Loughborough PhD Social & Support Network

#BLOG – Reflecting on the past year from Lead Reps’ Perspective (Part 2)

By Rieman Rudra and Tom Baker

With the nominations for lead reps and reps open, we hope the discussion in the previous part of these blog series by the current Lead Reps helped towards understanding the issues across your schools and in general of what does those roles entails.

What Tom and I feel is critical that there should more frequent communication between lead reps, reps from and within different schools which can only be beneficial to better improvement of our research culture. This can range from collaborations, adapting set of good practices that have proven to work in one school to potentially be implemented in others to inter-schools’ events etc…

So, to anyone considering these roles, application deadline is on 30th of October (https://lsu.co.uk/academic-experience/academic-representation/dr-reps). These roles play an important function to foster and build the DR student experiences.  While most of reps are active, some rep teams have found it difficult when a rep is particularly inactive.  Therefore, it is simply not a role to add to the CV while contributing nothing to the student experience. The role is an opportunity for you to grow and sharpen your soft skills (from organising to negotiating, communicating to time-management…) which you would find helpful and will add value to your daily life with your supervisors, workspace, etc. Hence, we encourage you to consider the role, especially during these challenging times, and build on your colleagues’ work in the past.

Now following the previous testimonials from School of Design and Creative Arts, School of Business and Economics, Loughborough University London, we will share the latest testimonials we had from the next schools.

School of Science by Lead Rep Liam Baddeley

During my time as lead representative the collective goal of facilitating opportunities for more peer-to-peer engagement between PGRs within the school was established, particularly between departments and on a more social level. On reflection, this was made a success through the efforts of many individuals, none more so than those of the PGR rep team. Many successful events were held for PGRs within departments, such as pizza and games nights, bringing together PGRs from various disciplines across the school. Various plans for further inter-department engagement, however, were cancelled or postponed due to COVID-19 restrictions, although these plans can be pursued at a later date and developed further under the guidance of the new representative team. Nevertheless, this provided a unique opportunity for the current rep team to organise virtual sessions supporting PGRs within their respective departments, setting the foundations of comprehensive peer-to-peer virtual sessions to build upon going forward. This is especially important to encourage peer-to-peer engagement between departments within the school that are physically distant from one another across campus.

School of Science Pizza Night

The School of Science is no exception when it comes to the widespread disruption caused by COVID-19, with varying levels of disruption felt across all departments within the school. Naturally, those conducting experimental research experienced particularly severe disruptions to their work. With regards to this, I would like to thank staff across the school for their tireless work ensuring the safest possible work environment was always available to PGRs and all of the reps within the school for their continuous liaison between PGRs and staff to ensure any issues were dealt with swiftly. I would like to say a huge thank you to everyone in the rep team this year: Luke Wilkinson, Hannah Davey, Jack Hughes, Chen Chen and Ali Karimi for the fantastic contributions and rising to the challenge in these unprecedented times.

School of Social Sciences and Humanities by Lead Rep and oncoming DR Co-President Nathan Ritchie

(Realistically by the time the blog will be up Nathan will already have resumed his role as DR Co-President 😊)

At the beginning of the academic year, the representatives collectively called for an increase in teaching opportunities. In certain departments, we achieved this aim with more opportunities given to a wider range of PGRs in the second semester. We also called for greater transparency of teaching allocation. Speaking with senior management and the administrative team we were able to secure assurances that a form-based system would be introduced across the school. This is a significant step forward to ensure fairness of opportunity in regard to teaching. There have been several new seminars and peer-to-peer networks established this year in the school. The representatives have supported these flourishing networks and been instrumental in their success. One highlight this year was the creation of Heads Together, a peer-to-peer initiative founded by a rep and another colleague. The initiative runs every Tuesday with PGRs coming across the school to discuss a weekly topic. There has been a variety of sessions including dealing with supervisor feedback, how to use NVivo, getting published, mental health support, recruitment and much more.  The network has been a welcoming and constructive space for PGRs to discuss a wide variety of issues and has really shown the value of peer-to-peer learning. It has particularly come into its own since the lockdown. It is important that groups like these continue to be supported by our representatives as they are difficult to establish and can prove invaluable to research experience.

The representatives responded to issues arising from the Covid-19 crisis by meeting up on a more regular basis and discussing issues within their specific departments. Together the reps have called for clearer and more regular communication from management which we achieved in abundance, managing to secure a Q&A with the Dean and Associate Dean of Research. Three of our representatives also organised a virtual conference providing a space for researchers to present their work to each other. The event was a success and added to a sense of research culture in the school. Virtual pub quizzes and virtual coffee mornings have also been organised by reps to maintain the sense of a community. I have only been able to give a taster of the efforts by our representatives this year. I encourage future reps to contact reps from previous years to discuss the key ongoing issues in the school i.e. the need for school-specific training, mental health support and careers support. Perhaps the most challenging task for future reps is bringing closer together the four departments by building social and research networks across the school. Regardless of the challenges that are on their way in 2020/21, a strong and active representative team is crucial to ensure the voices of PGRs are listened to. I want to say a big thank you to our representative team of 2019/20: Chloe Blackwell, Marlous Van Boldrik, Guy Tallentire, Izzi Sigley, Tasha Kitcher and Lazaros Karavasilis. I also want to say thank you to Sophie Parslow and Rachel Armitage for their contributions. Together we have made a dynamic, vocal, and effective representative team, all managing to raise our game in response to a challenging and unpredictable 2020. Thanks also to staff members for all their support: Brian Jarvis, Marion Arnold, Line Nyhagen, Cristian Tileaga, Ali Bilgic, John Harrison, Deirdre Lombard and Gillian Collard.

Wolfson School (MEME) by Lead Rep Brett Friskney

This past academic year has been one of new direction for the Wolfson School Rep Team. We have primarily focused on community building, an important aspect of Doctoral Researcher life that has proven challenging over recent years, mainly as a result of the size of our school and its division over two main sites; the Wolfson and DAV Buildings and Holywell Park. Past endeavours have sought to bring researchers together through social sport, themed get-togethers and encouraging attendance to school events such as the annual summer BBQ and Christmas party. Success has been mixed, often with little engagement, and each year’s rep team having to effectively start again from square one. This year, our priority has been to establish a framework of events whereby we aim to run one large social event in each quarter of the year at a key point in the academic calendar, each with a different theme in order to maximise inclusion. Additionally, each event would have a ‘value-add’ opportunity such that there is a tangible benefit to the School from hosting these events, such as boosting PRES response rate, or gaining feedback on the induction and starting process.

School of MEME Social

The team have been collating ideas and a draft framework has been made for implementation in the next academic cycle. Hopefully, it can be used and developed by rep teams in years to come. Unfortunately, this year we only had time to run a pizza party (attended by over 50 researchers!) before the arrival of Covid-19. We instead ran a series of weekly lunchtime quizzes using the popular quiz app Kahoot, in which the winner each week produced the next quiz. This was a welcome work break for those who took part, as well as providing an important opportunity to interact with others through this time. We feel that a library of community-building resources including ideas, contacts and useful information for planning compiled by all Schools would be a useful tool for sharing best practices and improving the DR community experience for all! Finally, thanks to all the reps for their contribution: Johnny Valadas Catucho, Feiyuan Long, Muhammad Afzal, Kumba Conteh and Abigail Pople.

As an endnote, Tom and I would like to express our sincere thanks to all the lead reps and reps for their work and effort put in within their schools. It’s been a pleasure working with you all and wishing the very best to Nathan and Callie and the set of lead reps & reps.

Over and out,

DR President team 2019-2020 – Tom Baker & Rieman Rudra

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