officer blog


the lakeside view: PGR Blog

Part of the Courage Wellbeing Project about PGR life at UEA. 

Wed 17 Apr 2019

Socialising, enjoying campus life, and building resilience

This article is written by Linda Horsnell, a part-time PhD student (LDC), associate tutor, and Courage Project intern.

My work as a part-time PGR student means I have been at the UEA for over seven years, watching the seasons change as I look out over the lake from the library.

This year I decided to start making a photographic record, from the sunny days in August:


To the December morning mists and early evening sunsets:



To the January hazy sun, frost and snow:



Recently, I have joined the Courage Project's Walk and Talk group, offering postgraduates the opportunity to see more of the campus' beautiful grounds. It is a great way of taking an hour for yourself and also getting meet other PGRs from different faculties that you would not usually get to talk to. We sometimes get to say hello to the donkeys in the fields near the lake too:



The Walk and Talks are set up by the Courage Project, an operation I am also working on as a researcher into resilience and training. Resilience is defined in many different ways depending on which book or paper you read, but all definitions are based on the concepts of overcoming adversity and making positive adaptations. When I sat down and mapped all the things that can affect postgraduate research students at UEA - for example the student/supervisor relationship, isolation, and workload pressure - the ability to be resilient appeared central. The Walk and Talks are just one activity being run by the Courage Project which can help PGR students manage their stress levels and learn resilience. Citren and Weiss, whose book The Resilience Advantage: Stop Managing Stress and Find Your Resilience, describes building up resilience as the ‘Teflon-based approach to stress’ - but what does this mean in practice for PGRs at UEA? If you are interested in talking to me about any training you have undertaken, any activities you perform to help you as you write your thesis, or anything that the university should be doing to aid in this task, keep an eye on the Courage Project email bulletins (and Facebook and Twitter!) as I will be recruiting for help with my research soon and would love to have you on board.

I am so excited about working on this project as it has given me a unique chance to help my fellow PGRs at UEA. I look forward to talking to lots of you in the future, be it in an interview for the project, or on the Walk and Talks, or as part of PhDiggers, which I will be joining too. However you do it – take time for yourself and enjoy our lovely campus.

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Wed 10 Apr 2019

Resilience and the ‘Wellbeing Agenda’: A Courage Project Perspective

‘Grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change,

The Courage to change the things I can,

And the Wisdom to know the difference’

(Rienhold Niebuhr, 1934)


Wellbeing is everywhere at the moment. We are told variously that we should be paying greater attention to our wellbeing, that certain products will enhance our wellbeing, and that there are certain activities we should be doing a great deal more of (and less of others) if we want to optimise our wellbeing. The central idea seems to be that we need to do regular self-maintenance in order to achieve or keep up a state of wellness. Whilst this is a generally valid statement in itself, naturally people and organisations mould and emphasise the term in key contexts to fit their perspectives, interests, and specific agendas (often to sell us things).

In this way, wellbeing starts to get into the territory of another useful but potentially slippery term: resilience. Definitions and use of this term seem to revolve around a core idea that people (and other systems, but overwhelmingly individual people in current usage) can move towards a state that responds well to challenges, in a way that either preserves their state of being, or allows for any impact on it to be quickly compensated for.

Both of these terms then, touch upon some very real and acute debates about what causes mental health problems, and who is responsible for working to address them. The causality aspect is complex and multi-levelled, I assure you (as someone who has studied it academically, practically, and personally), and could take up many further blog posts. Let’s take this to be a given, however, and instead explore the responsibility aspect a little further.

Something that’s always interested me (as a mental health professional and someone with some personal experience of mental health issues) is how if we don’t watch our language broad definitions of wellbeing and resilience get channelled, often via phrases like ‘ownership’ and ‘taking responsibility’, into the territory of blame and individuation. They can be a way of the professionals and relevant individuals around a person washing their hands of any real meaningful involvement. They can be a way of propagating ‘toxic positivity’ and downplaying an individual’s experience. This kind of talk has been rampant in particular within the regional mental health services I have worked with, even being implemented by services claiming to be doing the exact opposite under a ‘recovery-focused’ model of working. I’d suggest it is at the very core of the crisis they are currently experiencing.

When Wellbeing and Resilience are not critically considered

To give you an idea of what I mean by the dismissiveness that can accompany poorly-defined ideas of wellbeing and resilience in institutions, here are some real-life examples of the extreme ‘toxic positivity’ that can ensue, even in crisis situations:

‘I think you’re being overly negative about the situation’ (said to a person with major depressive disorder)

‘We’ve been here before with this person, and we can’t do anything with them unless they take some responsibility. At the end of the day that’s their choice’ (said to another professional supporting a person with bipolar disorder)

‘We know what you’re like when you get like this, don’t we? Why don’t you try running a nice hot bath and I’m sure you’ll feel better’ (said to someone who had made recent, substantial suicide attempts)

For context, please bear in mind that some of the above are from crisis response professionals, who may be the first port of call for a person in crisis. For balance, I’d add that I’ve worked with many amazing crisis response professionals who have easily avoided such approaches.

I’m not saying that the people making these comments set out to do harm to the people they were supposed to be supporting. I’m also definitely not saying that their response should have been the inverse kind of poor practice (again all too common with well-meaning but ill-informed folk): to swoop in and do everything for and to the person in a way that would limit their individual autonomy. What I’d expect is that the supporting person engages with the person needing support in a way which at least:

  • Validates the individual’s current experience.
  • Acknowledges any simple elements which either party could do to make the immediate situation easier.
  • Acknowledges the complexity of the situation and how no one is to blame, yet both parties need to respond.
  • Starts a discussion when possible about what needs to change over the longer term in order to prevent, limit or mitigate any further crises, and looks at realistically who is capable of doing what, and who else might need to be involved.

We can think of the two extremes to avoid in adopting this way of working with people as ‘doing nothing’ vs ‘doing to’. The third position can be roughly summarised as ‘doing with’. This is one where we work alongside a person, set reasonable expectations (for example promising to help them live around their symptoms rather than hinting vaguely at cures) and don’t become aloof or slip into a saviour complex. It’s nothing new (many mental health organisations claim to have a ‘no decision about me without me’ policy, or equivalent) but is rarely fully implemented.

Wellbeing and Resilience within the Courage Project

Within the Courage Project, we have set out to create a meaningful, impactful project which deals with the complex reality of wellbeing in postgraduate researchers. We have consulted research students and the people supporting them about what matters to them. We have an array of research students employed and embedded within the project, providing leadership, generating ideas, and running dedicated interventions for particular aspects important to them. Many of our team have encountered mental health difficulties during postgraduate studies ourselves. We are trying our best to ‘do with’.

In focusing our efforts, we have tried to avoid is a project that simply says ‘doing a research degree is always hard, researchers need (…) skills and they will be fine’. We know, for example, that group-level processes like institutional culture and university policy are key causes and exacerbators of huge amounts of the wellbeing issues that PGR students face. We know that inter-individual factors like the possibility of poor quality, un-standardised supervisor relationships are key. We’ve dedicated strands of work to delivering improvements in each of these areas, with a degree of success already.

Similarly however, we’d be remiss in our duty to funders, the university, and most importantly the PGR students if we didn’t point out that:

  • We can’t immediately change everything about culture and policies, which are often tied to forces beyond ourselves such as politics and economics. As such there are inevitably some significant potential risks (e.g. to mental health) that will remain associated with doing a research degree. We must know what we can quickly change, what we can change only with sustained effort over the longer term, and what we are unlikely to be able to affect, and empower ourselves accordingly.
  • There are a definitely a few quick wins to be had from helping people with evidence-based personal wellbeing and resilience tools (whilst emphasising that this is only part of the picture) so that they can respond optimally to those risks that are enduring.

What this leads us to then is an approach where we don’t discard wellbeing and resilience-type thinking but simply deploy it carefully, as part of a broader approach. Where possible, we’ve tried to make this ‘situating’ of wellbeing and resilience-type thinking fairly explicit. Examples include:

  • Running emotional intelligence workshops which attempt to better equip PGRs to recognise and respond to both their own emotions and those of others, and think about the roles these play in everyday interactions.
  • Providing practical meditation sessions, which try to go beyond the wellbeing agenda’s obsession with basic mindfulness as a cure-all (spoiler alert: it’s not one), and give people a varied toolkit to draw upon when presented with systemic challenges in their doctoral studies, whilst emphasising that this is only a part of the picture.

I don’t want to hold up Courage as some paragon of virtue with this blog post, or as the cure-all for PGR mental health at UEA and partner institutes (there’s a lot more to do), but I do want to emphasise how seriously, critically, and collaboratively my colleagues and I have tried to take the issues we were presented with, even if some of this only provides a starting point for future work.

I’ll draw this slight ramble to a close by saying that if you have related thoughts, experiences or ideas (positive or negative, about wellbeing, resilience, or any of the other issues this blog post touches upon) we really are keen to hear from you.

Benjamin Marshall is a member of the Courage Project leadership team, with a background in creating and running third sector projects for individuals with complex needs. He completed a PhD at UEA in 2015 on the cognitive psychology of interpretation in social anxiety, and is currently writing a book combining the science and experience of living and working with and around anxiety and depression.

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Wed 03 Apr 2019

keeping pg(su) accountable to you - what I learned while campaigning

This post is by Matt Gallagher: "I am a second year PGR in the school of PPL and was a candidate in the recent Postgraduate Officer election. I have been a student at UEA since 2012 and have been active at the PG Assembly and other PG events this year."

