Depression, anxiety and my PhD

Bio: Gemma is currently working as a postdoc within the Land Environment Economics & Policy Institute at the University of Exeter. Her research focuses upon the interactions between energy systems and the natural environment. You can follow her on twitter @G_Delafield.

Trigger warning- please note that this blog post may contain topics which some people may find sensitive.

In November I successfully defended my PhD. I am now officially Dr Delafield. However, if we rewind to December 2019, I was sat on a bench on campus crying on the phone to my partner discussing whether or not I should leave my program.

I have suffered from anxiety and depression for over 10 years and knew the potential threat a PhD might pose to my mental health before I had even started. It’s no secret that the culture of overwork in academia, alongside experiences of bullying and discrimination, contributes to 86% of PhD students reporting marked levels of anxiety.[1]

I am telling you my story to help tackle the stigma around mental health. If you are struggling, I want you to know that you are not alone. Seeking help is a strength, not a weakness and you should never feel shame in doing so.

Since starting my PhD I have actively tried to protect my mental health.[2] I disclosed my history of anxiety and depression to the university and my supervisor. I took the annual leave I was entitled to. I avoided working on the evenings or weekends. When problems arose I would approach my supervisor to try to work through them.

Despite my efforts, by late 2018 I found myself struggling. I was living apart from my partner and had taken on teaching work which I didn’t yet feel particularly confident in doing. I often felt a strong sense of imposter syndrome. I did not feel like I belonged and I started having difficult discussions with my supervisor regarding the direction I wanted to take my research in. I spent weeks at my desk getting very little done as most of my energy was going into trying not to cry.

I tried to access counselling through the university and my GP but had no success. The university’s counselling service was so oversubscribed at the time they had closed the waiting list and the NHS could not offer me the type of therapy I needed. I ended up using the money I was making through my teaching work to pay for private therapy (the irony of this situation did not escape me…).

With the help of therapy, I started to prioritise what I wanted to get from my PhD experience and took the pressure off of myself to achieve the ‘perfect’ piece of research. I started to reap the benefits of disclosing my disability to the university by attending Health, Wellbeing and Support for Study (HWSS) meetings and asking to be assigned a wellbeing mentor.[3] Most importantly I learnt the power of saying no and setting clear boundaries in an environment which (sadly) encourages overworking.[4]

All of these measures helped me considerably. However due to a lack of sick pay, I never actually took time off to fully recharge. By December 2019, a series of events culminated in me sitting on that bench, in tears, deciding whether I should leave my PhD program. I took Christmas to gather myself and be with my family. A stroke of good fortune occurred in January 2020 when I saw a tweet highlighting that UKRI had updated their sick pay policy which meant I was now entitled to 13 weeks paid sick leave per year. By February, I had made the decision to interrupt my studies.

In total, I took 15 weeks off from my PhD. For many weeks, my to do list consisted simply of: eat, shower, take my antidepressants and do some mindfulness or yoga. Some days I felt fairly content, other days I was plagued by feelings of guilt and shame. I was lucky enough to have a strong support network around me who reminded me that taking an interruption from (or even quitting) your PhD is not a sign of weakness, it is a sign of great strength. At the end of the day looking after your mind and body is much more important than work. I started doing some volunteering which reminded me of the transferable skills I’d developed throughout my PhD.

Time away from the PhD allowed me to spend time looking after myself and put measures in place to ensure when I returned to my research I’d be better supported. I set out a clear plan for my remaining chapters, I brought onboard a new second supervisor, and arranged several HWSS meetings to check in on how I was doing. I started attending Shut Up & Write sessions with fellow PhD students to provide structure to my days. I felt empowered by my decision to put my health first and started campaigning to raise awareness of inclusivity issues within the university.

The final stages of my PhD were difficult, I cannot lie. I requested a 3 month COVID extension as lockdowns had heightened my sense of anxiety. In the last few months leading up to my deadline, I worked longer hours to ensure I finished on time. The physical symptoms of stress took their toll on me. Checking in with my wellbeing mentor every week however allowed me to note when I wasn’t taking good enough care of myself and put in place measures to manage my health. With the support of friends and family, I finally submitted my thesis. I celebrated by sleeping, sunbathing and listening to audiobooks for a solid 2 weeks.

