GCfE 9th Annual Conference: How to get the most from your PhD experience

The GCfE has had a bit of a longer holiday than previously planned, but we are still aiming to get updates about our conference onto the blog shortly. For anything that doesn’t make the blog we hope to have featured in the final newsletter of the year. Check back in a few days for a cfp for newsletter articles if you are interested in putting forward a short piece on anything related to Europe, including what’s going on in the UK.

Re-capping the conference in a bit of a reverse order, this post is dedicated to a summary of our second roundtable featuring guests from The University Graduate School, Careers Network and an academic speaker. This session focused on how to tackle the thesis, relationships with supervisors, conference opportunities and how to mentally cope with the pressures of graduate level research.


Our first speaker was Jim Bell, the Marketing and Events Officer of the University Graduate School. The Graduate School have always been a great support to the GCfE and it was great to have Jim join us for this panel. Jim kicked off the session with his 3 key ideas for how to get the most from your PhD.

1. Start off doing stuff

2. Organisation
-> figure out your motivation, why you’re doing the PhD and your end goal

3. Take ownership of your PhD
-> Don’t just do what your supervisor says, the PhD should be a conversation between you and your supervisor.
-> Be proactive, responsible and self-promoting
-> UGS offers several resources, including inductions and skills sessions
-> You need to decide what you want to take advantage of

Next up was Holly Prescott, who finished her English Literature PhD in 2011 and is currently the Careers Network Postgraduate Liaison with primarily taught students. Prior to this she worked in postgraduate recruitment. Three was a popular number for the panel as Holly also came along having prepared 3 key things. For Holly these were a bit more of abstract ideas than an active to do list.

1. Do not isolate yourself
-> Don’t let your circles get to narrow, especially if you aren’t planning to go into academia
-> keep your career options open
-> Allow yourself different types of models, influences and opportunities

2. Don’t put up too many barriers
-> Take a wide view and don’t limit opportunities to what fits your research

3. Smash your comfort zone
-> PhD offers an independence not available in other parts of life, take advantage.

Our final roundtable participant was Dr Isabelle Hertner, a Politics Lecturer in German. She’s been with the University of Birmingham for 4 years now, and has chaired about 4 or 5 Vivas. Currently she is supervising 4 PhD students, with her first supervised student competing the Viva this past December. As a PhD supervisor it is probably obvious that her first piece of advice was that the PhD must come first, but it’s also a good point to be reminded of. She goes on to say that you need to know what you are doing, but in today’s academic climate the PhD is just not enough anymore. Teaching is a good way too boost the academic CV as well as offers an opportunity to practice your presentation skills. Just remember to not take on too much as, of course, the PhD comes first. PhD candidates will also want to take the opportunity to publish (keep an eye out for our upcoming publishing roundtable post), but within the parameters of your PhD rather than new material which will take a significant amount of time away from your research. Finally, she offered a few comments on the relationship between the supervisor and student. One thing you’ll want to be clear on is the expectations from both the student as well as the supervisor. The relationship is one of time management on both ends.

The roundtable then opened the floor for a bit of Q+A, and this post will conclude with a recap of a few of the most stimulating questions.

Q: How should you approach the Viva?
A: (Jim): UGS used to run a preparation workshop but the feedback was that it wasn’t discipline specific enough so for now there is an online course available to help with preparation, see the UGS course page for details.
(Holly): Distance yourself from the horror stories and just focus on the task at hand. Don’t compare yourself to others and give yourself spatial isolation (e.g. work in a space where you can avoid the noise). Most importantly, keep in mind that this is the only examination that you will ever take that is on a book you wrote. View it as an opportunity to talk in depth with people who have looked closely at your work.
(Nick, GCfE academic adviser): Also keep in mind that you have a choice in your examiners.

Q: Regarding the job market as you are close to submission. You have no publications but are running out of money. Submit or starve, what should you do?
A: (Jim): You have to consider which direction is your end goal, academic or not. (Holly): If it is not academic than take an opportunity to go into that area and gain some experience and potentially an income while finishing.
(Isabelle): If the aim is academic, apply for academic jobs you are qualified for and want to do, e.g. temporary lectureship. Don’t waste your time going for things you aren’t suited to, and look into whether you can start a position before the Viva as some opportunities will offer more flexible start dates.

Q: Thoughts on other activities and responsibilities during the PhD?
(Nick): Do mix with non-PhDs. You want the thesis in and passed as quickly as possible but at the same time you’ll need to have other interests and activities, which will help you to reach the primary goal. (Holly): It is re-invigorating and motivating to have more than your thesis in front of you.

Q: Interview advice?
(Isabelle): Develop and demonstrate skills, e.g. conference organising, managing a budget, etc. (Jim): Interviews, whether academic or not, are about providing evidence that you are qualified, but evidence can come in a variety of different forms.