A few weeks ago I ran to be the uea(su) Postgraduate Officer, an experience that had some real highs and some real lows. Not only was I trying to gain votes, I also wanted to talk to postgraduate students who hadn’t previously engaged with the Students' Union, to try to see what they wanted from a Postgraduate Officer and what issues they were facing. However, after the election I felt I had all this information that I had received from talking to students with nowhere to put it. Then a friend suggested I write it down and send it to the Lakeside View in an attempt to ensure that the conversations I had while campaigning could still shape the discussion happening in Postgraduate(su), and to ensure that those voices were still being served.

One of first questions that I heard throughout the campaign was always along the lines of 'why should I vote in the elections, I have nothing to do with the Students' Union?’ A lot of people didn’t know the elections were occurring, and even when they did, there was often confusion about what they were voting for. This fundamental disconnect between the SU and the postgraduate community is one of the largest problems we face at the moment. The role of the Postgraduate Officer and Postgraduate(su) is literally that they are “dedicated to representing and advocating for postgraduate students." This has come to involve a whole host of things, ranging from the organisation of an amazing activities calendar, to the representing of postgraduate students in issues such as the discussions over CSED's at-risk Developing Teaching Skills course and the debate over the casualisation of Associate Tutor contracts. These dual aspects are critical as they both help and protect students, as well as provide the space needed to build a community.

They also require people to get involved to make sure the Union is aware and held accountable to the people they are representing. The election results topped out at about 10% of the postgraduate research community. Although this is the highest it has been for a while, it also means that around 90% of the community is not engaged. If politics is for the people who turn up, we need to step up our game! I spent a lot of the first few days of the election going round postgraduate researcher’s offices on campus, trying to find people who traditionally do not vote in the SU elections in order to explain who I was and why I was worth voting for. A student who I met in the office above the Sainsbury Centre summed up why this is so important when she said "I didn't even know there were elections on, however, because you were the only one who has come out this way I will vote for you!"

As a union, our power comes from the ability to get people involved and working together. A lot of the issues facing PGRs - such as the casualisation of Associate Tutors, mental health problems, and the ongoing discussions about what to replace DTS with - will require students both being made aware that the problems are there and that the SU is there to help. It’s up to the Postgraduate Officer to be proactive and make sure they are pushing involvement within schools that are feeling isolated and listening to the PGRs who have problems. Collectively, we can work together to put pressure on UEA to make it as wonderful as possible. However, if we are only talking with a small group of people, we are going to struggle to be heard. Part of this is on the SU and the officer team to get out and talk to postgraduate researchers, but it is also down to us as a community to say these issues are important and that we want to work with the SU to fix them.

Another thing people brought up while I was campaigning was the need to increase access. Very few people knew that they had a PG Committee, cheap access to sports activities, and - perhaps most importantly - a place where they could bring issues in the Postgraduate Assembly. Especially in the case of part-time and distant students, people often felt they could not get their voices heard because they did not know how to become involved. We should be looking to make this easier. We should actively look to run focus groups that include these students and to get their insights into how we can help them. It is also important to work on the practical barriers that stop people getting involved - for example, by making sure they have the ability to socialise with cheaper parking in the ‘social’ hours after 5pm, and by organising events that are outside working hours so that those who support their learning with part-time jobs feel less isolated and more able to attend.

Finally, the Postgraduate Officer should take it upon themself to go out and speak to these students on a regular basis, find out about the issues they are facing, and why they can’t access the channels available. On a personal note, I want to say how much I enjoyed the election and how thankful I am about all the support that I received. Even now, people are still coming to chat about the Union and how we can improve things for postgraduates at the UEA. I really recommend that if you have ideas to drop an email to the Postgraduate Officer, Martin Marko, or the Postgraduate(su) account. This is the only way we can make some real change and help get people involved.

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Wed 27 Mar 2019

grown from the concrete - phdiggers gardening group @ uea

A few weeks ago, we announced PhDiggers, a gardening group for postgraduate students at UEA. Folks probably wouldn't expect UEA PGRs to have particularly green thumbs - after all, our university is known for its brutalist architecture, heck, our student newspaper is called Concrete - but the response has been phenomenal. Seemingly every time Bryony (the Courage Project’s PGR Mental Health Coordinator) returns to her desk from a meeting, she tells me "I just had another person congratulate us for PhDiggers," and at the time of writing, nearly 50 people have signed up to the project’s mailing list. Clearly, great things can sprout from the concrete.

I am very much an amateur gardener, and there are still many questions I have yet to find an answer for when it comes to my arbitrary collection of perennial houseplants. Why does my dang mint plant die when I fail to look at it for five minutes, while my maidenhair fern does better when I adopt a more laissez-faire approach to plant maintenance? Why does my shamrock only have one single clover? Why am I still skint, despite my money plant growing for the first time in over a year?

In spite of my ignorance, the leafy friendos who populate my windowsills and garden have been very good to me. I got into gardening last summer, after suffering from a significant relapse into depression and anxiety that left me with very little energy to do anything other than watch cartoons. The catharsis I found in maintaining my very small garden space – another patch of concrete suitable only for the stubborn – shouldn’t have surprised me. There have been plenty of studies that indicate the positive impact that access to green spaces and gardening can have on mental health is real and tangible. "Horticultural therapy is much more than gardening," said Laura Hillier in a Guardian article last year, "it offers people a chance to take part in something meaningful and build their skills and confidence."

It’s important to note that gardening alone can’t fix the mental health crisis that academia is currently in – for that, we need broad structural change from the top down. But what PhDiggers can do, is help build and strengthen a postgraduate research community, and give postgrads a new avenue for exploring approaches to mental resilience and wellbeing. Plus, there’s something very rewarding about watching something that you care about grow (particularly when your thesis word count refuses to).

PhDiggers has two initial projects. We are in the process of acquiring several allotments on campus for students to communally grow a variety of fruits and vegetables. Recently, we went to take a look at one of the plots. It’s… a bit of a fixer-upper, I’m not going to lie. But there’s a lot of potential.

The other project is in collaboration with the Estates team – we have been given permission to turn the walled garden by Earlham Hall (somewhat charming, but, arguably, also a bit of a fixer-upper), into a Silent Space – a place for quiet reflection and solitude. This is particularly exciting because it will be the first such space to exist on the grounds of a UK university.

Plans for the first PhDiggers sessions are underway – I can reveal that the first gardening session for the allotment project will be towards the end of the Easter break, while we are looking to begin work on the walled garden in early May. If you’ve already signed up to hear more about PhDiggers, keep an eye on your emails in the coming weeks! If you haven’t signed up yet, the form is here, go go go! Let’s show them what can grow from the concrete.

This blog post is written by Tarnia, the Marketing Assistant for the Courage Project. She is also a PGR student, and an Associate Tutor in AMA and PPL. She has managed to keep a houseplant alive on her desk at work for over two months now despite only working part-time.
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Wed 20 Mar 2019

we need to talk more about the treatment of associate tutors at uea

This post is written by a former Associate Tutor who feels the lack of support offered while in the role contributed toward the exacerbation of her mental health problems. She is writing anonymously because of concerns about repercussions for her career and also partly, admittedly, because of some lingering misguided loyalty. The author hopes that highlighting her experience will help others experiencing similar issues realise that they are not alone, that they can speak out, and to help improve the experience of being an Associate Tutor at UEA.

I feel conflicting emotions as I write this blog post, but mostly I feel sad and angry. Sad because working as an Associate Tutor in the subject you love and study should be a positive experience. Angry because the experience could so easily be improved, and some staff who claimed they were dedicated to helping people with mental health problems actually only helped to make mine worse. Yes, people with mental health problems can be difficult to work with; yes, some academic staff are great; and no, being an Associate Tutor wasn't the entire cause of my mental health problems - but the lack of support I received certainly did not help. I would love to hear that I'm the only one to have had the experiences I share below but I sadly know this is not the case.

I don't think that any suggestions I make are particularly difficult to implement, and I hope listing my thoughts like this encourages more people to share their experiences and helps contribute toward improving the Associate Tutor role:

  1. Universities should provide management training for academic staff - I can envision a chorus of academics saying, "As if we don't have enough to do already!" and, "...But I'm not a manager!" I have a number of years experience working in industry in both toxic and well managed environments. Toxic environments tend to suffer from poor management and institutionalisation. While working as an Associate Tutor, I encountered some very poor people management which, somewhat unsurprisingly, created a hostile working environment. For example, issues arose from senior staff never responding to queries, causing us difficulties when trying to complete the duties of our role. Perhaps some staff could benefit from a bit of guidance about how to treat junior staff members? Being told, “well that’s how it’s always been,” really doesn’t help either, nor does the attitude that it’s ‘okay because it’s academia’.
  2. Provide mental health awareness training to all staff – I’m sure my talk of being unwell was very dull and I know that I wasn’t the easiest person to work with when I was unwell, but it was hard to be in the best mood when you can’t stop thinking about suicide. Hostile attitudes and comments like, “yes, it’s not just you, you know?” really did not help. Asking, “are you okay?” would have helped. As an Associate Tutor I also encountered students in crisis but was given no advice about what I should do. I contacted their academic advisers, but some never responded, so I only hope that they received my emails.
  3. Provide clearer guidance about role expectations – It is hard to know how to do your job when there is no job description for your role and nobody advises you of expectations. When I asked if any guidance or training was available, my manager initially laughed, then corrected himself and told me the training "wouldn’t be worth my time." Receiving at least some guidance is a completely normal expectation in every other role I’ve had, so I don’t think it was too ridiculous a question. The amount of hours Associate Tutors are paid also does not reflect the amount of work it actually takes to undertake the role, and any academic or student would agree that being paid 15 minutes to mark a script is not realistic. 'The hourly rate is high though' felt like an excuse to cover dishonesty about how much work the role actually involved.
  4. Associate Tutors – Do unto others... - Some of the meetings I had with other Associate Tutors involved them (literally) shouting at each other because they disagreed with one another, and ended in other Associate Tutors crying. I even know some PGR students who said this had contributed toward them dropping out of their studies but that they felt too worried to voice this to their supervisors. There is an attitude among some that this is acceptable behaviour because it is academia. Allow me to burst that bubble. It is not okay to treat other people with disrespect. Ever. There cannot be improvement or progression without us sticking together and speaking out about our experiences.
  5. Consideration for the stress of being on a part-time casualised contract – I supported my academic colleagues when they went on strike about their pensions although my contract meant I potentially would not get paid if I did the same. This was not reciprocated – a recent UCU ballot on casualisation did not meet the 50% quorum required to take action.