I am proud of myself, not only for finishing my PhD, but for doing so whilst championing myself and my rights as a disabled individual.

I live in hope that the culture in academia will change. That more and more individuals will reject the expectation to overwork and fight for systematic change. That universities will work with the community to create an environment where everyone, no matter their disability, gender, race or sexuality, is supported to achieve what they are capable of.

Written by: Gemma Delafield (former PhD student in the Business School)

This blog post was written in affiliation with the Universities Disability and Chronically Ill network. The network is open to all and aims to provide a space for staff and students to connect, share experiences and information as well as provide support. Further details about the network can be found on their webpage.

We realise that through reading this article you may find some of the information distressing and/or may identify with some of the issues and therefore may need some support. Below is a list of support available to all PGR students at Exeter:

Wellbeing Support

  • Exeter based students- Speak to the University of Exeter’s Wellbeing team (available to all students on the Streatham and St Lukes campuses)
  • Cornwall based students- Speak to Fxplus wellbeing services (available to all students based on the Penryn or Truro campuses)
  • Speak to the PGR Education Welfare Advisor-
  • University Networks
  • Call Spectrum Life (available to PGRs and staff)
  • Speak to your GP
  • Call the Samaritans on 116 123
  • Details of all the support available to PGRs can be found on the Doctoral College website
  • If there is an immediate emergency please call 999. Further details about urgent support available please see the Wellbeing website.

Policies to support PGRs



[2] You can read my previous blog about work life balance here.

[3] You can find out more about HWSS meetings and Disability Support Allowance funded wellbeing mentors here and here.

[4] A useful TED talk about setting boundaries.

Finding community in writing

Umas Jin is a final year English PhD researcher, who is about to submit his thesis. His research looks at the intellectual resonances between Virginia Woolf and neuropsychologists of her time and those who came after her. It also touches upon how narrative can play an important part to better understand the mind-body relation as holistic and dynamic.

I would like to share my writing experience with the writing workshop Shut up and Write. In the pre-Covid lockdown era, I normally worked in the office with other colleagues as they gave me a sense of “togetherness”. Although we were doing our own research, we were working, basically, together in the same location and time. English is not my first language so I would have the opportunity to ask my colleagues in the office about grammar and language. At that time, I was aware of the writing group but I rarely attended. Looking back, I think I took it for granted. However, things changed when the lockdown began last year. I could not go back to the office and many of my colleagues moved back with their families, friends, and partners. I was thankful to my best mate Chris who accompanied me throughout the difficult times.

During the lockdown, the Shut up and Write group moved online. First, I doubted whether it would work for me as I prefer working with people and seeing them face-to-face. Nonetheless, it went pretty well! Because it is online, I’ve got to know people around the UK and even the Globe. People are very nice and welcoming to each other. I like how we split time into 25 minutes for work and 5 minutes for break, so we would not indulge too much in our own work but balance our time in a day. I decided to help hosting the online workshop which was a good experience. As we gradually walked out of the lockdown in April this year, I was able to do two in-person writing sessions in St Luke’s Campus. I was indeed keen on doing the workshop with peers and seeing faces. We chatted, ate cookies, and worked on our research.

In the PhD journey, we may feel isolated and lonely as we are doing different research, topics, and fields on our own. However, the purpose of Shut up and Write, I believe, is to help us understand that we are not alone and are supported by one another. In addition, the group also introduces us to people from various disciplines, ethnicities, and cultures, which I think can be inspirational for our own research and lives. Whether the group is online or in person, we are able to interact with others who are actually walking along with us in our journey.

With plans to restart the writing group in person next year, I would make the most of it and try my best to support peers. Community is what researchers need the most!

The PGR seminars of SITE, a new space for student engagement and visibility

Josep Pinyol Alberich is an ESR fellow at the Academy of Business and Society (ABIS) and a PhD candidate at the University of Exeter. Josep’s research project focuses on the analysis of the existing political discourses on the topic of Circular Economy in the European Union and the relationship between existing public discourses and policy change.

