PGR Feedback Part 2: What are the Townhall Meetings and Why Should I get Involved?
In the next of our series of blog posts on responses to PGR feedback, Elizabeth Adams, the Researcher Development Manager, talks about the PGR Townhall meetings and how we use them as a way to better understand our survey results and involve the PGR, supervisor and research administrator/student services communities in coming up with practical actions to address issues at a University level.
While our 2019 PRES results and corresponding action plans are working their way through various School, Graduate School and University committees, we are working in parallel to look at where there are issues or challenges faced by our PGRs which can be addressed at University level.
On the whole, the PRES results demonstrate that our PGRs are very satisfied with their opportunities for transferable skills training. However, one area where we don’t do so well is in students agreeing that their experience so far has helped them to grow their professional networks. But what does this actually mean?
With such a diverse student population, growing professional networks probably means different things to different people. What particular support do people want, and are there particular groups that feel more included or excluded than others?
Digging deeper into the results…
A close look at the PRES results has given us some insights into these questions, particularly through the text comments and places where positive responses to another survey question (such as whether or not the respondent is teaching) correlates with the question of professional networks.
To supplement these insights, we also look at the literature on the topic and examples of how these issues are being addressed elsewhere. As part of my role, I regularly discuss these topics with my counterparts in other universities.
With all this taken into consideration, it seems creating professional networks is a complex topic and one which needs a variety of perspectives and solutions which are co-created with the community.
By community, I mean PGRs themselves, recognising that they are by no means a homogenous group but have a variety of subjects and modes of study, including distance-learning. PGRs are different ages, at different career stages, may come from underrepresented groups, and for many others reasons may be looking for different types of networks during their PhD.
By community, I also mean Supervisors, research administrators and student services, all of whom are juggling several different priorities. Better support for PGRS needs to be something that is workable for staff to be able to provide that support or signposting. And, more than anything else, they need to know about it. I’ve been in this job for over 10 years and the number one hardest thing has always been communication across the institution (for instance, people often don’t know about Katrina Gardner, our amazing careers adviser for researchers). We need to keep working on it.
A few years ago, we came up with the idea of holding PGR Townhalls as a way of:
bringing together the PGR community (see above).
sharing the knowledge that we’re learning from surveys, scholarly literature, or other universities.
shining a light on individual stories and perspectives (the quieter voices in the community).
We’ve been holding two townhall meetings a year with the aim of using them to come up with innovative solutions to university-wide challenges and also empowering the participants to go back to their Schools or Services and change things there.
At our most recent townhall—on the theme of careers outside of academia—our participants talked about a lack of awareness of what opportunities are out there. They expressed a desire for more career destination data for PhD graduates: not just the numbers, but also the personal stories. Everyone agreed that it was important that Supervisors were aware of this, too, not just the PGRs.
Since the last event, we’ve taken this on board and two projects have emerged:
A new supervisor CPD workshop on supporting your PhD students with their career development
The Career Transitions Survey (running now)
So, if you’ve ever wondered how policy and new projects get shaped in the university, come along to our next townhall and be a part of that shaping process. The University is only as good as the people who mould it, both staff and students, so if you sometimes think that ‘the University should do ______’, come tell us what that is!
‘Building Professional Networks’ is the theme of our next PGR Townhall taking place on 20 November 2019. Interested in participating? You can sign up here.