We hope those of you who made the session found it fun and informative, and that those of you that weren’t able to join us have found this re-cap to be of interest. Of course the GCfE again wants to thank Jim, Holly and Isabelle for taking the time to put together this interesting and useful session.

For more on what the University Graduate School has to offer please visit: http://www.birmingham.ac.uk/postgraduate/support/dr/graduateschool/index.aspx

For the Careers Network please visit: https://intranet.birmingham.ac.uk/as/employability/careers/index.aspx

Cambridge Scholars Publishing

Last year the Graduate Centre for Europe publications committee decided to publish a collection of the 8th Annual Conference proceedings with Cambridge Scholars Publishing. The collection enabled our editorial team the chance to work on editing and producing a book, and features the scholarly work of postgraduates across all fields of European studies working in the UK and across Europe.

Travelling Europe

We tweeted about the collection’s release a few weeks ago, but officially decided to publicise the collection in conjunction with our 9th annual conference. Congratulations to all the contributors as well as our hard working editorial team for making this happen.


Wine Reception

The GCfE committee are considering producing another collection in conjunction with our 9th annual conference theme. If you would be interested in contributing to a collection around the topic of Dissidence in Europe, from the perspective of any discipline, please keep an eye on this space as we will shortly be deciding whether we will go forward with a second publication. The cfp for the next issue of the Birmingham Journal for Europe will also be available soon. BJfE is a peer-reviewed journal run by the GCfE publications team, more information about which can be found on our publications page.

For more information about the Traveling Europe collection, or to order your own copy of the book, please visit: http://www.cambridgescholars.com/travelling-europe

More updates about the 9th Annual Conference, including our keynote and roundtable sessions will be appearing in this space over the next few weeks. We would like to thank all our participants, roundtable speakers, panel chairs and our keynote Jolyon Howorth. The GCfE conference would not be possible without such fantastic contributors. We hope to see many of you back next year for what will be our 10th annual event.

GCfE 9th Annual Conference: Roundtable Discussions

Each year the GCfE Annual Conference hosts a series of skill sessions or roundtable discussions alongside the plenary panels. This year’s conference will feature two roundtables on the second day, A Guide to Publishing and Editing and How to Get the Most from your PhD Experience.

A Guide to Publishing and Editing

Date: 26 March 2016 Venue: 4th Floor West, Muirhead Tower Time: 13:15 – 14:15 This roundtable discussion will be chaired by Zainab Naqvi, Gail Mobley and Dr Stephen Forcer. Zainab is a second year Law PhD candidate and the current Co-Chair (Publications) of the GCfE and as such the Chief Editor of the Birmingham Journal for Europe (BJFE), a peer-reviewed, online postgraudate publication. She is also responsible for overseeing the production of the GCfE Newsletter. Gail is a third year English Literature PhD candidate and was the 2013/2014 Co-Chair (Publications) and currently still works with the GCfE publications team as an Editor and Blog Manager. Stephen is a Senior Lecutrer in French Studies at the University of Birmingham whose general research interests include Dada and Surrealism in French literature and film. During this session Zainab will discuss the BJfE as well as her experience in running an editorial committee. Gail will discuss her past experiences as Co-Chair as well as her experience in editing a Cambridge Scholars Publishing edition. Stephen will share his own publications experience as well as a bit of background to professional journal editing. This roundtable will offer the opportunity to discuss and raise questions about personal experience editing and/or publishing, the value of peer review, the potential for academic impact without publications and the role of new media in the future of academic publishing.

How to Get the Most from your PhD Experience

Date: 26 March 2016 Venue: 4th Floor West, Muirhead Tower Time: 15:45 – 16:30 This roundtable discussion will be chaired by Jim Bell, Holly Prescott and Dr Isabelle Hertner. Jim is currently the Marketing and Events Manager of the University Graduate School (UGS), which hosts a variety of skills workshops and events to help PhD students gain experience and skills useful both during and after their studies. Holly Prescott works with the Careers Network and previously completed her PhD in English Literature at the University of Birmingham. Dr Isabelle Hertner is a Lecturer in German and European Politics and Society as well as Deputy Director of the Institute for German Studies. Jim will introduce the Graduate School and his own role as Marketing and Events Manager. Holly will discuss the Careers Network as well as her personal PhD experience and what she’s done in the years after. Isabelle will discuss her role as a PhD supervisor. This session will explore ways in which postgraduates can maximise their time at the unviersity while undertaking a Masters or PhD. Possible discussion topics and areas to raise questions might include teaching experience, the relationship with a supervisor, support sources (e.g. PGMSA), networking and preparing for what comes after (be that in or outside of academia). The conference including is free to attend and includes coffee/tea and lunches. You can still book your place by emailing gcfe@contacts.bham.ac.uk (the booking form is available on our conference tab on the left).