Professor Jing-Lin Duanmu joined the Business School in January 2020.  Her research interests include foreign direct investment, international trade, political relations, and corporate social responsibility. Her research has appeared in Strategic Management Journal, Journal of International Business Studies, Journal of World Business, International Business Review and World Economy.

Since March of this year, we have started a new series of webinars at the SITE department. This series of webinars allow our PGRs (MRes and PhD students) to present their research project to their peers and academics in SITE. This was also an opportunity for us to personally get in touch with all the PGRs and to get to know what their research projects are, and to both learn from it and from the feedback and opinions from our peers at SITE.

The PGR webinars were first announced on the 22nd of February, when a call of abstracts was made. The first webinar was made on the 3rd of March, and since then, we organized 8 webinars, and three more webinars are planned until November. Our objective is that at least, all PhD and most of MRes students present their research to SITE.

The PGR webinars of SITE addressed several topics, for instance providing new insights into different issues of leadership, public policy, and the circular economy. Thus, it provides an opportunity for all members of SITE to learn about what kind of research our PGR student are engaging and what methods they use, where they conduct their research, and how they have access to their data. This has been a highly inspiring experience, as it provided us a chance to learn more globally about the work that is being done in SITE, thus, acquiring a broader vision of the department’s work that we did not know before.

The organization of the PGR webinars in SITE has become highly valuable for all MRes and PhD students in SITE. First, it gives visibility to the ongoing student-led research, which helps all SITE members, especially students to better know each other and identify collaboration opportunities. The webinars are also a very valuable opportunity for early researchers to obtain feedback from the department. This feedback is an excellent opportunity for us to learn about potential literature that we may have missed, methods that we can experiment with, or data sources that we did not know about. Finally, to do these presentations is a great opportunity for students to gain experience in presenting their research.

In summary, the presence of the PGR webinars of SITE allows us to create a new space in SITE to give visibility to PGRs. This space enables students to connect and engage with the department, and for the department to know better our PGRs. This is mutually beneficial, as PGRs obtain valuable feedback and experience, and it benefits our research output, as it provides an opportunity to collaborate within the department. As organizers, this experience has been very positive, as it helped us to connect better within our faculty, and to obtain a better vision about topics and methods that we did not know about, and to learn from the feedback of our colleagues. Engaging in the discussions after the PGR presentations created an opportunity to enrich the students work with the experience and knowledge from the whole department, and an exciting opportunity for us to broaden our vision on diverse topics and to gain a department-wide perspective of how research is conducted in SITE.

Why Sharks?

A passion for the ocean and an activist-researcher for abandoned animals, Sarah Oxley Heaney works in the second field and has based her anthrozoology PhD project around the first. Sarah believes that more-than-human animals have intrinsic value and do not exist solely for our use; scuba diving with sharks, which is a passion she was fortunate enough to begin over 20 years ago. Additionally, Sarah is passionate about contributing her voice to those who fight for sharks, their aquatic environments and the effect their population decline has upon eco and planetary systems, through scholarly activism. Moreover, although Sarah is careful to not ‘speak for’ more-than-human animals, she does wish to add to literature reflecting more-than-human animal biographies and their lived experiences. Sarah can be contacted on and

Scuba diving changes your life. If you fall in love with diving, it can capture your imagination and redirect your life substantially. Not only does the sensation of being submerged underwater sublimely alter your sensual worldview, but your perspectives of the nonhuman animals, landscapes even plants that can be encountered on our spinning planet undergo serious metamorphoses.

Since I learnt to dive, in the UK in 1996 I have been fortunate to dive in many locations around the world: UK, Palau, Egypt, Colombia, Maldives, Saudi Arabia, Sulawesi, Lembah Strait, Bunaken, Myanmar, Thailand, Egypt, Yap, Tobago, Malpelo and intend to explore many more places. My first encounter with a live shark was with non-captive sharks in the Maldives, where we saw many on most dives. I became mesmerised. ‘They are not interested’, ‘can they smell me?’, ‘will they come too close?’ The answer to the last question is in my dreams! Trying to dive with sharks has become a quest, to see them close in their own environment, but, in this quest have come to question their experiences of life, this is not, or should not, be about me wanting something from life without giving back.

