Doctoral College

Final DR President Update

Written by Nathan Ritchie

As I approach the end of my tenure as Doctoral Researcher President, I want to write my final blog for Doctoral College and reflect on the past academic year and say some words of thanks. Being a representative, an active one that is, is full of peaks and pits, but I have thoroughly valued my experience this year and have really appreciated getting to know more about the Doctoral Researcher community, and Loughborough University as a whole this academic year.

There are only a certain number of things you can achieve in one academic year as a representative. It is made more difficult when you are approaching the deadline of your PhD, and I haven’t managed to achieve everything I set out to at the beginning of the year. Regardless of what I have achieved, one of the things I am most proud of, is I have never been late to a single meeting, always kept my engagements, and I have been generous with my time. I believe when you are representing a community, and working alongside other busy people, it is essential to be professional in this manner. So, when looking back on a year of activity, I have to say, this might be my proudest accomplishment.

This professionalism and engagement has allowed me to be first Doctoral Researcher President to do a number of things, these include:

  • Establish the foundation for a PGR parents and carers community.
  • Organise representative forums to discuss PGR relevant issues such as University Covid-19 support, international PGRs, and PGR teaching.
  • Attend London SSLC meetings
  • Foster a cohesive and supportive group of Lead Representatives
  • Run a social media campaign highlighting the breadth of environmental Doctoral research at Loughborough University
  • Communicate via WeChat with Chinese PGRs in their own language with monthly newsletters
  • Form a proposal for free menstrual health hygiene products
  • Advise on the creation of buddy systems in four schools.
  • Raise over £800 for mental health services at Loughborough University

Apart from these firsts, here are a few other of my regular activities:  

  • Met on a regular basis with the Education Executive Officer, Ana Maria Bilciu, Associate Pro-Vice Chancellor of Doctoral College Liz Peel, Researcher development staff, Katryna Kalawsky and Duncan Stanley.
  • Facilitated consultations or had meetings with Director of Finance, Organisational Development, Loughborough Students Union Executive, Library, Centre for Faith and Spirituality, UCU Casualisation Officer, Student Services, Vice Chancellor, Head of Wellbeing Services, Chief Operating Officer.
  • Lobbied for a Postgraduate Executive Officer at Loughborough Students Union.
  • Revisited and renewed SSLC Code of Practice
  • Attended SSN events when possible.
  • Attended Wellbeing Working Group.
  • Presented at/hosted two events at the Wellbeing Fortnight
  • Presented at four inductions
  • Promoted Employee Assistance Programme and LEAP scheme along with other university activities.
  • Was part of the promotion for the university record breaking PRES turnout. 
  • Attended Doctoral College Sub-Committees, and Research Committees
  • Created an Instagram account for the Presidential Team
  • Chaired three lead representative meetings.

If I was to highlight one achievement during the year, it would have to be the additional financial support and institutional awareness I along with others managed to achieve for parents this year. This was a particularly proud moment because I knew that not only the parent would benefit from institutional support, but also their children. There is still a lot to do in this regard, to ensure that PGR parents and carers, especially single parents, are not significantly disadvantaged compared with other PGRs, but the first steps were made this year. A special thanks goes to all the parents that helped me on this.  

Other thanks are in order. I must firstly thank Tymele Deydier and the rest of the SSN committee for continuing to think of ways our community can pull together. They have adapted brilliantly in tough times to keep a sense of community going. I am not an active member of the Writing Gym, but I know through others, that they have continued to provide a space of support, conversation, and work throughout the year also, so thank you to you all.  Also, thank you for the excellent work Chloe Blackwell and Rachel Armitage have done again this year in Heads Together, and good luck to the next organising committee. I have never been a sub-warden but have had the chance to communicate with them throughout the year, and I really appreciate the work they have done to keep this campus operating. They do not get enough credit. Also, a big thank you to the many PGRs working at the Covid testing centres, what a unique (hopefully once in a lifetime!) experience.