Constant concern about whether or not I would be able to make rent and bill payments and whether I’d have enough work next term did not help my mental health, plus it divides academic staff into ‘haves’ and ‘have nots.’ I know a number of Associate Tutors have left because of this. It also discriminates against those who are not lucky enough to have financial support or backing. How can a situation which forces dedicated, passionate, and hardworking people to quit be right?

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Wed 06 Mar 2019

researching space and place in HUM

Why space?

I’m currently working on the SU’s HEFCE funded Courage Project looking at PGR mental health. My placement on Strand A focuses on developing research community and culture within each of UEA’s four faculties, the University of Suffolk and the Norwich Bioscience Institutes. A student from each faculty will be working on this strand, and as a postgraduate research student in Film, TV and Media I have been focusing my efforts on my own faculty of the Humanities. My initial research has started to look at:

  • The importance of space for postgraduate research students,
  • How space is conceptualised and utilised across departments,
  • The role it plays in research community and culture.

In much of the literature on the PGR experience as well as in the initial research done by Courage, space is consistently cited as a key issue: the lack of it; the need for it; and the importance it plays in connecting students to the broader faculty community.

Fig 2. I see leaves of green and oranges tooWhat kinds of space?

There are three broad categories of space this research looks at: work, social, and outside or green space.


Dedicated space away from undergraduate students where PGRs can relax and socialise with each other both within and outside of their faculty/cohort. Many PGRs undertake teaching work as Associate Tutors and therefore do not want to share their social spaces with their students. PGRs also tend to be older than the average undergraduate and their needs and expectations of behavioural norms in their social areas will often differ. Dedicated PGR space is particularly important as the undergraduate student experience increasingly determines institutional policy and spending with the needs of postgraduates often becoming marginalised.


There’s a great deal of research being done on the benefits of spending time outside and in green spaces, particularly for mental health but also physical health. There are strands within the Courage Project looking at the provision of an outside quiet space as well as a PGR specific allotment – PhDiggers.

Fig 3.


Within the university there are issues relating to the allocation of desk space in a shared office environment - for example, while there are two PGR offices in the Arts building, there is a waiting list and desks are often oversubscribed. This affects PGR access to a computer long-term (e.g. for a semester, a year, or the entire time they are a student) and other resources/facilities, which is exacerbated by issues of hot desking (often used to minimise space and facilities provided for workers in an office).

There is constant pressure within faculties to take space away from PGRs and repurpose it; because space is at a premium in an increasingly neoliberal institution where student numbers are rising without the corresponding expansion of teaching space, facilities, or teaching staff. The needs of postgraduate researchers may also not be understood (or valued) when it comes to institutional decision making.

There are also faculty specific issues where value judgements are being made about where space is allocated. It’s easy for non-scientists to understand that students in BIO would need dedicated lab space for the duration of their studies (they need somewhere to put their Bunsen burners, right?). But for a faculty like HUM, where research tends to be more nebulous, our needs for space might appear to be more opaque to university executives. How much space or resources does a philosopher need, for example? Isn’t it just reading and writing? They could do that at home!

Fig 4. This is my happy faceThis research seeks to demystify the need for space by HUM PGRs and re-emphasise the importance of protecting what little space we already have.

Why is space important?

Issues of space are one of the key factors leading to poor mental health amongst PGRs. Being a postgraduate researcher often goes hand-in-hand with social isolation - from spending a great deal of time alone on our individual projects, the feeling of not being embedded in the research or student community of an institution, and sometimes purposeful isolation stemming from negative assumptions about ourselves as researchers e.g. avoiding certain events because we fear having our progress compared to others or feeling like we don’t belong in those spaces (imposter syndrome, anyone?) Although a certain element of solo work is to be expected since reading and writing tend to be rather solitary activities, a PhD does not have to be an exercise in isolation – it can be one of community and solidarity.

In fact, PGRs in HUM cite the availability of space as one of several effective coping strategies for dealing with poor mental health. Social connections, mind and body work, as well as teaching and working are all strategies used by PGRs to ward against poor mental health during their studies, all of which are underpinned by concepts of space and community. Shared work and social spaces help foster social connections between research students but also between students and other members of faculty staff, and shared work spaces encourage professional connections and working relationships, all of which function as means of support throughout the PhD.

Fig 5. Lego Grad Student available at: [online] Accessed: 21/2/2019Developing the PGR community is key to enabling peer support and can be achieved through (amongst other things) shared working space, social spaces and events, group training programs, and supplementary online platforms. Connecting with others on a professional level, be it with other students or members of research staff, was one of many early prevention strategies recommended by PGRs. This might be through participating in research groups, attending conferences, and seeking to undertake collaborative work as this connects you to like-minded students and colleagues early in the research process.


To provide some answers to the following:

  • Where is this space and what does it look like? (is it accessible, is there enough of it etc.)
  • Does it meet the differing needs of funded vs unfunded students, part-time vs full-time?
  • How might these spaces be improved?
  • How can they be protected in an institution where space is under threat?

Although this placement only lasts for three months I’m hoping to develop a set of good practice guidelines for the provision of PGR space which can be applied to faculties outside of HUM as well as within it. These guidelines can be used by UEA when considering the allocation of PGR space in new buildings.

Andrea James is a Postgraduate Researcher in Film, TV, and Media Studies looking at how female students experience online harassment and violence. She can be found on Twitter @AndreaLJames. This is the first of our blogs focusing on our newly recruited 2019 Courage Project PGR placements - keep an eye on the Lakeside View for upcoming blog posts from our other PGRs about their research as part of the Courage Project.

Lego Grad Student images used with permission from

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Wed 27 Feb 2019

depression, that awful thing that happens to others

About the author, Ana Bermejo Martinez: I landed at UEA in 2012. Since then, I spent most of my time studying bacteria and diatoms, doing Science outreach and being outraged about inequality and unfairness. My guilty pleasure is working on ssDNAfrica, an interdisciplinary project that has taught me that team work and perseverance can go a long way. As an outspoken and enthusiastic optimist, I believe that change for the better is not only possible, it is a must, and I will do my best to be part of it.

I am a 4th-year PhD student, and when I started my degree I was diagnosed for the first time in my life with depression - with that diagnosis my journey to recovery and maintenance began. I won't lie and say that it was an easy time, but I think sometimes people forget to mention that depression can have 'positive' aspects to it - for example, as the nerd I am, I am amazed by the sheer number of new things I've learnt about myself but also, in a very geeky way, about how brains and psychology work. It is fascinating! And when I finally recovered, I felt stronger and more balanced than ever. That strength came mostly from the self-awareness and the recognition of the symptoms of depression and, most importantly, being able to discern the difference between 'normal distress' and 'heads up! Time to take action'. However, one of the most shocking realisations I had when going through such a hard time was that I had unknowingly been depressed several times in my life before, but I just thought those experiences were who I was. In fact, the diagnosis of depression came after many months of struggling and falling into a dark deep hole in a steep spiralling fashion, and actively ignoring any friend's advice to seek for help. After all 'this is not depression, it is a bad day... or week, I will be fine tomorrow, it is just me that I am a bit overly dramatic, right?'