The Maldives was my first international trip following cold-water dive training, sometimes in 6 deg C quarry water and a 99% of the time in poor-viz, cold water, big wind UK diving. Exhilarating and exhausting. We always rewarded ourselves with chips, mushy peas and a pint! UK diving can be incredible and I have been fortunate to have amazing, memorable dives with seals and other marine life, but there is a big difference between cold-water, drysuit, UK diving and encountering the Maldives tropical diving! The scenery above and below water took my breath away. I knew very little about tropical marine life on that first trip and seeing such colour and abundance (pre 1998 coral bleaching events) I was hooked! I realised that seeing sharks on that trip did not evoke the emotion that many people seem to feel about sharks, i.e. somewhere on the apprehensive to terrified scale, in fact to see any was incredibly exciting.

Without too much consideration for the sharks I was to encounter, I dived in a tank in the UK with tiger sharks. For my own entertainment, I am rather ashamed now, but, it helped lead me to this PhD, so perhaps there can be a giving back to those sharks’ free entertainment-for-humananiamals-labour. What I remember most was that the sharks were not at all interested in me. They were big, 8ft long perhaps? They swam over my head, with the distinctive ragged teeth, without looking at me. I had to duck a few times so they didn’t bump into me. It struck me, although this was an amazing experience their disinterest in me and their surroundings seemed unnatural. I am not sure what I expected at the time, perhaps I thought they would come over, ‘investigate’ this new presence but they just passed by. Were they displaying learned helplessness (Seligman 1972)? I don’t know, I don’t know enough about shark behaviour, but, I do know, in the oceans they keep their distance. They do not sneak up and bite people in the stereotypical way the media portrays. At that time I didn’t consider the sharks’ origins, although I do now as I wonder what their experience of life has been, how mentally and physically comfortable or uncomfortable they are. What are their biographies, their journeys to that tank? Their disinterest however, was not only a surprise and but an instant comfort to me as a diver as I immediately felt I would never have a fear of diving with sharks. I am still ambivalent about this experience, my perception of sharks was instantly cemented, possibly to the benefit of shark species in some form of conservation awareness, but at what cost to the shark? My research, in some ways, is payment to those unknown sharks. To offer some sort of recompense in trying to tell the stories of their Selachimorpha families.

Eventually, on our diving expeditions, my husband and I sought out diving with sharks, taking long, gruelling journeys to reach famous global dive sites. Simultaneously, I embarked on a journey of understanding, becoming aware of the dangers faced by sharks globally, as species and as individuals. My undergrad study taught me about oceanography; MA in Environment, Policy and Society introduced me to ethics. My MA in Anthrozoology continued that teaching and gave me tools to learn how to tell the stories of animals, how sharks and human-animals shape our planet and to look at shark-human encounters through an symbiotic-ethical, anthrozoological lens. These passions, diving, sharks, anthrozoology, the human effect on our planet and my believe that animals have intrinsic value, overlap and the intersection creates a space for my PhD research.

So now, in my second year of my part-time anthrozoological PhD with some shark-reading under my belt I begin to reach out and reveal my intended research plan. Watch this website or @kissingsharks on social media for the next stage in my multispecies ethnographic journey!

PGR Profile – Raul De La Fuente

Name: Raul De La Fuente Pinto

Discipline: Renewable energy/electrical Engineering

Location: Falmouth

What is the working title for your research project?

Development of a reliable active network management system

Can you describe your research project in more detail?

I am researching the main technical issues of integrating renewable energies in rural areas, especially in South Africa, where the main power grid is unreliable; thus, the communities are frequently experiencing power cuts and blackouts. The project is in partnership with South African companies and the council of a small village called Doornkop, 100 miles northeast of Johannesburg, and the aim is to develop an actual microgrid. The village will be fed by the main grid when available and by a PV solar plant and batteries otherwise.

The main task of the research is to find a novel solution to tackle the challenges that power electronics devices face, such as voltage sags, inrush currents, the transition between grid-connected and standalone working modes. The solution will protect the electronic components of the device and provide electricity without interruptions.

