Loughborough PhD Social & Support Network

#BLOG – Reflecting on the past year from Lead Reps’ Perspective (Part 1)

By Rieman Rudra and Tom Baker
Former DR Presidential Team (2019-2020)

The past year has been particularly challenging without a doubt and with each school experiencing its fair share of struggles and challenges. Tom and I felt it would be good idea to share how your team of Lead Reps and Reps have been doing over the past academic year. Obviously, we experienced the unexpected with COVID-19 and its challenges, yet the reps raised the bar with unwavering support to their peers and community in these unprecedented and troubled times to which Tom and I were very grateful for. From raising your concerns to sharing the latest news of Covid-19, to working towards improving the research culture within Loughborough to improving communication between Doctoral researchers, we hope you can see some of the good practices and things reps and lead reps have implemented within their respective schools over the past year.

This blog has 2 intentions:

  • To showcase current lead reps and the work they have done within their schools.
  • Give an overview of the role to individual considering applying for the reps which are currently open for applications till 30th October (https://lsu.co.uk/academic-experience/academic-representation/dr-reps)
Apply to become your department representatieve!

School of Design and Creative Arts by Lead Rep Matthew Lee-Smith

This academic year has been an interesting one for the School of Design and Creative Arts. We have witnessed a large and complex merger, which is not over yet, as well as the impact wrought by the pandemic. The School of Design and Creative Arts encompasses a range of topics and sites spanning the Environmental Ergonomics Laboratory in James France, to the six creative arts hubs in Edward Barnsley. However, what unites us is our creativity, tenacity, and versatility.

Design School Team

As the lead representative for this diverse body of postgraduates, my main focus this year was ensuring the various voices were heard, seeking to create a sense of unity during the merger. This included making sure we had representatives from as many different sites and work formats (full time/part time) as possible. Beyond this, it has been, and remains, my intent to push for changes in the research culture. My aim is to see more postgraduates partaking in work within their research groups and interest areas. By encouraging student and staff to collaborate on outputs, students will gain more experience and authorship whereas staff can learn more about and work with students beyond their own supervisory roles, potentially leading to new opportunities. Moving forward, once the restrictions have lifted, I hope to pursue events that bring us together such as cross building/site exhibitions of work. Furthermore, we will be looking to expand events such as the Design Research (DesRes) conference we annually host internally to include the Creative Arts elements of the school. Finally, I would like to thank all the staff, students, and representatives for all the help and effort during this academic year. I would also like to sincerely thanks to all the reps for their hard work in the last year: Cecelia Landa-Avila, Nathaniel Kail, Callie Merrick, Julia Wilfing, Haiou Zhu, Han Lin LI, Jane Cook and Ricardo

School of Business and Economics by Lead Rep Luke Bellamy

As like everyone else, SBE has been substantially challenged and marked by the COVID-19 crisis. Many of the plans for improvements within the school for the year have been put on hold simply due to the requirement to work from home. Despite this, we have made progress in enhancing the relationship between the PhD students and the school and developing a positive and constructive rapport, meeting regularly to discuss any issues occurring, particularly since we have all been socially distanced and away from the office. I’d like to give special thanks and recognition to Ursula Davis who has been very proactive as a Rep, keeping on top of communications and records, and who has been organising and running the virtual tea@2 sessions, one of the successes of recent months. 

Communication has always been an issue and we recognised this early in the year before COVID-19 unfolded. We enhanced our visibility through posters in the office and more frequent emails, enabling us to signpost more doctoral researchers. But communication has been challenged by the physical distancing during this time between students and reps due to our lack of usual face-to-face chats in the office, especially where digital communication struggles to pick up the slack here. Communication between the reps and the school has been consistent and regular, and we have been working together to improve the situation for SBE doctoral researchers during this time.  

School of Business and Economics Office

Progress is being made now towards a more normal return to work, and as such the role of reps will continue to be important in SBE. As social distancing is maintained and a new working norm emerges, our focus should be more proactive going forward, ensuring that no one is struggling in silence with any aspect of their work and study in relationship with the school and university. Finally, thanks also to Elisa Deffenu, Vidura Sooriyaarachchi, Bunmi Akintola, Artemis Tonikidou and Lynne Newbitt for their contributions as REPs over the last year as well.

Loughborough University London by Lead Rep Erica Fletcher

When I joined LUL in October 2019 the reps at the time were doing an amazing job and were great models for how to be a rep for the school. They were approachable, committed to building a feeling of community and felt like a great representative of our voices. I became lead rep of LUL in January 2020, although it looked like the biggest obstacle that I would face in my role was the building plan for a new PhD office that was due to begin over summer, COVID-19 had other plans. Most of my time so far as LUL rep has been defined by COVID-19 and the school’s adaption to it. I’m really proud of how the school has handled this difficult time. Using a WhatsApp group for the PGRs we have been able to maintain communication and help each other out when questions or problems arise. In this time of uncertainty, it’s been really valuable to have this open communication where myself and the second rep, Mona Khan, can be available to help and check in with everyone.  As a more formal channel, the Deputy Director for Doctoral Programmes, Jessica Noske-Turner, created a Microsoft Teams PhD virtual office. During lockdown in London this virtual office has been home to a weekly writing gym, a bake your thesis competition, happy hour Friday’s, workshops, seminars, and more. Lots of these activities have also been student-led and well attended which has helped in maintaining the community when we can’t be together in-person. For the next academic year, I hope the foundations for the virtual platforms that have been established this year continue to be built upon. Having online access to the community and learning resources not only connects those based in the London school that cannot make in-person events, but also connects our school to the Loughborough campus where we are able to virtually attend events and share more resources than ever. I’d also like to thank LUL’s other rep, Mona Khan, for everything she has done this year, it has been truly appreciated.

We hope the above testimonials from the reps of School of Design & Creative Arts, Business and Economics and Loughborough University London give you an idea of what the role entails and encourages you to apply for the role.

Keep your eyes peeled for the next set of reps’ testimonials next week.

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