No, it IS depression. And this is when the second realisation hit me in the face: people are aware of depression but might not be self-aware of it. Since sharing my experience, I’ve heard too many times 'Oh! I feel the same, if that is depression I might be depressed too... haha' ... Ha-ha!?!? No! You need to seek professional advice!! But, me saying it means nothing. It only means something to oneself when the veil drops, and depression shows its ugliest face, and sometimes when it is too late. For this reason, I would like to highlight, once more, what the symptoms of depression are as described by the NHS (copied word by word - they are the experts):

Physiological symptoms:
• continuous low mood or sadness
• feeling hopeless and helpless
• having low self-esteem
• feeling tearful
• feeling guilt-ridden
• feeling irritable and intolerant of others
• having no motivation or interest in things
• finding it difficult to make decisions
• not getting any enjoyment out of life
• feeling anxious or worried
• having suicidal thoughts or thoughts of harming yourself

Physical symptoms:
• moving or speaking more slowly than usual
• changes in appetite or weight (usually decreased, but sometimes increased)
• constipation
• unexplained aches and pains
• lack of energy
• low sex drive (loss of libido)
• changes to your menstrual cycle
• disturbed sleep – for example, finding it difficult to fall asleep at night or waking up very early in the morning

Social symptoms:
• not doing well at work
• avoiding contact with friends and taking part in fewer social activities
• neglecting your hobbies and interests
• having difficulties in your home and family life

There are different degrees of depression, and you are very unlikely to experience all the symptoms described above. Also, bear in mind that being depressed does not mean that you can’t have good moments and seem cheerful sometimes when you are with others - in fact, we can become very good ninjas at hiding how we feel. But, please, try taking a minute to honestly reflect on how you have felt for the last two weeks, with no excuses. If you think you experienced some of these symptoms for most of the day, every day, call your GP or seek advice at UEA. They will be able to help you. It is not a waste of your or their time, it is not useless, they can help and offer support: you deserve to feel better. Tell your concerns to friends and family too, as they can be a great support. And remember, you are the only one who can take that first step towards recovering. Good luck.


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Wed 06 Feb 2019

got a friend in need? how to take care of yourself while caring for someone else

Bridie Verity Davies is a second year PhD student researching volcanic eruption styles, as well as the PGR rep on the Athena Swann committee in ENV and part of the graduate affairs committee. "It is really important to me that we open up the discussion around mental health - this issue comes up a lot through my work with these committees and we need to do more to tackle it in academia. In April I will be running the Norwich City Half Marathon for Mind - to find out more feel free to check out my JustGiving page."

UEA Student Support ServicesMany of us have friends or colleagues who have experienced, or are living with a mental health condition. More and more we are opening up about mental health - and that is undoubtedly a good thing. Opening up and ending the stigma is key to breaking the cycle. Therefore, if someone opens up to me about a mental health issue, I will do everything I can to help them (as I am sure many of us would).

One thing I have learnt over the years, however, is that this isn't easy. If a friend is experiencing a mental health crisis you can feel helpless, or afraid that you are going to do or say the wrong thing - depending on the nature of the crisis this can feel like holding the life of a loved one in your (at times shaky) hands.

At times like these your energy is focused on helping that person survive, feel cared for and give them some hope with which to move forward - even if you don't fully understand the underlying issues behind their current condition. Your energy is not focused on taking care of yourself.

It feels selfish to think of your own needs when someone else is suffering, but you can't offer support if you are mentally and physically drained yourself. It is important to make sure you aren't putting yourself in (physical or mental) harm's way as you navigate the tricky field of supporting someone experiencing a mental health crisis.

For me, this took the form of making a few key decisions and really listening to what my friends/colleagues were telling me. This will be different for everyone but the following are a few things I found helped me through:

1. Do some research - no mental health issue is the same, but if your friend/colleague has a specific diagnosed condition (that they have expressly told you about) then looking up some of the technical details can give you a basis from which to approach the situation. This can help if their behaviour is upsetting - it's not you or them, it is their condition.

2. Listen to what they are telling you - paired with number 1 (and just as, if not more important) it's tricky to balance your desire for them to be happy with ensuring you don't invalidate their feelings, this will be easier if you are really hearing what they are saying.

3. Decide what the line is. At what point is it too much for you? My decision was that I would rather know everything even if I didn't like it, but this will not apply to everyone. Know the limits of what you can handle and if things cross that line it is perfectly ok to say you need a break – which leads onto tip 4...

UEA supervisor support4. Seek help if you need it - charities such as Mind have pages dedicated to helping those supporting others, with specific advice for different diagnoses. Talking to another friend or colleague about what is going on may feel like a betrayal of trust, but you don't have to give specifics. Just telling someone you're having a tough time supporting a friend can sometimes be enough to alleviate the strain.

5. Talk to your supervisor - if you are struggling because of what you are hearing from a loved one or colleague, your supervisor (or co-supervisor) may need to know. Deadlines or meetings can be an additional stress when you are preoccupied. For me, telling my supervisor why I would be leaving early for the weekend made me feel less guilty about the missed work hours. Most supervisors will be sympathetic.

6. Acknowledge your own feelings - if your brain is in a muddle and can't focus because of what you are hearing you don't have to push on with work, it won't be productive and it won't help your wellbeing. Go home early, take a nap, blow off some steam at the gym, binge-watch your favourite show. Taking a short break will help you to reset and head off a burnout.

7. Remember you aren't a trained professional - At the end of the day, you aren't supposed to be an expert, and things you say or do may miss the mark occasionally. Learn from this but don't carry that weight on your shoulders. You are trying your best, and sometimes being kind and offering a hug is all you can offer. Whoever it is will appreciate this - even if they aren't in a space where they can tell you that.

Support networks are key for those suffering from mental health issues as well as those who surround them. By keeping communication open and honest we can all take better care of each other and ourselves. Supporting someone through a tough time can be hard but remember that we are all doing our best to try and muddle through.

These tips stem from my personal reflections on my own experiences - please seek advice if you are concerned for the wellbeing of yourself or someone else.

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Mon 28 Jan 2019

learning enhancement team @ uea

Nonia Williams and Zoe Jones are Learning Enhancement Tutors at the University of East Anglia in Norwich, UK. They share a passion for using an active, creative and innovative approach in their work. They offer one-to-one tutorials and workshops for students of all levels of study, including PGRs. They also facilitate PGR writers’ retreats and groups.

 Since November 2015, I’ve had the pleasure of working for the Learning Enhancement Team here at UEA. This blog-post reflects on some of that work, and in particular on some of the active and embodied practices and techniques that Zoe Jones and I have developed.

Until very recently, Zoe and I have shared an office, but not working days. Despite this, we’ve built on shared interests and passions in our work supporting PG students with their writing. One aspect of this has been our development of active and embodied writing support. This work is grounded in research from different disciplinary fields that, on the one hand, evidences the increase in feelings of stress, strain and anxiety amongst PG writers, and on the other hand, notes the benefits focussing on the body for enabling writing and creative thinking.

In response, we have developed a range of activities that encourage students to directly engage with their bodies as part of the writing process. Some of these are offered during our one-to-one tutorial provision, and others during workshops, or in writers’ groups and retreats. These include: mindful walking for awareness of the body, meditation to bring awareness to the body and set intentions for writing, ‘walking tutorials’ to develop ideas for writing, and yoga poses which can be used during the writing process to relieve strain on the body. In our experience, such activities can help students overcome writers’ block, as well as freeing-up and energising the writing processes in other ways.

Student feedback has been overwhelmingly positive – from those participating in walking tutorials and peer-review activities to those taking part in the voluntary meditation and yoga during our writers’ retreats, participants have said that embodied activities benefit their writing. I have also felt real professional benefits in our learning development work, in particular from the processes of collaboration.

We have shared our enthusiasm for such work beyond UEA, in 2017 at the European Association for the Teaching of Academic Writing conference, and in 2018 at the Association for Learning Development in Higher Education conference. Zoe has taken inspiration from our work to investigate further the benefits of walking for Masters students’ writing for her Doctorate in Education research.

Of course, such activities do not come without some risks, in both practical and professional terms. In response, we have developed risk assessments and consent forms, and colleague or student participation is always voluntary. We have also reflected on the inevitability that such activities will not work for all, and that people may feel resistant to them in our post for the Doctoral Writing Blog entitled ‘The Risky Business of Supporting Doctoral Writers’ (Nov 2018), as well as in an article for the Canadian Journal for Studies in Discourse and Writing/Rédactologie titled ‘“I am Done with Toys!” — The Benefits, Joys and Risks of Creativity and Innovation in Graduate Writing Support’ (Feb 2018). Future developments in our work include trialling the Write Smarter: Feel Better programme of facilitated writers’ groups, as well as setting up “PGRunners”- a running group for PGR students that Zoe will lead from the beginning of 2019.

If you feel your writing might benefit from active and embodied support do watch this space – you can find us by searching ‘uea let’, by following us on twitter @uea_let, emailing us to register your interest, or by joining our ‘Writer’s Group UEA’ Facebook group.

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Thu 29 Nov 2018

Walk and Talk

This blog is by Bryony Porter. Bryony is the PGR Mental Health Coordinator leading three of the eight strands of the Courage Wellbeing Project. Bryony is also a final year PhD student researching the use of potentially inappropriate medications in people with dementia. 

As part of the Courage Wellbeing Project we have started a Walk and Talk group for PGRs at the university. It’s a simple and easy concept, we arrange to meet for a walk, and we talk. Sometimes the walks will be organised with a theme or a topic to discuss or we’ll simply go for a walk and see where the conversation takes us. If you don’t feel like talking, just come along for the walk.  

There appears to be something special about the ability to share experiences and difficulties whilst doing something shoulder-to-shoulder rather than face-to-face. The walks have provided an opportunity to build connections across disciplines, faculties and research areas. A commonality between one another of experiencing the PhD, whilst taking a moment to be outside, away from your desk or lab and experiencing the changing of the seasons and the beauty that comes with it across the campus.  

One recent walk provided an excellent example of this (and some nice material for this blog!). This walk, themed around ‘qualitative conversations’ was led by Dr Sarah Hanson, who completed her PhD on walking groups in 2016. After some initial discussion about how each person had used or was hoping to use qualitative methods in their research, Sarah told everyone about a technique she had used for her PhD. Sarah had used photo elicitation interviews to explore the physical and social environment walking in socioeconomically deprived communities (see Hanson et al., 2016).  