I research the current solutions available in the literature to inspire myself and develop a holistic solution applied to an industrial inverter to achieve the goal.  I carry out the research using analytic and numerical methods through simulations models in MATLAB/SIMULINK. In subsequent years, I will test the solutions in an experimental prototype to finally go to the village in South Africa to make the actual micro-grid.

… and can you explain it in a single sentence?

Develop a universal inverter controller to seamlessly supply a South African village with electricity, preferably from renewable energy sources under any possible perturbance.

What is a typical day like?

I start my day generally at 7 in the morning, I meditate and go for a  run. After that, every other day, I practice yoga. After the exercise, I take a shower and I have breakfast.

Then I start my computer and start planning the day. I used to attend the SUAW group two times a day because I found it very helpful to make progress in my daily tasks. I have a break for lunch, and sometimes I like having a “siesta”. Then I continue working until I get tired. I usually spend the evening doing gardening or DIY projects, for example, converting an old bike into an e-bike, doing projects with the Raspberry Pi, building a greenhouse,etc.

We make dinner about 1900h and watch Netflix. When I am in bed, I like reading any book to feel sleepy.

What would you say is your proudest moment during your research journey so far?

When I did the mid-year presentation because I had the opportunity to explain the research and plans. I was pleased with the presentation and the feedback was excellent.

What do you like to do when you are not researching?

I like to try new things to do and discover new places to go. Maybe that’s why I do many different things when I am not researching. For example, I do taekwondo twice a week because, like all martial arts, you do physical exercise, but at the same time, you have to keep your mind alert to remember the attack defence patterns.

Depending on whether the activity is different, I like going to the beach or going for a stroll to the woods on sunny days, but I prefer to stay at home playing some board games or watching a film or reading a book with a cup of tea on the rainy days.

If you could start again, what would be your advice to yourself as a new postgraduate researcher?

Well, it is only 11 months since I started, and at the moment, I wouldn’t do anything differently. My advice for a new postgraduate researcher would be to trust 100% in your supervisor and always be honest with them. They are not there to judge you but to give the best guidance for your success. I would recommend at the beginning to try to have as many meetings with them as you can to keep committed to your research.

And finally- can you explain your research project in 5 emojis?

 South Africa – it is the country where the project is going to be implemented

Handshake – It is an international cooperation project between different parties

Battery – is a part of an uninterruptible power supply (UPS) important component within a microgrid

☀️Sun – The photovoltaic panels extract the solar irradiance to generate electricity

Electric plug – At the end of the project, the dwellings of Doornkop will have electric power 24/7 to improve their quality of life.

Working well with your supervisors

Dondu Sarisen is a third year PhD student in Centre for Water System, CEMPS at the University of Exeter. After few years working in a company in Turkey, she decided to pursue her career in academia.

Working on a PhD project is like taking a journey. With your proposal, you know where to go / or where do you want to go, but you don’t actually know how to go. If you come across road closures, then it is your responsibility to change your approach, and sometimes this change might require you to wander entirely new foreign roads. Supervisors are there to make your journey easier by guiding you.

They will question your work, challenge you, and their expectation will increase in time. But I have gradually realised that all of those led me to somewhere that I can see the rest of the road clearly.

There are many times I was anticipating the roads to be straight, but the reality proved to be the opposite, resulting in struggling across sinuous roads. Going through this contributed to my development both as a researcher and as a person. Sometimes I only focus on the progress that I have made and think that going through all these roads without reaching anywhere, without getting any results, is just a waste of time. In fact, they are all necessary to be able to walk faster. In this way, your progress speeds up in the late stage of your PhD.

Modest Recommendations Working with Supervisors

A PhD is your trip, and supervisors are there to help you; bear this in mind all of the time. Supervisors are aware of everything as they have lots of experience. They have done the PhD before, so they can easily empathise with you. They have also worked with or working with other PhD students so they know when to pressure you to work hard or when to give you some time off.