Thank you to all the representatives who have worked selflessly for the benefit of their community this year. An active, passionate rep is a special breed, a group I am happy to have been a part of for the past 8 years. A special thanks to the Lead Reps, especially Brett Friskney, Ursula Davis, Guy Tallentire, Jose ‘Pepe’ Salazar-Vela, Tymele Deydier, Percy Reyes-Paredes, Stan Windsor and Angelina Pan. Angelina deserves special mention as an exemplary lead representative, especially as a first year. I must also thank the ‘unofficial’ representatives on specific matters, who have stepped up to the plate in the process displaying their passion and conviction. These include Demi Wilton, who did some fantastic work for parents this year, and has become a friend in the process. Petra Salaric who brought the issue of menstrual health and period poverty to my attention this year, we worked together on a proposal to get this addressed at this institution which has been well received. Also, thanks to Alex Christiansen, whose ideas for Research Culture and buddy systems have been insightful and helpful.   

Thank you to the Doctoral College for working with me this year. I especially respect the human touch they showed me by sending me cards during two big moments in my life this year. I cannot be the easiest representative to get along with at times, nor do I strive to be, but I have appreciated Liz Peel’s patience and willingness to exchange views on the range of PGR related issues that have cropped up this year. Thank you also to Sam Marshall, who has reached out to me on several occasions to get the views of Doctoral Researchers on various matters throughout the year. I have also valued my interactions with both Duncan Stanley and Katryna Kalawsky, both who have felt very much like part of the furniture during my Doctoral Researcher experience. I should also thank Jenna Townend and Will Burns, who are both allies of the DR community. A final word of thanks to Zoe Crowson, who really is the unsung hero there at the Doctoral College.

I should also thank the Loughborough Students Union for working with me this year. I stand by the conclusions I have reached about the way the Union structures fail Doctoral Researchers, but I have found the staff professional, helpful and friendly. Particular thanks to Chloe Oliver, who does a lot of the behind the scenes work for DR representation and manages it all with a smile! Thanks also to Nicky Conway, who has also been supportive, and I know through speaking with other PGRs, how great Nicky has been with offering advice to some of our PGRs this year. Thank you also to LSU Executive. Especially Ana-Maria Bilciu, who has elevated PGR voices at the highest level of both University and LSU committees. This should not go unrecognised and should be commended. Thanks also to Alex Marlowe, who is always open to exchange views with me, and has made positive steps forward in terms of engagement with DRs.

A final word of thanks goes to those closest to me who have offered support in different ways. First to my closest colleagues in my department who I will be leaving behind this year, Sophie Parslow (who was also a fantastic rep in her day), Tasha Kitcher, Hannah Thompson, Manuel Torres-Sahli, Dayei Oh. Also, to my last buddy, Yanning Chen. Thanks more widely to the whole Communication & Media Department at Loughborough Uni, PGRs and staff. My last thanks, in this rather, gluttonous thank-fest goes to my partner, Ela Mikolajczyk and my son Hugo Ritchie. Those two are the ones who have really made the most sacrifice this year so that I can start work early and finish late, 7 days a week.

I leave my current role and my time as a DR at Loughborough with a good feeling that other PGR reps, perhaps more careful and eloquent than I, will continue to work alongside progressive staff members for the benefit of the DR community. The DR experience must evolve alongside our understanding of mental health, advancements in technology and social justice. This can be achieved through consistent dialogue between DRs, University staff and LSU. But also, through a commitment to work productively, a progressive and cohesive vision and an ability to confront difficult truths for the wider benefit of the community. As a population, Doctoral Researchers are the most experienced and educated group of students at the University. But far from being only students, we are researchers, teachers, sub-wardens, Covid testers and much more. Not to mention that some of us will play our part in shaping the higher education sector for years to come.  We should therefore proceed with the upmost confidence, safe in the knowledge that our contribution to this University is an invaluable part to its success.  

Many thanks Nathan

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