After an introduction to the technique, Sarah asked that whilst on the walk everyone would take a picture that represented how they currently felt about their PhD. Sharing the pictures with one another and the meaning behind them provided some evocative discussions and I am grateful to be able to share some of the pictures here...  

The first image was chosen by a second-year PhD candidate and they explained why: “I feel like I am frozen / standing still with my research at the moment and not looking up and around enough - not able to see that there is a way forward...talking through methods on the walk really helped with that feeling.”

The second image was taken by a first-year PhD candidate, who said: "Today’s walk was really useful for reflecting on my own research methods and for broadening my awareness of other peoples’ projects and methodological concerns. It was such a lovely afternoon, and really helped to blow the cobwebs out! As a first-year PhD student, my picture represents the many layers of information and the various possibilities that I’m attempting to confront concurrently, and my attempt to find clarity amidst the madness.” 

And finally, for this third-year PhD candidate the third image reflected how they felt towards their PhD at these later stages of the process. They said: “at times throughout the PhD I have felt out of my depth and in very deep water, however I now feel like I am swimming (contrary to the sign!) and making progress out of the deep water and into the shallows. The walk was a really good chance to take a breath and reflect on how I was approaching my research and how much I have achieved so far.” 

At times it can be difficult to ‘see the wood for the trees’, where because you are so involved in the details it is hard to notice the importance of your research, amongst the broader context and even to consider the world outside of your research. At times like this, maybe heading for the trees and for a walk outside will provide you with the answers you are looking for.  

It might not... but you’ll probably feel a little better for taking a moment away from it all anyway. 

Thank you to everyone who has joined for a Walk and Talk so far and for those who shared your pictures for this blog. 

If you would like to come along to a Walk and Talk, have a look at the page to find out when the next walk is taking place. Alternatively, ‘like’ Postgraduate(su) Facebook page, follow us on Twitter and keep an eye out in school bulletins for details of the next walk.  Any questions, please contact Bryony (  



Hanson, S., Guell, C., & Jones, A. (2016) Walking groups in socioeconomically deprived communities: A qualitative study using photo elicitation. Health & Place, 39, 26-33 

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Fri 23 Nov 2018

Business Boost

This post is by Maddie Copley. A former PhD student at UEA, I am currently a Project Administrator for Business Boost at the UEA.  

As a novice postgrad student, I was unprepared for what lay ahead after my thesis was written and defended. I started a PhD because of course I was interested in my field of research (blood vessel formation), but mostly because I loved doing lab-based research - or ‘bench-work’ - and relished problem solving and learning. It was only after the shock of year one had subsided that I began to think about what I wanted to do when the three years were up. I liked academia, but didn’t realise back then that work as a post-doctoral researcher was more akin to an apprenticeship than a sustainable career – the contracts wouldn’t keep coming unless I progressed up the greasy pole of academia to a position that would most likely take me away from the bench-work that I loved so much. The only other alternative that I knew of was to become a scientific industry employee, but for a variety of reasons, that was not a direction I wantedtotake. It never occurred to me that I could use the knowledge and skills that I had worked so hard for to enter business or industry on my own terms.

Now, 15 years later, I am managing ‘Business Boost’, a project that I wish had been around when I was a PhD student.

Business Boost is for PhD students who want to find out more about how their research and research skills can be used to make a difference to the business world and society. You may have a great idea or product, but where do you go with it aside from publishing papers? When I was a PhD student, I didn't know how to pitch a product to business or spin an idea into a successful business myself. Perhaps you are the product – do you want to use your knowledge and research skills on a consultancy basis?

Business Boost offers a programme of free training events, including workshops and online training, to help PhD students build the knowledge, skills and confidence to effectively engage with business. This includes thinking more commercially, understanding and responding to the needs of business, and communicating your research in a way that is attractive to business and looks at the wider impact and end products of your research. PhD students will meet others in the same position and together learn how to access wider career networks and opportunities.

Students attending Business Boost events will benefit from the knowledge and experience of experts from business and academia. They will have the opportunity to receive one-to-one advice and mentoring from business people, as well as academics who have turned their research into viable business enterprises.

The training is free to all UEA PhD students with at least some aspect of social science in their research. All training and events will be advertised and available to book via

Research Impact through Business Engagement: This friendly and supportive one day workshop will provide you with the opportunity to benefit from the expertise and experience of academic researchers who have had successful collaborations with business. 
Tuesday 11 December 2018, 10.30am – 4.00pm (refreshments and lunch included)
Etc Venues, Liverpool Street (Norton Folgate)
The event is fully-funded by ESRC, so free of charge to PhD students of universities within the SeNSS-DTP consortium.  Travel bursaries are available, contact for details

I hope to see you there!



Andrea Finegan from Norwich Business School at UEA, is the UEA’s Academic Lead for the Business Boost project. Maddie Copley is the UEA’s Project Administrator. If you would like to find out more about the project or would like to receive email-alerts with details of upcoming events, please contact Maddie or Andrea Business Boost is an UK Research Council (ESRC) funded project running at UEA until the end of March 2019. 

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Fri 16 Nov 2018

Reflections and tips for ‘living’ and ‘managing’ your PhD

This blog is by Professor Penny Cavenagh. Prof Cavenagh is Professor of Health Research and Enterprise at the University of Suffolk and an Honorary Professor in Health and Human Sciences at the University of Essex.

Doing a PhD for me was one of the most arduous, exhilarating, frustrating, and rewarding experiences of my life.

The whole gamut of emotions was tested along a spectrum ranging from despair to euphoria. At the end of the day, it is tenacity, determination and commitment that underpin completion and hopefully success. In my view, it is the first fundamental requirement for completion – the reason for doing a PhD in the first place.

The pre-requisite therefore for sustaining oneself through the process is the profound belief that you really want a PhD and that you are genuinely interested in the subject matter. Reasons may vary individually but if the reason goes or withers on the vine, so will the PhD. Having said this, a PhD student who has lost the reason halfway through could feel they have invested so much energy, time, and emotion in the process that they continue to the finishing line rather than giving up – based perhaps on weighing the costs with benefits of gaining a PhD.

My next tip is organisation of how and where a PhD will fit into one’s busy life. By organisation I don’t just mean time management, but simple practicalities. For example, where you choose to work, or where you keep all your PhD ‘stuff’. Of course, many choose to do this all online, so it is more a matter of having a quiet place to work conducive to deep thought and minimal interruption.

I made the mistake when I did my PhD many moons ago of abandoning this ‘rule’ and deciding to read all my printed articles and book chapters in the comfort of my living room. Three hours later, my newly acquired puppies had a field day destroying piles of articles and carefully annotated notes and books. Several days of work in their tummies! I was tempted to acknowledge their ’help’ in my Acknowledgements , with the catchphrase “no puppies were harmed in the writing of my PhD."


Finding regular time to work on one’s PhD needs careful thought, planning and realism. Everyone works differently in varying circumstances, and this is an individual matter, but time allocation must somehow be identified – whether in regular slots or chunks of working similar to the Pomodoro technique which was introduced as part of the Research and Development "Shut Up and Write" workshops this year, facilitated by Dr Olumide Adisa. I preferred to always keep my writing projects ‘on the boil’ for fear if I left it for any length of time I would never go back to it. There were opportunity costs and I think this is true of everyone – something has to give to find the extra time. In my case, I didn’t watch any television for five years and chose to work in the evenings after work and when the children were in bed with a large G and T (that’s short for Gin and Tonic) by my computer to sustain me and the puppies now strictly banned from the study!. Because of my obsession with losing my grip on it, my budding thesis was very well travelled and came everywhere on holiday – plane journeys proved to be good reading time.

To keep focused, it is helpful to have your research question(s) on prominent display where you work. It is very easy to get distracted by articles that are not actually relevant to your research. Again, it is easy to slip into bad habits of writing swathes that are not focusing on the research question. Having said that, in some exceptional cases, research questions can change as the PhD progresses (particularly in the first year) for varying reasons, your supervisors should be able to guide you through this process of reshaping your research questions.

Your relationship with your Supervisors is fundamental in your PhD journey, and what students want from this relationship varies enormously. It is important to set out your expectations at the beginning of this long relationship and establish how you want to work with your supervisor. You need to agree some working arrangements about whether you see both supervisors together or individually or a combination of the two. In my experience, honesty and transparency are key in building trust to be able to talk to your supervisor(s) about your needs.

Supervisors want you to enjoy your research but also pass at the end. Sometimes it can be hard for students to hear critical feedback, although this will only be in their best interests. It can take quite a shift to get into the PhD mindset, which is very different from Masters level study, and it can sometimes be tricky for students when frustrations set in, but bear with it!

I remember sitting in a café in Tottenham Court Road (I studied in London) in despair and contemplating giving up my PhD after a particularly difficult session where I realised that a questionnaire I had sent out already had design faults.

Therefore, it was back to the drawing board and having to find new participants from an already diminished pool! This is where ‘Why am I doing this?’ has to have a solid answer!

Take every opportunity to present your PhD to an academic audience as you go along - this gives you invaluable feedback and your peers will often offer new perspectives and challenging questions. It also gets you into the swing of defending your research and building the confidence, as you become an ‘expert’ in your subject. Take up as many opportunities to attend training sessions relevant to your PhD, these are generously offered at the University of Suffolk and can be transformative.