Here are some of my suggestions regarding working with your supervisors:

  • Some of you may find reporting to supervisors regularly stressful, but believe me, it is beneficial. You never know where the discussion goes and how useful it would be
  • Don’t skip any meetings even if you don’t have a lot to discuss. Show them what you have worked on and what are you planning to do
  • Don’t hesitate to discuss the topic. Supportive discussion contributes to your project
  • They may forget what you have discussed in the previous meeting. So remind them
  • Don’t expect them to know everything related to your project. You are the expert in this field
  • Write down everything that they advise you and try to stick with them by considering your own opinion
  • Be concise and to the point writing the email as they don’t have too much time to read
  • Be kind and patient. They are very busy, and your project is not the only thing they focus on

Remember, this is your journey, but you do not want to lose the opportunity of having an opinion of a wise person during your trip.



A fieldwork based PhD during the pandemic

Joanne Morten (@joanne_morten) is a third year PhD student in the biosciences department. Using biologging technologies such as GPS tracking devices, Joanne researches the foraging and migratory behaviours of two water bird species: arctic terns and oystercatchers.

The first lockdown started as I was preparing for my 18 month upgrade. With one successful field season for each of my study species in the bag (oystercatchers during the winter in the Exe Estuary and arctic terns during the summer in Iceland), everything seemed to be going to plan. I was excited for the key second arctic tern season in June. GPS tracking devices had been carried by arctic terns since the previous breeding season and were recording the routes taken during their migration from Iceland to Antarctica, which is the furthest migration recorded of any animal! The aim of the second fieldwork season was to find and retrieve as many devices as possible. These data would be the basis of my PhD, and any data contained on the devices are unobtainable without re-capturing the birds.

Despite there still being many restrictions in place at the beginning of June 2020, my supervisor, Lucy, our Research Assistant, Lee, and I travelled to a deserted Heathrow, boarded a practically empty flight and flew to Iceland where we entered a very strict two-week quarantine. However, with the exception of being unable to go food shopping, there was very little difference from the field season the year before! We lived in a house less than 20 m from the nearest arctic tern nest, and spent the days slowly cruising through the colony in our vehicle, with any venture outside being greeted by dive bombing or pooping arctic terns! (This quarantine was far more enjoyable than the two weeks spent in my flat in the UK upon return!) After our quarantine ended, we went on a celebratory trip to a bakery, which was full of people and came as a complete shock to us all. Iceland had so few cases of covid that life within the country was minimally restricted. The field season flew by and we even successfully deployed devices for a week to monitor foraging behaviour during the breeding season.

By the time the June 2021 field season rolled around, I didn’t imagine that we would still be wondering whether we could leave the UK or enter Iceland. But thankfully, with consideration by the university and travel exceptions granted for researchers by the Icelandic government, we could live and work in the arctic tern colony once more. By then, international travel had adapted to covid and despite a slight hiccup at the airport with the wrong form (quickly rectified at the check-in desk!), our team once again reached the arctic terns. This time I was joined by another member of the lab group, Jess, and Lee once again for his third trip to the colony. In 2021 our quarantine was shorter (only five days and a negative PCR test were needed), but we still had a post-quarantine celebration excursion. This time to the erupting Fagradalsfjall volcano, just down the road from our field site!

Arctic terns have a very short breeding window, and our only chance to catch them is whilst they are incubating their eggs. There were ethical concerns that if we didn’t reach Iceland, terns that had been carrying devices since 2019 would be burdened for another year. With the clock ticking and the first week of June approaching, our application for international travel was approved by the Research Restart Committee with little time to spare. As a PhD student whose project is entirely based on data collected during fieldwork, I was exceptionally lucky that this could go ahead. With a huge amount of gratitude to the Research Restart Committee, my supervisor, the Director of Research, our Icelandic collaborator and everyone who helped us through the mountain of forms, we travelled internationally TWICE during the pandemic affording the best opportunity to try to recapture terns who had carried tiny GPS backpacks across the world.

Arctic tern with leg flag for identification

The 2021 field team visiting the Fagradalsfjall volcano (L – R Lee, Jess and Joanne)

Arctic tern with the GPS device antennae just about visible!

Arctic terns in flight

The biologging devices (plus an example leg flag and ring on the right) deployed on arctic terns. All weigh less than 3% of the mass of the terns with the smallest only around 1 g!

