The SU, and especially the Postgraduate Officer, and the work of Doctoral Reps and Doctoral Exec are pushing for positive change on a whole range of doctoral issues.
Almost all doctoral students have found their research progress massively impacted by Coronavirus. That impact has created research delays that for many aren't fully resolved. The University's funded extensions are limited, while unfunded and charity-funded students are often unable to afford to take longer, and UKRI have advised that doctoral students speak with supervisors to amend their research.
Aim: Provide funding extensions and support to all PGR students whose research has been impacted by Covid-19.
Update: the SU Postgraduate Officer has continued to stress to the University how doctoral students have been impacted and the need for further support, and there have now been several phases of funding extension. The SU will continue to press the University for further support for affected PGRs.
Suddenly we're all doing it, but home set-ups vary enormously, and so of course does research. Many doctoral students have been having to work remotely without access to the equipment they need to work effectively. Loans of unused university equipment have been made, but often this could not be agreed or arranged. There's been a lack of clarity over whether bench fees (where paid) or University Research Studentship Award (URSA) can be used to purchase necessary equipment for PGRs.
Aim: Provide support to PGRs so they can be confident to continue their research at home.
Update: Loans and purchases should now be easier to arrange. Jeremy Bradshaw (Pro-Vice-Chancellor, International & Doctoral) has advised departments to look at how that can be achieved, with bench fees a potential means of buying equipment. More on this here.
The Pandemic has created massive delays for many PGRs' research progress, and funding extensions has been partial and come from multiple sources. It's also incredibly complicated, with a range of different eligibility and terms.
Aim: find the best way to unravel the complexity and help as many doctoral students gain the financial support they desperately need to complete their research and meet living costs.
Update: Fritz has worked hard to ensure the funding extension Q&A that doctoral students have called for was able to happen, and the SU ran this in June with Cathryn Mitchell, Simon Gane and John Brice of the Doctoral College answering questions from PGRs. The SU is also continuing to work with the Doctoral College to ensure its funding extension webpage meets the needs of doctoral students.
Research and doctoral study
Supervision varies widely, and it's important that it can. There's no single, ideal supervisory style. But in some cases, supervisors haven't had the information or the knowledge of best practice to support PGRs effectively. Given the importance of the role and the ever-changing University environment, it's crucial that superviors have the training they need.
Aim: Ensure good supervisory practice through the provision of training to all supervisors (SU Top 10).
Update: there is now a University supervisor hub, with resources and plans to add additional training. A new 'Confident Conversations' session has been promoted to supervisors, to help in addressing difficult issues. However, training is not yet mandatory, and the SU will continue to stress to the importance of this to the University.
Doctoral students are far more likely to report mental health issues than the average person. The PGR experience has remarkable pressures and can leave doctoral students feeling isolated and unsupported. There have been improvements for counselling provision and a wider acknowledgement that doctoral mental health needs particular attention. But more needs to be done, and Coronavirus has had additional impacts.
Aim: Review and update the University’s current mental health strategy to include preventative actions in addition to supporting provision.
... and life after doctoral
Doctoral students who have completed and passed their research degree have sometimes struggled to prove that to potential employers. Conferment of degrees is performed by Senate every four weeks, and must happen before a degree certificate is issued. But because PGRs can pass at any time they may have to wait. That can means job opportunities pass by, or employers refuse to recruit.
Aim: More frequent conferment that enables PGRs to show to employers that they have passed their research degree.
Update: The University has now agreed to case-by-case or emergency conferment, which should mean doctoral students who have completed can prove their achievement.
Although the University provides specialist doctoral career guidance, it can be a challenge for employers to understand what doctoral graduates offer. Established channels such as career fairs may not be tailored to doctoral students.
Aim: help doctoral students gain access to the career pathways that reflect the value of doctoral study.
Update: The University is developing new doctoral employability strategies, such as the potential for doctoral placements and improving the engagement between the University, PGRs, and faculties. An international approach is also needed to help international doctoral students to consider their career pathway outside the UK.