Written by Nathan Ritchie and Callie Merrick
Hi there! It’s been a while! I am excited to write this blog to tell you all about our activities the last couple of months. This blog will be highlight some key developments from the past few months and get you up to date with some of our activities. I hope you enjoy!
Caring responsibilities support
At the beginning of the academic year. I put parents & carers front-and-centre of my activities. The aim was to achieve two things. First was to campaign for financial support for those parents & carers who were disproportionately impacted by the pandemic. This support would not only benefit parents & carers, but also the children, and/or relatives, so I was extremely pleased that the university responded swiftly and secured funding from Office for Students for parents & carers. This support, although not wiping away, an awful, disruptive year, will provide parents & carers with the breathing room they need to complete their thesis. I’d like to thank all the parents, Doctoral College staff and representatives for making this happen.
I also wanted to address and improve on what is currently on offer for parents in terms of wider support, whether this be online resources or a move towards a more childcare friendly PhD journey i.e., supervisor awareness, child access to events. Again, I’d like to thank members of Doctoral College and Student Services, especially, Manuel Alonso, for making strides towards this goal. With help from other parents, we have also built a Facebook community of parents & carers with over 50 members. This will hopefully ensure that the community continues to prosper after this academic year. I also hosted a parent’s event for the Wellbeing Fortnight (more on that later), this brought together many parents to discuss their experiences. I have heard positive feedback from parents about the event, so I am glad for that. I am really happy with how things have gone so far, and that a previously underrepresented sub-population now has their voice heard. A special thanks must go out to Demi Wilton, Penny Davis, Amelia Mills, Yasmin Jaaron and PhD SSN for their hard work behind the scenes.
Mental health support
The PGR wellbeing fortnight was a brilliant success. Katryna Kalawsky, from the Doctoral College, organised the series of events and was the glue that held it all together. An amazing achievement in a challenging year where these events are needed more than ever. A big congratulations to Katryna and all the contributors who made the event success. Also, well done if you got involved and took advantage of what is a unique set of events exclusive to Loughborough University.
I’d like to give a special shout to Loughborough Students Union who showed their willingness to engage with the PGR community once again by holding an LSU awareness event. Special thanks to Alex Marlowe, Ana-Maria Bilciu and Hannah Smith for all their hard work putting on that event. We hope to be sending out clips from the event on our social media channels shortly. There is a lot that LSU can offer PGRs, and I think this year can be the beginning towards further integration between the PGR community and the LSU. A lot of these foundations are being built with an expectation of further progress, whoever the next LSU Exec happens to be (elections soon, keep an eye out!).
So, what I have been up to relating to PGR mental health and wellbeing? I have met with the Centre for Faith and Spirituality and we will be holding an event, in collaboration with PhD SSN on the 9th of April to raise awareness of that service. I met with Head of Wellbeing Services, Veronica Moore and outlined some aspects of PGR mental health support that could be worked on. I sat on the inaugural PGR wellbeing working group and hope to see that flourish throughout the year. I have been actively promoting the EAP: My Healthy Advantage App on our social media channels, a fantastic app, currently underutilised by our PGR community. I have also been fundraising for the mental health services. I am really thankful to everyone who donated to the campaign. Together we raised £860 for MH services and the whole £10k campaign raised close £30,000! A brilliant achievement. Well done to everyone who got involved and again a huge thank you to those who sponsored me! Special thanks also go to Lboro Alumni for organising the campaign.
So, you may, or may not know, that one of the primary responsibilities of the Presidential Team is to oversee PGR representative activities. In practice, this means trusting that Lead Representatives from each school are active and contributing to their community and looking after their own team of reps. I am really delighted to say that the Lead Representative this year have been amazingly supportive, not only of their PGRs but also to each other. It would be wrong of me to pick certain Lead Reps out, so I will just say a huge thank you to each and every one of them for pulling together in what has been an extraordinary challenging year to be a representative.