The empty office: Re-building our academic support networks

Meaghan Castledine (@mcastledine96) is a 3rd year PhD student based in CLES at the University of Exeter, Penryn campus. Her research, funded by the Medical Research Council, explores the evolution of microbial interactions in community ecology and medicine. She has studied here since an undergraduate in 2015 and has settled into Cornish life. She loves taekwondo, reading and, most importantly, dogs.

“I’m really sorry to bother you…”

“I know you’re really busy but…”

“Please can you help…”


Developing an academic support network is hard and made harder in a time when knocking on someone’s door or hovering by someone’s desk is no longer a possibility. Offices that once facilitated support are now quiet ghostly places. The casual support groups we formed over cups of coffee have become strained by dedicated online calls. Especially for new students, asking for help has become significantly harder: who do you ask? Who has the time, or willingness, to share their skills?

I’ve been incredibly lucky, and remain grateful to, a number of mentors who took me under their wings at each stage of my academic learning curve. These were mentors who were not assigned to me by the university, but rather people who personally volunteered to share their skills and knowledge with me.

At undergrad, two postgraduate students taught me how to write essays, develop ideas and work in a laboratory. At PhD, a post-doc – Dr Daniel Padfield – has taught me how to code and analyse my data. Although the foundations for each of these skills were laid in my degree training, these mentors helped me refine my skills and gave me more confidence than any course or module could.

Since the pandemic started, translating such social interactions to an online setting has stunted the development of these casual support networks. To address this, we may, as a research community, need to advertise our skills more explicitly among our peers.

A recent initiative by Dr Daniel Padfield is an exemplar of how support networks may be set up in the current climate. As a coding and statistics expert, Dan is a “go-to” for those who need extra help. To make himself more accessible to students who may be too shy to privately approach him, Dan set up weekly help sessions in the medical school where students can drop in. These, in effect, replace the casual office atmosphere where people would drop by Dan’s desk to ask for help.

Opening up such sessions need not be a place where individuals have their work done for them. Instead, staff and students can learn how to overcome hurdles and barriers to their learning. Sometimes those barriers come from self-confidence and having a supportive peer can help them overcome that block. Personally, I now tutor undergraduates in statistics; helping students work-through their problems and relaying my own past struggles has helped some students drop the adage that they are simply “useless” at statistics.

Sign up to be a mentor/tutor, check in on your peers, set up a dop-in session. Sharing skills and knowledge is at the centre of what it means to be a researcher. If we are to encourage the next generation of scientists then we need to develop support networks between all levels of academia: from undergrad to masters and PhD, post-doc and beyond.

Why a PhD is the best thing you will ever do

Dondu Sarisen is a third year PhD student in Centre for Water System, CEMPS at the University of Exeter. After few years working in a company in Turkey, she decided to pursue her career in academia.

PhD is a love and passion rather than a pain! If you enjoy and love what you are doing, and if you trust yourself, you would never be put off by your mistakes and other people’s prejudices or misjudgements. On the contrary, you will learn from your experience to enlarge your capabilities.

Every one of us has different experiences, facing different challenges and different responsibilities. Some of us, including but not exclusively, are wives or husbands, mums or dads, international students or home students or professionals struggling with the burden of a daily job, with some handling simultaneously nearly of the roles I mentioned. I have been writing this blog in order to appeal to all of you, being in all hope that you will find useful.

I assume that the common question for all the readers of this blog post is “What it is like doing a PhD?.” I can only write based on my own experience and therefore I might be biased but you can all apply your critical thinking to make sense of the information presented here.

It is tough to decide where to begin talking about a PhD. Doing a PhD abroad in a 2nd language changed my life, contributed to my both personal and academic development.

I would like to start simply talking about “learning.” Human beings experience various pleasures in their life; the taste of learning is one of them. Contributing the broader body of knowledge is invaluable. In the PhD, you are learning, starting with general knowledge, and then diving into more specific information, you get to know every particularity related to your field. Additionally, the PhD is a big project where you are the manager. You are learning to manage everything including your time, social life, relationships, academic life, cleaning, shopping, etc. From the personal development aspect, you are learning to be patient, coping with failure, and dealing with being alone (for those of you having families, you will still spend a great amount of time alone for running experiments and performing research).

