have we started Women in Climate – and why you should do the same!

Dr Freya Garry graduated from the University of Southampton in 2013 with best in class for Master of Science in Oceanography. She remained based at the National Oceanography Centre Southampton for her doctorate, co-sponsored by the Met Office, during which she researched deep ocean heat content and how it is observed. In January 2017, she became a researcher in the Department of Geography at the University of Exeter, where she studies Atlantic Ocean climate over the last millennium. 

Twitter: @freyagarry

Dr Penelope Maher is a climate scientist specialising in convection and large-scale circulation of the atmosphere. She is an early career scientist from Australia who joined Exeter’s mathematics department in 2015.





Despite many STEM undergraduate and postgraduate degrees having a reasonable gender balance, there is a rapid loss of women in STEM subjects post-PhD. In particular, there are significantly less senior women in climate science. Post-doc and lecturer positions frequently demands mobility which is often harder for women. Additionally, women are more likely to may take career breaks for their children.

Mentoring relationships can be hard to retain and informal mentoring is not as common for women, who are less likely to be taken to the pub by their senior colleagues for example. Generally, women will delay applying for promotion until the meet every criteria rather than just ‘giving it a go’. Perhaps this is also true in applying for grant funding. Typically women find failure more difficult. There is evidence of unconscious bias in recruitment against female applicants. In addition, there is evidence that women leave male dominated professions (regardless of age) after a few years because of lack of senior role models. Of course all of these points are generalisations and not all women will relate; equally, those with other gender identities may relate to these points.

The name of our network, Women in Climate, reflects the gender imbalance that exists amongst academics in climate science. The aim of the network is to support the retention of women in climate science and promote diversity in all areas. We hope to achieve this aim by hosting events and discussion groups to try and address some one issues listed above. Therefore our events are open to all genders and we hope the topics for discussion will benefit anyone who feels disadvantaged in academia. We encourage senior staff to attend as well as early career researchers; senior staff can share personal experiences and opinions and network with their younger colleagues.

The core event of the network are monthly meeting on a Friday afternoon. These events have free snacks and refreshments! We use these events to meet new people, to network and to discuss a diverse range of subjects. Some of these might be discipline specific, and some very general. We typically ask relevant climate scientists or subject specific experts (e.g. we asked psychologists to come talk to us about the ‘imposter’ phenomena) to help lead the discussion and offer experiences/opinions that can frame open discussion.

The relaxed atmosphere, where we can talk freely with our colleagues, is a positive step in building a positive work place culture where we (a) don’t feel alone in struggles associated with the academia life, (b) can share experiences and ideas for coping with some of the things we find hardest about academic life and (c) promote diversity and the ideal of treating colleagues as individuals regardless of gender (or race, or sexual identity).

Organising such events on a smaller local scale (ie similar research interests, in our case the climate) by colleagues you know and where everyone can help shape the meetings, seems to be a recipe for success. We hope to organise numerous one-off events over the coming year to provide specific skills training and bigger networking events, in addition to maintaining our monthly meetings. There is no doubt that this comes at significant time cost to the organisers, but we feel the benefits already only a few months in and have received good feedback. We would encourage others in setting up similar within their own departments or subject areas.

IHR Early Career Researcher Network Focus Day

Written by: Susi Sadler (@SusiSadler) and Sarah Walker (@Sarah1003Walker)

“You need to show you can get funded, so start small”

“Publications are important, make sure your work is published, but also collaborate with others as much as possible”

“Work on something you’re interested in”

Words of wisdom were thrown out like sweeties to attendees at the Institute of Health Research Early Career Researcher Network’s recent Focus Day. The theme being “Things the University is Doing that you Don’t Know About, that you Might Want to Know About, that Might Help you Progress your Career. Plus Helpful Career (and Life) Advice from People who’ve Been Where you are and Survived”. Or something like that.

Other, more (or perhaps less) practical advice included…

“Don’t follow your dreams [like I did]”

“Don’t work weekends [like I did]”

And even “You may not want to return to work three weeks after childbirth, but it worked for me”

On arrival to the Focus Day, attendees were given a copy of “Self-care for academics: a poetic invitation to reflect and resist” by Siobhan O’Dwyer, Sarah Pinto and Sharon McDonough. After a gentle start to the day, with colouring and refreshments, the thirty-five attendees were inundated with useful advice on a range of career-related topics, including: The Exeter Academic and how it relates to progression and promotion, the University of Exeter Doctoral College and how it supports development for early career researchers, the purpose and achievements of the Positive Working Environment Board and how to get the most out of mentoring and other one-to-one career support.