9th Annual Conference Keynote: Jolyon Howorth

We are delighted to be welcoming Professor Jolyon Howorth from Yale University to deliver our keynote address at next week’s GCfE Conference, Dissident Voices. Howorth has published extensively in the fields of European politics and history, particularly in relation to defense policy and transatlantic relations. His publications include 14 books and 200+ journal articles and book chapters, available in ten different languages. He has been a consultant with European and US governments and private agencies on matters of security and defense and his keynote speech entitled “Wake Up Europe: The Dawning of a New Global Order” will surely be one of the highlights of this year’s annual conference.

GCfE Keynote Poster

To register for the keynote address as well as the rest of our conference programme please email gcfe@contacts.bham.ac.uk. A guest booking form as well as our full programme is available on our Annual Conference page. As always this is a free event and coffee/tea + lunches will be provided. We look forward to seeing you there.

GCfE 9th Annual Conference: Dissident Voices

Our 9th Annual Conference will take place next week on the 25th and 26th of March 2015. This years conference is entitled Dissident Voices? Europe Past, Present and Future.

2014 has been a tulultous year as we marked the centenary of the First World War, Scotland hosted a refrendum on independence and tensions in the Ukraine dominated headlines. This coming May we will see the UK’s next general election which may have reprecussions not only in Britain but across Europe with the Conservative Party promising an in-out referendum on Europe if they win the majority. Join us next week to discuss Europe’s past, present and future prospects.

GCfE Conference PosterThis year our conference will feature 5 plenary paper sessions, two academic roundtables and a keynote address delivered by Professor Jolyon Howorth from Yale University. For further details please see our Annual Conference page (on the left) or are conference programme available here: GCfE 2015 Conference Programme

The conference including meals is free to attend but we would appreciate if you would fill in our guest booking form and submit it to gcfe@contacts.bham.ac.uk prior to the event. The booking form can be found here: 2015 Conference Guest Booking Form

GCfE Film Screening: Amélie

The GCfE are excited to announce that our next event will be a film screening held in conjuction with the Postgraduate and Mature Student Association (PGMSA). We will be showing Amélie, the critically acclaimed motion picture starring Audrey Tautou. The film tells the story of a shy waitress who decides to change the lives of those around her for the better, while simultaneously struggling with her own isolation. It was a major box-office success winning Best Film at the European Film Awards and was nominated for 5 Oscars.

Amelie Film ScreeningThe screening will take place in Arts Lecture Room 3 from 6.15pm on Thursday 12th March, and refreshments will be provided.

There is a Facebook event. Feel free to join and invite friends and housemates, the event is free and open to everyone: https://www.facebook.com/events/623166357814034/

Interdisciplinary Conference: Topographies

Postgraduate researchers may be interested in an upcoming conference at the University of Bristol entitled Topographies: Places to Find Something. This  conference will take place 14 May 2015 and aims to explore what is meant by the term topography and how ideas and principles of geographic description can enable scholars from different academic backgrounds to understand topographies as ‘places to find something’.

The conference is now accepting abstracts for papers on several topics which include, but are not limited to: Literary geographies; Mapping the mind and madness; Poetry and place; Dreamscapes; Ontology and place; Embodiment, Performance, Place; Ecocriticism; Urban and rural topographies; Topographies of water, soil, sand and air; Topographies of terror; Otherworld topographies; Colonial and post-colonial spaces; Topographies of death, illness and decay; Palimpsests and heterotopias; Catographic and visual spatial practices; Topographies of faith; Topographical bibliography; Cosmography; Geology and deep time.

The plenary lecture will be delivered by Wai Chee Dimock (Professor of American and English Literature at Yale University) with keynote speakers Andrew Ginger (Chair in Iberian and Latin American Studies at the University of Bristol) and Robert Vilain (Professor of German and Head of Modern Languages at the University Bristol). The conference will also feature an evening of poetry and film at the Watershed with poets Nial Campbell, Holly Corfield Carr, Tony Williams as well as filmmaker Alan Fentiman.

Abstracts of no more than 200 words should be sent to Emily Derbyshire (emily.derbyshire@bristol.ac.uk) and Andrew Giles (ag12981@bristol.ac.uk) before 23 March 2014.

For more details visit: https://placestofindsomething2015.wordpress.com/

Finally, on the theme of conference, the GCfE 9th annual conference will be taking place at the end of March. Information about the programme and how to register will be available soon.