Finally, when you come to submit your PhD you will probably want to chuck it on the bonfire – but do give some time for reflection following this incredible achievement. I bet you will miss it when it is over and you are now an academic Doctor – what will you do with that time? Good luck!

There are so many different appraoches to doing a PhD. Thank you to Penny for sharing yours.

A bit more about Professor Penny Cavenaugh: Penny has held senior management and academic positions at the University of Suffolk, as a Board and Executive member in the role of Dean of Academic Affairs, and latterly as Pro-Vice-Chancellor in the Faculty of Health, Science and Technology.  Previous Board roles have also included serving as a Non-Executive Director of Colchester University Hospital NHS Foundation Trust for a total period of 9 years.  She has also acted as an Academic Advisor to the West Suffolk CCG and is a Governor at St Joseph's College Ipswich.  Prof Cavenagh is a Chartered Psychologist and Qualified Executive Coach and has worked mainly with the NHS and Higher Education in this capacity.  Penny holds a PhD and MSc in Occupational Psychology from Birkbeck College University of London and a first degree in Psychology from Bristol University.  Penny is the Expert Advisor (Research) on the Suicide Prevention Advisory Panel, Eastern Academic Health Science Network.   Her key research interests are in Medical Leadership and Management, Medical Education and Dysfluency and she has published widely in these fields. She is an internal Examiner for the Clinical Psychology Doctorate programme at the University of Essex and currently supervises a number of PhD's at the University of Suffolk and is involved in various research activities.

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Fri 09 Nov 2018

Moving on in your academic career: could Imposter Syndrome be holding you back?

This post is by Suzanne Walker from Careers Central: "I am one of the Career Advisers for Postgraduate Researchers and Research Staff here at UEA. Prior this I worked for the NHS and further education. I have a PhD in Geography and did a postdoc at UCL looking at organ donation. I regularly suffer with Imposter Syndrome."

When we step out of our comfort zone and take on a new challenge, many of us hear a little voice in our head telling us things are going to be difficult and we will probably fail because that’s what happened before. Doing a PhD is a tough gig, so it’s hardly surprising researchers often experience something called ‘Imposter Syndrome’.  Have you ever felt this awful sinking feeling that you are a fraud and don’t deserve to be here? Any moment now, someone will walk up to you tap you on the shoulder and ask you to leave. Sound familiar? 

One of the reasons career advisers are interested in exploring Imposter Syndrome is the influence it can have on that person’s view of their future. We explored this at a recent workshop we ran here at UEA for female researchers called ‘Moving on in Your Academic Career’. If you have looked at the academic job market recently you’ll know competition for posts is high and succeeding takes a great deal of determination and resilience. So this year we thought it appropriate to choose resilience as our key theme. We compete for a PhD place, then for our first academic position, and later for research funding. Our research is continually critiqued and peer reviewed. We have to be brave and willing put ourselves out there to be judged by our peers. No wonder academia is a fertile breeding ground for Imposter Syndrome. 

As careers advisers we know having confidence in yourself and your abilities can help hugely in the job hunting process.  A lack of confidence can seriously hamper your ability to show who you really are and demonstrate what you can offer to an employer. During our workshop we did a quiz to explore the levels of confidence researchers were experiencing in relation to pursuing an academic career. How confident did our researchers feel about the prospect of having a long term academic career? Only 14% of participants felt confident they would have a successful academic career. 40% were not confident and 46% answered that they weren’t sure. In many ways this isn’t surprising and reflects the competitive nature of the academic job market. But what makes that 14% more confident than the others and as careers advisers can we inject some of that confidence into the rest? There may be very little difference in the actual career prospects between the women sat in the room in terms of the quality of their research and outputs. So are there other contributing factors which also play a part?  

Confidence and resilience are closely connected, and both are required by the bucket load if you are trying to carve out an academic career. Without resilience it can be difficult to come back from a setback - whether it’s poor results in the lab, a rejected paper, or a thesis chapter that needs rewriting. The same goes for job applications. Being resilient means you can keep going after job applications are unsuccessful. We asked our group to tell us how many job applications they expected to make before getting that first job. Nearly 50% of the group told us they expected to make over 15 or even 25 applications. It shows how determined researchers can be when it comes to competing for that first academic job. Managing Imposter Syndrome is hard when you are job hunting and writing a thesis at the same time. This transition period of writing up and finding work (often while experiencing financial issues) puts students under pressure. It can be a key time when anxiety and other mental health issues surface. Staying determined and keeping in touch with CareerCentral staff for support with applications and interviews can help you get through this tough period.

As competition for academic jobs is high you will likely need to make several applications before getting that first post. Some students see failed applications as a sure sign that they are not good enough for an academic career. Others see it as an inevitable part of the job hunting process and another step to learn from and help them get where they want to go. Having a resilient narrative in your head to counteract those negative little voices about failure will help you keeping applying for posts and manage anxieties around job hunting. Even established academics experience issues like Imposter Syndrome and have experienced real failures along the way. This was evident when we shared some CV of Failures at the workshop from academic staff which instead of showing success listed what didn’t go so well. Academic CV’s showcase success but tell us little about what went wrong leaving us with the impression that it’s only us who experiences rejection. Not so. It’s really enlightening and reassuring that most academics can show examples of jobs they didn’t get, manuscripts that got rejected and projects which didn’t get funded.

We live in a fast paced society where we are surrounded by stories of success. Achieving success is often made to look straightforward and follow a linear path. When success doesn’t come easily to us the danger is that we feel we are not good enough rather than seeing failure as an inevitable part of developing, growing and achieving success. Maybe that is what makes the 14% in our group who feel confident about achieving a long term academic career stand out. Perhaps they feel more confident because they have a robust approach to managing setbacks and failures, rather than believing they will achieve overnight success. Sadly, Imposter Syndrome is a gift that just keeps giving. It doesn’t vanish at the point at which you hand in your thesis or pass your viva. Even the well-established academics we spoke to at our workshop say they suffer with it; for example, taking longer to getting around to writing research grant proposals or applying for promotion. Imposter Syndrome needs to be managed because kept unchecked it will start to eat away at your career confidence. If you are experiencing a lack of confidence in relation to job hunting this may be something we can help with. CareerCentral runs workshops around finding confidence which aim to help students present themselves in a more self-assured way to employers. The next dates are 12th November 2018 and 10th of May 2019. These can be booked through CareerCentral. Below are our top resources for staying resilient and getting the job applications done.  
•    Susan Jeffers ‘Feel the fear and do it anyway’
•    Brian Tracy’s ‘Eat That Frog!’ Great for procrastinators whose fear of failing stops them from starting.
•    Or book an appointment with your friendly local postgraduate careers adviser through CareerCentral either by popping in – in person, or calling 01603 593452. 


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Fri 02 Nov 2018

We've Had 55 Years of UEA- And PGR Mental Health's Getting Worse

This blog is by Michael Kyriacou. Michael Kyriacou recently submitted their PhD in the school of PPL. They self-funded the first 2 years of their research before getting faculty funding for the 3rd year (although he took 4 years to submit). If you have any questions he can be reached at

Before reading the blog, you can click on the image below to take you to a YouTube clip from The Simpsons, when Mr Burns tries suggestions to improve his employees low morale. 

What’s left out there is a deteriorating world. Why hasn’t psychotherapy noticed that? Because psychotherapy is only working on that “inside” soul. The buildings are sick, the institutions are sick, the banking system’s sick, the schools, the streets -the sickness is out there…’

We’ve Had a Hundred Years of Psychotherapy- And the World’s Getting Worse- James Hillman

Across my four years as a research student at UEA I’ve seen friends and colleagues be medicated, break-down and drop-out of their courses. I’ve lost friends and burned bridges. I’ve been so stressed I’ve snapped at people I’ve cared about. I’ve been a burden. I’ve shouted at myself in the mirror and cried myself to sleep more times than I can count. My PhD has been a vampire. I felt exsanguinated. Submission was more like excision than relief. Of course, you don’t need me to tell you that a PhD is hard and not just in content. You don’t need me to recount the endless horror stories. Because if you are a PhD student or Academic, you know what I mean.

This blog isn’t about how hard it all is (and it is hard). Rather, it’s about why research is making us all ill and how we react to it. I hope also though, that it’s about how we should react. It is inarguably true we are living through a national, local and institutional mental health crisis. Each year our undergraduate, masters and research students are getting sicker. It seems like we are all under an increasing amount of pressure - personal as well as professional. Students are under pressure to submit in three years, under pressure to teach, to publish, to attend conferences, to conduct enterprise and engagement. Not to mention curating an effective CV and Career profile. It’s a common refrain you all know that doing the PhD isn’t enough anymore. No, you need to have two conference papers, two peer reviewed journal articles (in at least 4* journals!) and a wide variety of teaching experience by the time you are done. The expectations placed on us are higher than ever. 

So how do we react? Like Giles Corey we call out: ‘more weight!’ The onus is on us. We need to curate effective support mechanisms. We need to lean on friends and family. We need to be resilient. It’s about us and our relationships to each other. The problem is primarily an internal one that we ourselves can manage and address. It’s up to us to know and understand how to get help. It’s up to us to regulate our interior lives. Like in the Simpson’s clip at the start, you put on the funny hats, play the Tom Jones and eat the healthy snacks. This view of wellbeing and mindfulness is primarily an individuated one. On its best day it assumes that we are individuals who can, if we just get the right balance, organise our own interior lives to be healthy and happy. On its worst day, it knows we are only going to be here for a couple years, so why bother to tackle the underlying problems. This is a discourse of self-management and adjustment. It’s a view of mental-health that needs us to be adjustable. While I’m deeply grateful for and satisfied that HEFCE’s dying breath could produce something as useful and excellent as The Courage Project, and I must add that I do think they are doing excellent work, I think often when talking about wellbeing we miss something.

