PRES 2019 Results Part 1: Thinking about PGR feedback

PRES 2019 Results Part 1: Thinking about PGR feedback

Elizabeth Adams is the Researcher Development Manager in the University of Glasgow’s Research & Innovation Services. In this post, she gives in overview of how the University is approaching the 2019 Postgraduate Research Experience Survey (PRES) results.

When I started at UofG (over 10 years ago), one of my first jobs was to run the PGR survey PRES. Back then, there wasn’t a lot of structure around the PGR experience: they were mostly getting left to get on with it, which was wonderful for some people and not so great for others. We barely knew how to get in contact with our PGR population so things like a percentage response rate to the survey was more of a best guess than an accurate statistic.  We did, however, take the results seriously and think hard about how we could improve the PGR experience.

When you’re at the beginning of something, it’s easy to make improvements and to present nice charts saying things like ‘you said, we did’. Ten years on, the situation is much more complex.  The PhD itself has changed a lot, our PGR population is more diverse and our support structures (I hope) have improved. A challenge we have now is how to make sure structures are flexible enough to meet the needs of diverse populations and disciplinary differences, while at the same time being consistent and fair in what is being offered across the University.

I’m going to use this blog post (and a series of follow-ups) to explain how we use the PRES results to inform what we do across the University, in particular how we consider them in the context of other data and feedback.

PRES runs every two years with the latest survey in early 2019 having a 46% response rate.  As well as this, we have:

  • Our student demographic data – The number of international and home students vary across the Colleges and discipline, as does the average age of a PhD student, their work experience and expectations, and whether or not they are self- funded.

  • Feedback and attendance stats for our PGR training workshops.

  • Feedback from the Graduate School reviews – Graduate Schools are reviewed every four years by a panel of academics from the University and external academics as well as a student member. This year it’s the turn of the College of Arts and PRES data will feature in these.

  • Our PGR townhall meetings – Last year we discussed the theme of ‘Careers Outside of Academia’. Outcomes from this include supervisor training on supporting your research students with their career options and a destination tracking project (launching September 2019).

  • Other research projects being carried out about the PGR experience – This year we’ve worked with Jelena Milicev, a Masters student in psychology to investigate the Supervisory role in PGR wellbeing (more on this in a future blog post) and the year before we looked at physical activity during the PGR degree.

  • Athena Swan – Many Schools and Institutes are involved in this scheme, which seeks to identify and breakdown barriers to gender equality in academia. This often includes taking a critical look at data on PGR recruitment, progression and retention, and we added some questions to the PRES survey in relation to work-life balance, role models and caring responsibilities, to help us understand some of the challenges facing PGRs.

  • Research Culture Survey – This survey has just run for academic staff at the University of Glasgow and findings will be analysed alongside PRES data to look for trends and areas for action in particular disciplines.

Where does PRES fit in?

Over the summer, we took the PRES data and put it into a tool called Qlikview, which allows Schools and Institutes across the University to explore the data within their own context (e.g. while looking at Athena Swan). We review benchmarking data to look at how we’ve done in comparison to other universities, as well as comparing Schools within the Universities and looking at any increases or decreases for each School since the last survey.

We ran statistical tests to see where one characteristic is influencing responses to other questions (for instance, does someone having teaching experience or being part-time, international, female, etc., mean they are more or less likely to agree with other statements in the survey?). One interesting finding for us was the degree to which teaching and training for teaching impact on whether PGRs agree that they’ve built professional networks or developed their communication skills. This is something that we will be looking at closely over the coming year.

We analysed and grouped the text comments, trying to identify trends and suggestions for improvements. Many of these were around how we can improve communications, and we hope to build on these.

As you can imagine, this led to a lot of data and a rather epic report which our PRES analyst Rachel Mulholland had to try to whittle down to something that was digestible and actionable (a mere 70 pages rather than 140). You can take a look at the PRES summary responses for this year and previous years yourself on the webpage

Infographic of some of the PRES survey results. 85% are satisfied with the overall experience of their research degree program. 85% are confident of completing on time. 77% say their supervisor has helped them identify their training and development needs. 84% have a suitable working space. 89% agree their supervisor provides helpful feedback.

What is PRES telling us?

On the whole, results were extremely positive this year.  Our overall satisfaction was 85% (compared with a sector average of 81%) and we feel very proud that our PGRs are having a good experience, particularly in satisfaction with their supervisors, resources, research culture and transferable skills training.  However, there are still areas where PGRs are not so happy or where responses vary across the University.

We do our best to understand the data we have and talk to PGR convenors to work out why things are more positive or negative, so that we can share that with other areas.  Rachel presented her findings to the Graduate Schools in August, we’ve talked to Schools where results have changed significantly since 2017, and we provided data to feed into the GTA code of practice project that is happening at the moment. 

There will be some small things that we can do right now to address the PRES survey (like putting on additional project management workshops). As a University, there will be some larger projects over 2019/20 (such as improving supervisor training, PGR handbooks and the GTA project).  However, there will also be areas where we need further discussion, either to fully understand the issues and potential solutions (such as the experience of disabled researchers) or because the issues are complex and systemic and require a whole system solution.   

In short, there is not going to be a quick and simplistic ‘you said, we did’ response to PRES (aside from those smaller actions), but instead we’ll have a longer-term dialogue. If you are the researchers and leaders of the future, then we need your input into how we can create a research environment that you genuinely want to be part of.

How can you get involved?

  • Contribute to School, Graduate School or SRC activities, such as Athena Swan committees or as a student rep.

  • Come along to our PGR townhall meetings to help shape policy; we hold two of these a year and invite student speakers and participants. Themes for the next meetings are suggested by the participants and we expect to have one later in the year in relation to the international PGR experience.

  • Engage with us by email or Twitter, particularly to let us know where you’ve seen good practice that we can adopt or build upon.

We look forward to getting your input and working with you to improve the PGR experience!


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