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.

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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

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).

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.