But equally valuable was the insight into the somewhat stochastic and unexpected career paths of those who have, somehow, navigated the world of the early career researcher and made it to the heady heights of mid-career researcher or even senior academic. Most would not have been able to predict where they have ended up, had they been asked. Many described similar traits which they identified as important for career success – being proactive enough to pursue your interests and ambitions, getting good support structures in place, and being bold enough to make the first steps into job and funding applications despite the seemingly universal “imposter syndrome”. Although difficulties with work-life balance were a common theme, all the contributors found their academic careers rewarding, interesting and challenging.

The highlight of the day was, without doubt the very hotly-contested Cake Competition, with eight delcious entries shared by attendees and presenters after a buffet lunch, ensuring that everyone left with full minds and full stomachs at the end of the day.

The IHR Early Career Researcher Network would like to thank all the presenters: David Llewellyn, Katharine Harris, Jo Thompson-Coon, Angela Shore, Karen Leslie, Andrew McRae, Kate Lindsell, Nicky Britten and Sarah Dean. The Focus Day was funded by a Researcher Led Initiative Award, applied for by Sarah Walker, Becky Whear and Susi Sadler. Thanks also go to members of the IHR ECRN for their input in planning this event.

The impressive cake competition winners were: 1st Krystal Warmoth, 2nd Paulo Landa and 3rd Rachel Burn – Congratulations all! Each winner received a Princesshay gift voucher; Krystal also received a ‘Star Baker’ cake tin.

Dontations were also collected for Sands ( throughout the day. A £30 donation has been made in memory of Hamish Robin Wilkins and for all those other families who have lost their babies too soon.

As well as bi-monthly meetings which are open for all early career researchers to attend and discuss any issues or concerns, the network is planning to arrange a number of more focussed seminars and workshops over the next few months, so please contact Tristan Snowsill () to be added to the mailing list and find out about future events.

Do you need to develop Hidden Talent?

Claire Davey-Potts is an Academic Skills Adviser working in the Academic Skills and Student Engagement Team. She is well qualified and has over 25 years of experience in education. More recently, she has worked as a Study Skills Tutor in Accessibility providing one-to-one support.

Hidden Talent in Devon is an EU funded project designed to provide support to develop the academic skills of groups of undergraduate and postgraduate students at the University of Exeter.


Sometimes it can be difficult to get started on your academic journey especially if you are returning to learning or struggling with deadlines.

The ‘Hidden Talent in Devon’ project is designed to upskill and reskill eligible students and to help them achieve academic success.

Since January 2018, I have been providing personalised 1-1 Academic Skills support to eligible students on both Exeter campuses. Each bespoke appointment is designed to help students take control of their academic development and effectively deal with academic pressures. I am now offering this service to PGRs who have recently started their research degree and may need assistance with aspects of planning or writing. By discussing and identifying academic skills concerns, as an Academic Skills professional, I can help individual student’s develop strategies to improve motivation and target issues such as procrastination which can affect your performance and help with your research journey.





Hidden Talent in Devon’ is funded by the EU with the intention of supporting students develop a range of academic skills. Support is provided to UK or EU students via 1-1 meetings or email; small group work can also be arranged. Distance learners and those with little available time can be supported through Skype. It really depends on you, what time you have and what suits you.  Students who may benefit most would be those students who are returning to learning and those who are undertaking writing in order to go through the process to ‘transfer’ or ‘upgrade’ from MPhil to PhD/MS/EngD. This will normally include submission of one or more substantial piece of written work (as defined by the College) in good presentational order, where one piece of written work comprises the literature review. The submission must also include a substantial research-based draft chapter.

The feedback from students has been positive and both undergraduates and postgraduates have found the service helpful in improving their academic skills and developing confidence. It can also increase one’s motivation to complete tasks.

Each meeting is tailored to you and what you need….

I can help you to refresh your academic skills particularly with regards to Academic Writing-including how to structure an argument or critical thinking. I can also assist in developing strategies for proof reading. It really depends on what you need. Other forms of support involve various approaches to reading or note making strategies.  Time and Project Management support is also available which can help with issues around motivation and procrastination. By employing certain study skills strategies, I can help you achieve your academic goals.

 …. Are you?

Eligible students must meet one of the following criteria –

  • Disabled (you need to consider that you have a disability)
  • Ethnic minority
  • 50+ before the start of the course
  • Lone parent

“The level of the detail given in the feedback was invaluable and the fact that this was not limited to one session was even better as it allowed me to get advice on a range of my working, providing me with confidence”

“An amazing service and I cannot say enough good things about it!”

“Honestly don’t think there is anything that can be improved”

For further information go to

Written by Claire Davey-Potts