What do we miss? Well this is best shown by what a fellow PhD student (long since graduated) said to me: “The University is offering band-aids for bullet wounds. That would be fine if it wasn’t the one shooting us all in the chest.”  I don’t think we are the ones who need to adjust when we are the ones being wounded. We should take care of ourselves and each other but we aren’t the cause. It isn’t only us who are sick. No, like Hillman says: ‘the buildings are sick, the institutions are sick’. Or as the song goes: ‘I’m not sick but I’m not well. And I’m so hot because I’m in hell.’ We often forget in discussion of wellbeing and mental health that there isn’t just us, or our interpersonal relations. To paraphrase Martin Luther King: ‘There are some things within our social order to which I am proud to be maladjusted and to which I call upon you to be maladjusted towards’.

If we take this into consideration the question isn’t: How do we make ourselves well? But, how do we make our conditions better? When I talk about my own experiences or the break downs of my fellow PhD’s: the causes have been the same: Poor working conditions, poor supervision, little/no workspace provision, lack of funding. These are not issues we can fix internally and we shouldn’t be being forced to fix our interiority. We need to fix UEA. Too much weight is being put on us. Too much onus on ourselves: to manage our “student-experience” and health. You know what? I’m tired of it. I’m tired all the way down to my bones. I’m tired of research and of existing in an institution that doesn’t respect me. The solution to this isn’t making me feel better. It’s changing the University. That should be our goal.

If we want to take seriously our mental-health, if we want to take seriously our wellbeing, then it isn’t enough for us to adjust ourselves to the University, no. We need to adjust the University to us. It’s high time this institution recognised and respected us. We need to organise ourselves and reshape the conditions of our own collective existence. We should demand better work spaces. We should demand respect. We should demand to be heard. 

Going back to the song: sure, I’m not sick, but I’m not well. But I think together we should at demand that this isn’t hell.




Wed 24 Oct 2018

UEA Music Centre - a home for the musician in you (even if you haven't found them yet)

I'm Stuart Dunlop, Director of Music at UEA. My background is as a straight up-and-down orchestral and choral conductor, but I'm very interested in the way many kinds of music can bring people together and more particularly in the huge wellbeing benefits music can offer everyone.

Twitter: @UEAConcerts 


I’d like to introduce the Music Centre to you. I’ve really struggled with how to do it because although I’m really keen to meet all the able and experienced musicians in the university, I wonder whether, if that’s you, you’ll find us anyway (try it – we do lots and everyone is welcome regardless of subject area. We’re not an academic department so everyone can take part on the same basis, you can find out more at this website). 

I’d really like to talk for a moment to everyone else. I have a little imagined conversation between two PGRs meeting here

-    Oh no, I’m not interested in music
-    Me neither. I used to play the ……. But the pressure was too much so I said 'look, Mum/Dad, if I get Grade 5 can I give up?'
-    I joined the school choir but the music teacher said I was useless and told me to leave – I haven’t sung since
-    I haven’t played since then either, but in a funny way I miss it sometimes
-    I’ve always wondered whether I can sing really but I don’t know how to start
-    No, I don’t know how to get back into playing for fun either

Does that ring any bells? I’ve heard all of the above, often multiple times. If you recognise any of the above, or haven’t tried music making at all, can I recommend giving something a go?

Making music can be a wonderfully social thing to do, and in times when isolation is a problem and the issue of wellbeing is on everyone’s mind, it can get you out of a rut. There is plenty of evidence of the mental and physical benefits – just think about all that Gareth Malonery a year or two ago, for instance (click here to find out about all that Gareth Malonery).

If you’ve never sung before, we have a choir for you that aims at many of the wellbeing benefits that Gareth mentions in the link. Community Choir is predominantly staff and PGRs, though open to anyone. No audition, no requirement to read music, no need to have sung in a choir before, no register – so if you can’t come one week that’s not a problem. There are performances (Chestnuts Roasting on an Open Fire for the Christmas concert for example) but the overriding aim is to get together and sing.

There is a great deal of relaxed, student-led music making as well (click here to find out more). Plenty of postgrads take part, there are practice rooms you can sign up to use (sometimes music can be gloriously anti-social if you just want to shut yourself away and play or sing for a bit). There is also a lot of ambitious, performance-focused music if that’s what you’re interested in, but you can get involved pretty much wherever you’re starting from.

We can’t make everyone’s dreams come true. That’s a different narrative. It does pain me though when someone self-selects as being non-musical because they feel they don’t meet some imagined standard when singing or playing together could be a joyous experience. 

If any of the above is of interest, have a look at what we do on our website.

If what you’re interested in isn’t there perhaps some of these societies might be of more interest  and if not we might still be able to point you in the direction of people. 

If you want to find out more email us at or follow us on Twitter (@UEAConcerts) or Facebook (UEA Music Centre).

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Wed 17 Oct 2018

'OpenUpUEA' New Wellbeing App Review

This blog is by Sophie Prosolek, a 3rd Year UEA PhD student studying diet and health at the Quadram Institute in Norwich. "I'm keen on science communication, and the visibility and inclusion of neurodiversity in academia."

Twitter: @InfraRedRum

We’ve all heard the recent horror stories surrounding postgraduate mental health; uncertain job prospects and the inherent pressures of academia sometimes causing students to feel pressured, isolated, or even depressed. Thankfully, in recent years, UEA has invested heavily in improving the wellbeing of its students and now, they’ve even launched an app (called OpenUpUEA) which can be used to monitor mood and seek advice.

As a PhD student and mood-disorder survivor, I was excited to test out OpenUpUEA, and see if it could really improve the lives of real-life postgraduate students. Now, the concept of a mood management app is nothing new, and believe me I’ve tried them all; could OpenUpUEA convince me to give mobile mood management another go? I used the app every day for 1 week to track my mood and this is what I thought:

Good points:
•    I loved the user interface; its really easy to use and unlike some other apps I’ve tried, I found it completely unpatronizing.
•    They don’t just ask whether you’re ‘up’ or ‘down’. Sometimes its really hard to know what you’re actually feeling, and the fact that they offer [quite comprehensive] prompts to help you figure out your mindset is really useful.
•    The advice is practical and useful. In some apps I’ve tried, the answers all lead to ‘call 111’ or ‘contact your GP’, I like that this app suggests very practical links (like where to get groceries for example) which can seem overwhelming at difficult times.
•    It’s a work in progress. The app is already good, but as the team are still listening to students and trying to improve the service it could get even better – I really think that, with this in mind, OpenUp UEA could be the best free mood tracker currently on the market.

But also…
•    The inherent challenge of mood management apps is that they’re only useful if you’re willing to use them. You have to be the one to take charge, download the app and use it properly – something I probably wouldn’t do if I was becoming severely unwell. 
•    They don’t offer an option to actually track your mood; a diary function would be useful, to I could look back and say ‘oh I’ve been feeling X a lot recently, I wonder if I should explore that’. 
•    It might be more useful if you’re an undergraduate, or new to Norwich. One of the main features of the app is that it can signpost you to local help, however I’m not sure how useful this would be if you were already very familiar with the local area, mental health services or simply if you’re a bit more used to living independently (as I am). 

Of course, the world’s problems can’t be fixed with an app, and there’s still a lot that even clinicians don’t know about managing mental health; but my overall impression is that this app really does work, and I say that as a converted sceptic. Whether I’d continue using OpenUpUEA on a daily basis remains to be seen, but I definitely feel that it could help me support myself in times of need.

Thank you Sophie for this post. If you have been affected by anything in this post or would like to know where you can access support, please do download OpenUpUEA app, contact Student Support Services, (telephone: +44 (0)1603 59 2761) your local GP or the Norfolk Wellbeing Service (telephone: 0300 123 1503). 

We now have an exciting opportunity to develop the OpenUpUEA App, specifically for PGRs. The developers are looking for valuable input from you. If you're interested in taking part in a focus group this semester on campus, please contact Sophie Bagge ( for more information and to sign up. 

 A link to the OpenUp app is below:

 The app is available for download by UEA students and staff here:iPhone


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Wed 10 Oct 2018

How to enjoy your PhD, or: how to stay sane on the journey of (self-) discovery?

This week's post is by Verena Bruer a PhD Candidate in DEV. "I'm a Sociologist with a passion for effectively integrating disadvantaged groups in work and society. After some years working in Latin America, I did my MSc in Impact Evaluation in DEV and moved on to doing my PhD on youth unemployment afterwards, while working for Oxfam, ILO and other institutions."

Doing a PhD is a life-changing decision, no doubt. We sign up for spending a good amount of the years in the prime of our lives dedicated to exploring one particular topic in profound depth. For aiming high and living low. For learning a lot and becoming increasingly aware of how little we know, for example where this will lead us after all. Among other things.

The journey is long, with valleys and peaks, and long country roads in the middle, with no clear horizon in sight. How shall we plan it, and what shall we pack to make it a good trip? To make sure we use the right map, and our car has enough fuel and strong tyres? Or, asked differently, how do we avoid that we are stranded on the road, get lost along the way, or crash?