With help from the reps, we have raised several issues with the Doctoral College and Schools and continue to work on these matters for the benefit of our community. These include Covid-19 financial support from the University, PGR access to campus facilities, professional development, in particular, in relation to marketing of events, career guidance and support and supervisor related issues. You cannot solve any of these overnight and improvements on this front are achieved through ongoing dialogue and perseverance. I look forward to working together with colleagues to make progress on these fronts.
So, what I have been doing in regard to rep activities? This year we introduced Rep Forums for the first time, these are spaces where PGR reps can voice their opinions on a range of topics. We have, so far, discussed PGR teaching and University response to Covid-19. These are really useful events with the key themes then relayed to Liz Peel in our monthly meetings. We have two left, one event will discuss international PGR issues, and the other, PGR Research Culture. I have also been working closer with members of the Exec to ensure our representatives are heard at the LSU on a more frequent basis, this has resulted in regular meetings with LSU President, Matt Youngs and his team. I hope this will develop into a long-lasting arrangement where every Lead Rep team will meet on a semi regular basis with the LSU Exec. Overall, I hope the lead representatives have felt supported, and they can approach us when they feel the need to. This extends to all representatives and PGRs for that matter, you can always feel comfortable raising an issue directly with the Presidential Team.
Broadening our social media horizons.
PGRs use social media in different ways. It is not enough to communicate using only Facebook or Twitter because there are large numbers of PGRs who do not regularly access these platforms. Recognising that, we have put energy into making sure we are present across all the available social media platforms. This means we now have an Instagram account, where we post more videos, and we now have WeChat, the number one used social media platform in China. This allows us to reach a wider audience of our DRs and engage with them through various means, an important thing to do, in a year where we have less physical access to each other. We are continuing to look at our social media material and will soon be posting short videos of our Doctoral Researchers introducing their environmental themed research on our social media platforms, so stay tuned for that! A special thanks goes out to Angelina Pan, who has been helping me navigate the unfamiliar territory of WeChat!
What do we have to look forward to?
With less than six months to go of this academic year, this year is flying by! But I still have a lot I would like to achieve. In particular, I am interested in opening discussions about conditions around PGR teaching and how we can progress on this front for the benefit of our PGR community. Just as parents were the priority at the beginning of the year, I want to dedicate energy to PGR teaching, so please do come forward to speak to us if you would like to raise any concerns. I also see as one of our biggest collective challenges, the integration of our community back into physical campus life. In many ways, this challenge is a welcome one, as it will hopefully mean a return back to a semblance of normality. What that normality will look like, and what lessons we have learnt under these new working conditions, are all things worth bearing in mind and systematically getting to grips with as we enter a post-pandemic era. I look forward to being part of those discussions at the tail end of my tenure as Co-President.
Many things are coming up that are worth noting. The Postgraduate Researcher Experience Survey (PRES) is imminent, this is the survey and has the widest reverberations across the institution. I strongly advise PGRs to take part in this survey when the chance arises. There will be an environmental week takeover in the build-up to Earth Day, so please keep track of our social media to keep in touch with that. At the beginning of April, the representatives will be meeting with Steve Rothberg and Liz Peel to ask questions and discuss key issues. If you would like anything raised at that meeting, please do get in touch with your representatives. As mentioned, there will also be a Centre for Faith and Spirituality awareness event in April in collaboration with PhD SSN, so we look forward to welcoming you there also. And that is just April!
Looking further forward, I will continue to work collaboratively with PhD SSN, who have an amazing committee this year led by Chair Tymele Deydier. The hope being that we can work together when people in the UK can meet outdoors to socialise. We will, before we know it, have the Loughborough University PhD Awards to look forward to, in the meantime you can nominate both staff and PGRs for the national PhD awards (see SSN hint above). There are many PGRs deserved of a nomination, so hopefully we can get a couple awards for Lufbra. There will around the time of the Loughborough PhD awards, be a new Presidential Team appointed! So, if you are interested, please reach out to us, as soon as you like, so we can brief you on the role.
Many thanks for reading and if there are any questions or comments please feel free to reach out to us directly at Drpresidentialteam@lboro.ac.uk.