PhD helps with development of transferrable skills: problem solving, critical thinking, adaptability, teamwork, communication, writing, listening, creativity, attention to detail, so on so forth.

At The University of Exeter, you also have a chance to be a PTA (Postgraduate Teaching Assistants). Teaching is one of the best ways of learning. You also can learn from students during classes.

In summary, I have realised during my PhD that what you can achieve is even bigger than what you can imagine or even expect from yourself. When I say “achievement,” I do not only mean academic achievements. You can realise how strong and resilient you are as a person. These achievements bring happiness and joy to our lives and motivates us.

Early Career Climate Researchers: Why Our Voice Matters

On the 22nd and 23rd June 2021, a group of Early Career Researchers (ECRs) from GW4 universities organised a Symposium on Climate Change. After two days of insightful presentations and stimulating conversations, the organising committee and conference attendees gathered for a final roundtable. They discussed the roles ECRs should play in the next ten years of climate research, and why their voices should matter in this endeavour. The statement presented below is the outcome of this roundtable.

As humanity rounds off the first quarter of the 21st century, the effects of anthropogenic climate change are becoming increasingly pronounced, disproportionately harming the most vulnerable. These impacts will grow exponentially in the decades to come. In this context, academic research has a critical role to play in developing ideas and strategies that can help mitigate this crisis and adapt to its consequences.

As climate researchers in Ph.D. or postdoc positions, we are willing to contribute to this endeavour. In this statement, we present three reasons why ECRs are uniquely well-positioned to take part in this conversation, and why they ought to be listened to.

3 key commitments from ECRs to produce impactful climate research:

  1. We commit to adopting an interdisciplinary approach to understand and tackle climate change.
  2. We commit to place global ethics at the centre or our work, and to make research processes more participatory.
  3. We commit to communicating our research broadly and creatively to reach different audiences.

Primarily, ECRs tend to be newcomers to their respective disciplines, allowing them to position themselves more easily between disciplines, or offer fresh perspectives on their home discipline. This position allows ECRs to develop the interdisciplinary networks and skill sets necessary to tackle the next generation of climate research. In fact, while facing “wicked problems” such as climate change, siloed perspectives limit the creation of  holistic and long term solutions. An example of this interdisciplinary approach was the Climate Symposium we recently organised. The symposium’s organising committee members possess highly diverse backgrounds including ecology, engineering, combustion science, history, epidemiology, education and management studies. Capitalising on this opportunity to work with a breadth of experiences, the organising committee put together a symposium that foregrounded our common passion to address climate change, associated issues and improving society, rather than putting forward a specific discipline.

Furthermore, on average, ECRs belong to the generations who have lived and will continue to see the increasing effects of climate change and its social and economic consequences. Consequently, a central motivation is to elaborate concrete alternatives that can benefit society as a whole. However, although climate change is global, it is fundamental to mention that its impacts are not equally distributed. In the course of our conversation, we stressed the need to acknowledge our positionality and privileges as researchers based in the Global North. This requires us to adopt a global ethics approach and to put climate justice at the centre of our work. Another approach rests on the creation of global collaborations and networks with a variety of stakeholders, including civil society organisations, businesses and policy-makers, to ensure that our work is inclusive and impactful, in line with participatory research approaches.

Finally, we are keen to communicate our work beyond academia using a variety of tools. This includes social media, blog posts, policy-briefs and artistic productions. The Climate Symposium 2021 sought to develop such skills. In addition to providing a platform for ECRs to present their work, we partnered with Protect Blue, an ocean focused creative agency, who delivered a workshop on research communication. This gave us some critical tips on how to communicate our work more effectively and engage with a wider audience. Our key takeaways included the need to frame our message based on our audience, being solution-focused and to present challenges as opportunities, in order to give a sense of optimism about the impact of our projects.

If you are at the early stage of your academic career, and the arguments we brought forward in this text resonate with you, we would like to encourage you to speak up, now, because your voice matters.