Picking up recent debates on poor mental health among PGR students, we conducted a survey on mental wellbeing with current and former UEA DEV PGR students and asked them (among other things): “What advice would you give yourself if you were at the start of your PhD again?”

Here come the answers. If you are anywhere on the way before thesis submission, put them on your fridge as a reminder (especially the last one) ;) 

(1)    Take conscious decisions
Be aware that some decisions can have a major effect on the course of your study and life, and take those carefully. Such as: Doing a PhD (be prepared for a journey of self-discovery, on great parts of it with no one in the passenger seat), the subject of your PhD (what do you want out of it afterwards?), your discipline (do you know the disciplinary “home” where your work is situated?), your supervisor (do you have personal chemistry?), your funding sources (are there any? If not, be prepared for a particularly challenging experience).  

(2)    Create structure and clarity 
Set a schedule for work and leisure activities and stick to it. Set yourself small goals along the way (e.g. finalising research instruments, collecting data, submitting a conference paper) and monitor their progress. Celebrate the milestones! Do these things not only alone, but together with your supervisors: explicitly encourage target-setting, as well as detailed and also positive feedback. Start each phase as early as possible (especially data analysis and write-up). Make sure you have clarified mutual expectations with your supervisors at each stage of your study. 

(3)    Ensure work-life balance
Set realistic timelines which consider your personal circumstances. Schedule time for breaks and leisure activities. Pause work as long as necessary when you’re feeling unwell. Go off campus and recharge. Eat healthily and exercise. Do yoga and/or keep a journal, if you feel that those strategies might do you well. 

(4)    Connect with others professionally 
Be embedded with others working on topics related to your subject: Actively engage in research groups, go to conferences early and seek collaborative work where possible.

(5)    Teach and/or work a bit 
Apart from building your CV in the direction of your interest, doing some other work aside from the PhD research will give you recognition, help you to focus, and get you in contact with others.

(6)    Seek help and exchange issues with others
If you encounter difficulties on the way, talk about them with your PGR peers, the student support service, your supervisors and/or a counsellor. Be brave and don’t be embarrassed! You will be surprised how many people feel similarly.

(7)    Worry less

Trust in yourself. It will all go well in the end. Enjoy life! 

Have a safe and fun ride!

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Mon 08 Oct 2018

Being Well

This blog is by Steph Bornemann. With over twenty years of research into plant and microbial enzymes of relevance to health and agriculture, Steph Bornemann is the Postgraduate Research Director at the John Innes Centre.

Twitter: @stephbornemann



A researcher was outwardly on track, but wasn’t inwardly enjoying his work all of the time. Research has its ups and downs, but the ups and downs of the soul are different. There were periods when things just didn’t feel right, seeding doubt about what he was doing. The option of quitting research and finding something else to do felt like a bigger challenge than carrying on with research, so nothing really changed. There was a sense of being trapped.

On and off, he thankfully had the courage to seek professional help. First a councillor, later on a cognitive behavioural therapist, and then a hypnotherapist. They all helped to some extent, but didn’t fix the underlying issues. Along the way, life events such as illness and the poor health and subsequent death of geographically remote parents didn’t help.

Then was a short period on a mild antidepressant, which made things feel worse before providing some limited benefit. His GP prescribed it, in part, to help with much needed sleep. However, the GP emphasised that without dealing with the underlying issues, the antidepressant wouldn’t solve anything. He therefore strongly encouraged additional talking therapy. This was honest and direct, but added to the challenge.

Subsequently, it was the excellent work of the consultant psychologist that ultimately paved the way to help solve so many issues. The psychologist gently challenged all sorts of perceptions and assumptions to help unravel how doubt escalated to catastrophising, causing depression and anxiety. His current values and motivations became clearer, along with the recognition of the acquired skills gained through experience. He realised that he liked puzzles, but they didn’t have to involve making scientific discoveries himself. He was actually getting more satisfaction from helping others make their own scientific discoveries and helping them navigate their challenges along the way.

The horizon started to become visible and new opportunities came into focus. Was it luck, coincidence, fate, greater maturity and experience, or his own effort? Probably all of the above. Then a plan emerged.

A bold career shift was taken ownership of, and bit by bit turned into reality. He shifted direction, with the support of his colleagues, to focus on supporting others to do their own research. Some lifestyle changes had also been made. The GP’s advice had, after several months, been implemented. So no more need for antidepressants.

What lessons did he learn from this? Gather all your courage. Get the most appropriate professional help you can find. Seek to make changes in your life, and consider those that seem impossible at first. Think about lifestyle, values, motivation, relationships, dealing with experiences, career, etc. Be prepared to revise how you see yourself and how you see the world – they constantly change. Accept that your best on a tough day is not the same as your best on a good day.

Be patient - resolutions sometimes come sooner, sometimes later. His journey took years, but he knows others that have reached their destinations much quicker. Above all, be kind to yourself and to those around you. He is happy to help others. That person is Steph Bornemann.


We would like to thank Steph for sharing his experience with us through this blog. If you have been affected by anything in this post or would like to know where you can access support, please do contact Student Support Services, (telephone: +44 (0)1603 59 2761) your local GP or the Norfolk Wellbeing Service (telephone: 0300 123 1503). 

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Mon 24 Sep 2018

A slice of pizza, a portion of friends and a side of research...

This blog is by the Bitesize PhD Seminar Series Coordinators. A Lunchtime seminar series run by PhD students for PhD students. Contact Ana – or Milena – to find out more about presenting this year. 

Twitter: @BitesizePhD

A slice of pizza, a portion of friends and a side of research... Welcome to the relaunch of the FMH Bitesize PhD lunchtime seminar series 2018/19!

Bitesize PhD is a monthly lunchtime seminar series, coordinated by current PhD students, which offers students the opportunity to present their research, to fellow PhD-ers in a relaxed, friendly environment. All are welcome to come along and present, no matter what stage your research is currently at. Whether you want to (pizza) toss some new project ideas around for feedback, practice presenting your results and findings, or you knead to prepare for an upcoming conference or similar, this is the perfect platform. And... if you haven’t guessed already... there is free pizza for all attendees!

We are lucky enough to have had the support of both the uea(su) and Faculty of Medicine and Health, who provide the funds for everyone’s favourite snack. And if the pizza isn’t enough, presenters will also grab themselves a few training credits.

We are now into our 4th successful year of Bitesize PhD, and to re-lunch the 2018/19 series, we are delighted to have Dr. Ben Garrod - evolutionary biologist, and not to name drop, but is buddies with the one and only Sir David Attenborough - come along to tell us ‘The right way to do a PhD… And why that still won’t work…’. You’ll find us at the BCRE lecture theatre on Wednesday 10th October, 1-2pm, with delicious refreshments to follow.

And if you don’t believe us, hear it from our recent seminar leads… "The Bitesize seminar was a unique event, with pizza and networking, to share and discuss our research with other members of the university community. It was a great opportunity to prepare a presentation for an audience from a broad range of fields. The interaction with the attendees was great, with interesting questions and enthusiastic discussions. I had the chance to try, for the first time, a quiz at the end of the talk with questions from the seminar. The quiz results provided useful feedback to improve future presentations and the attendees enjoyed it. Overall, as the seminar leader?, I believe that Bitesize is a fantastic occasion to bring students and staff together and to share and discuss science. I really enjoyed the experience and I recommend it to other students."

If you fancy presenting, drop Ana or Milena a line, and they will help you to coordinate your seminar – they run from November till July. Or, if you fancy just coming along to catch up with friends and hear about all the fantastic research, look out for our adverts on Blackboard and digital screens around campus. Ana – Milena –

You’d be a weirdough not to follow us on twitter.... @BitesizePhD

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Wed 12 Sep 2018

The Importance of Staring out of the Window

Rachel Henderson is one of the Academic Librarian team who support students and staff at UEA to make the most of library resources.

Twitter: @uealibrary 

Staring out of the window. It feels fruitless, and yet it’s one of the crucial parts of formulating ideas. The philosophers at #schooloflife know the value of staring out of a window, and here in UEA library we know it’s part of the creative process.

If you haven’t discovered yet, come and experience some of the best views on campus from the library to help with sorting out your thoughts.  Throughout the 6 floors there are study spaces to suit you, including a dedicated PGR room with 39 study spaces and 60 lockers.  

The Academic Librarian team can’t claim to be as picturesque as the views, but we can help with your research process in many ways. Confronting ‘the literature’ at the start of a PhD is daunting. Your librarian can show you techniques and tools that help to filter the avalanche of information and keep on top of it. We can translate the language of research and are skilled at advanced search techniques which will help to focus your search. Organising your findings helps to shape your ideas, librarians can introduce you to online apps for organising, note-taking, referencing. So much of research literature is conversation and networking and we can show you some of the places online that could be useful.   

As you progress in your research you may want to use social media to share your ideas and we can talk through the options to help you work out what suits your way of working best. Once your thesis has been completed, rather than store it in a cupboard, the library makes it available online via the university digital repository. The librarians understand the complexities of open access publishing, and can advise you on ways to approach this.

We know ways to get hold of that out of print book or elusive conference paper, so if you’re having trouble tracking down a reference, get in touch.

You can contact your Academic Librarian for a 1:1 conversation, or sign up for one of the PPD sessions that we run as part of the Graduate School’s programme. You can find the library online at





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