GCfE Postgraduate Afternoon: Working with Languages

How to work with your language & how to make your language work for you

Date: Wednesday 25th February 2015
Time: 15.30-16:30
Venue: 420 Muirhead Tower

Postgraduate Afternoon Flier
We often hear about how the ability to speak another language gives you the edge in the job market and how being bilingual means you are sought out by potential employers, but what does this mean for those of us pursuing postgraduate research, or those who opt to venture away from traditional language-focused professions such as translating, interpreting or teaching?  Join us as we explore how you can market your foreign language skills and make them work for you when seeking employment, hearing first hand from those who have been in that position and done it successfully.

Come along to hear from Chris Packham (Careers Network) followed by a roundtable discussion featuring a selection of University of Birmingham postgraduates who have put their language skills to use in securing employment.

15:30-15:45     Introduction followed by a short talk from Chris Packham
15:45-16:10     Roundtable discussion
16:10-16:30     Networking

As always the event is open to everyone and free refreshments will be available. Feel free to drop in at any point during the hour. We hope to see you there.

The Future of the EU’s Eastern Partnership Seminar

The Centre for Russian, European and Eurasian Studies are hosting a seminar that may be of interest. The Birmingham Seminar for Trouble in the Neighbourhood? The future of the EU’s Eastern Partnership project, in partnership with the European Commission Representation in the UK and the University of Birmingham, will take stock of recent developments in the EU’s relationship with the countries in its eastern neighbourhood: Georgia, Armenia, Azerbaijan, Moldova, Belarus and Ukraine.

The seminar will also act as a launch event for the new publication Trouble in the Neighbourhood? The future of the EU’s Eastern Partnership. Free copies of the publication will be available at this event.

Date: Tuesday 17 February, 6-7.30pm

Location: Room 121, Muirhead Tower

Registration essential: The event is free and refreshments will be served but if you are interested in attending you will need to email events@fpc.org.uk prior to the event.

For more information: www.birmingham.ac.uk/schools/government-society/departments/russian-east-european-studies/events/2015/02-17-future-of-the-eus-eastern-partnership.aspx

Finally, on an unrelated note, don’t forget you have until the end of the week to submit an abstract for our conference. The annual GCfE conference is always a popular event that promotes stimulating dialogue and brings together a cross-disciplinary selection of postgraduates. If you would like to present your research send us an abstract by Friday (the 6th) of 200-300 words to gcfe@contacts.bham.ac.uk.

IEL Annual Lecture 2015: The EU Law Making Process

Every year the Institute of European Law hosts a lecture in which an prominent European lawyer, politician or academic present on a particular European legal topic. This year’s distinguished visitor will be Malcolm Harbour CBE (MEP 1999-2014) and the lecture is entitled: The EU Law Making Process – Engineering a Better Solution.

Date: Monday 23 February 2015

Time: 14:00 – 15:00

Venue: Avon Room – University Centre (R23 on UoB campus map)

For further information about attending please contact: IEL@contacts.bham.ac.uk

IEL 2   Malcolm Harbour CBE

Malcolm Harbour CBE, served 15 years as Conservative Member of the European Parliament (MEP) for the West Midlands, including 5 years as Chairman of the European Parliament’s Internal Market and Consumer Protection Committee. He did not seek re-election in 2014. He has been deeply involved in advocating, developing and agreeing EU legislation. His work has encompassed the services market, manufacturing industry, the digital economy, public procurement and consumer protection. He has chaired many legislative negotiations, and brokered many compromise solutions. Before EU politics, Malcolm spent 32 years in the motor industry, as an engineer, a senior commercial executive, a consultant and a researcher. He now promotes innovation and stronger EU engagement in his home region. He is a Birmingham Science City Advisory Board member, and recently joined the Council of the University of Birmingham. He contributes to European think tanks on policies to boost the Single Market, and improve rule making. He graduated in Mechanical Sciences from Trinity College, Cambridge, and gained his Management Sciences Diploma from Aston Business School. He was awarded a CBE in 2013 for services to the UK economy.

There is increasing dissatisfaction with the time consuming and opaque nature of EU law making, and the perceived “democratic deficit” that results. Malcolm Harbour, drawing on his experience as politician and engineer, will propose a range of improvements to the legislative process that can be introduced quickly and without treaty changes. While the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union defines a linear process for co-decision legislation, in practice agreement can only be achieved by extensive “non-linear” processes, exchanges of information and informal negotiations outside formal frameworks. These processes can be radically reformed, and better integrate more intensive and structured pre-legislative consultation. Reform can also address the urgent need to step up the involvement of National Parliaments of Member States, who have weak engagement at all stages of the current process. Mr Harbour’s lecture will draw on his participation in a High Level Task Force on Institutional Reform, organised by the Centre for European Policy Studies. The findings are published on the CEPS web site www.ceps.eu.