Generation Delta Student Workshop Report
1st phase of the PGR cycle: Access to Academy (A2A)
Workshop title: “Preparing for postgraduate research study”
Hosting institution: Goldsmiths University
Date: Thursday, 20 October 2022
Time: 9.00 am to 5.00 pm
This workshop was offered to UK/’Home’ undergraduate and master’s students identified as Black, Asian and/or ethnic minority (BAME) women and those who may have left academia but are planning to return to study for a doctoral degree at some point in the near future. The aims of the session were to:
- Clarify the postgraduate research application process
- Provide advice and guidance on preparing for a research career
- Provide a forum for discussion between established and early career researchers
For the complete Zoom video and audio recording of the introduction of the objectives and aims of the workshop go to: Introduction to student workshop.mp4.
For the introduction to the Generation Delta programme by Professor Iyiola Solanke please go to: Introduction to GenDelta project and team.mp4.
The following was the workshop agenda:
|Welcome and introduction to the Generation Delta programme
Professor Iyiola Solanke - Project PI (Leeds university)
|Aims of session and outline of the day
Professor Farzana Shain & Professor Uma Kambhampati
|‘Applying for scholarships: What are funders looking for in an application?’
Professor Mark Johnson - Dean of the Graduate School, Goldsmiths & Dr Joanna John - Head of Doctoral Skills Training and Development, Reading University
|Preparing for doctoral study: advice and guidance from current PGR students
Angela Loum, Clementine Bedos, Rambisayi Marufu & Paaras Abbas
|Preparing for a research career: advice and guidance from established scholars
Generation Delta project leads
|Open discussion and next steps
Professor Uma Kambhampati & Professor Farzana Shain
2. Presentation by guest speakers: ‘Applying for scholarships: What are funders looking for in an application?
Professor Mark Johnson —Dean of the Graduate School at Goldsmiths— and Dr Joanna John—Head of Doctoral Skills Training and Development at the University of Reading focused their presentation on:
- Opportunities, challenges and questions when putting together applications to PGR studies
- The field of funding available for PGR studies
- Ideas and thoughts on preparing proposals
For the complete Zoom video and audio recording of the presentation go to: Presentation by Prof Johnson and Dr Joanna John.mp4.
To access the slides, go to: Slides for Applying For PHD
3. Q&A with guest speakers (not on audio-visual form)
Below, some of the questions from the students and the feedback they got from the speakers and the project leads of GenDelta.
How to best approach supervisors?
Approach supervisors having done a background check on their own research and highlight what you find valuable for and/or compatible with your own research interests. In person would be even better that online if there’s an opportunity. Avoid sending the same proposal to different supervisors, that might not be well received.
Distil clearly what is it that you want to do and hopefully the potential supervisor might find that promising and or engaging, and also something about yourselves and why you are excited about that specific project. Keep it short in those initial emails, a paragraph maximum.
How difficult is it to achieve a professorship after getting a PhD?
Because the system is unequal throughout, not just during the PGR studies, some people have to work harder than others. Go into the PhD not just aiming for a professorship but because you are passionate about your current and suture research. The Professorship wold be a by-product of the hard work resulting form than passion and engagement with the work.
Does the research proposal solely get selected based on the content of the proposal or does the school and funders look at the CV, achievements and experience alongside with application?
Applications for PhD are judged on all these things - your own achievements and experience but also the proposal. A PhD is quite different from other degrees because it requires a set of independent thinking and writing skills and this is apparent from your proposal. Also, the proposal indicates whether there is somebody in the department with the skills you need.
A good supervisor would be interested in the whole package. If they only seem interested in the proposal, they might not be the right fit.
(following from the above): It should be also whether the institution or the department has someone with the research area and skill that the applicants seek. Is there a possibility that the universities have inter-departmental exchanges?
On occasion, inter-departmental exchanges are possible but usually only after the PhD is already under way. In general, universities would be wary about taking on a student with the intention of bringing in expertise from elsewhere. It would be hard for them to support the student adequately in this case.
Do you need to have a proposal before applying for the funding?
In most cases, you have a proposal before, either just drafted by the student or a proposal that has already been seen/approved by the potential supervisor.
How important is the support from supervisors? Length of applications forms?
It’s vital. When responding open calls where a potential supervisor and other colleagues might have already written a proposal and are looking for potential PGR students to join in the project, there needs to be clarity as to what skills and experience established scholars need from PGR candidates. The length can vary depending on the awarding /funding body.
Average cost of the PhD (Home fees)?
For full time £5,000 and part-time £2,500.
What if when first approaching a potential supervisor they do not seem to be that interested?
If the person is not responsive after a couple of emails, that might indicate they’re not the right fit so look for someone more responsive. But it might also be the case that the potential supervisor has a lot going on (e.g.., full inboxes) so they need to be reminded. Consider you do not only want an expert in your field, but also you want someone who is willing to offer support and mentorship.
In terms of positionality, what if you are outside and more privileged compared to the community you want to research. Would you be the right researcher if that’s the case?
Find genuine forms of collaborative work. Frame your research as doing it “with” and “alongside” instead of “about”. In this way you can show you are thinking progressively in terms of research methodology.
Do you need to have publications before applying for a PhD?
That’s not an entry level criterion for a PhD. It shouldn’t be seen as something you have to do before contemplating to do a PhD.
If the decision of the funder is final, can you appeal a decision?
The panel agree this is a great question but it seems there’s not enough guidelines or pathways out there to appeal. Something to look more into or to be developed.
4. Experiences from current PGR students
During this session, current PGR students at Goldsmiths University on their 1st/2nd year (pre-upgrade stage) and from different disciplines shared their experiences on their process of applying for PGR studies. The PGR students highlighted the importance of wellbeing and to keep that alongside if not a priority during the application process.
For the complete Zoom video and audio recording of this session go to Advice from current PGR students.mp4
5. Q&A with current PGR students
Below, some of the questions from the students and the feedback they got from current PGR students, GenDelta project leads and guest speakers.
What was then most stressful part of the application process?
To present your project in 10 minutes in front of people you highly respect but looking back on it, you should feel more confident as long as you are passionate on the research journey you want to embark upon. Others cannot pinpoint a specific part; the whole process was very consuming. Thus, it is difficult to find a balance between your wellbeing and the application. For others, deadlines are really anxiety-inducing. So, allow extra time whenever possible. Other express writing up the proposal was the most stressful bit, including what to keep and what to take out.
How do you think the process could be simplified?
Open days, either virtual or in-person where supervisors discuss their research interests to make it more accessible for prospective students.
How to navigate the balance between your personal narratives and the academic language to convey your expertise in the research proposal?
It can be really specific to your field. Look for other applications in your field. For some applications, personal experiences can be really valid and relevant. Lived experiences can be accompanied by work experiences as they are often linked and that can reinforce the points you want to come across through your application. Reading outside academic literature such a poetry can help to find your own voice, again whenever it is relevant in your specific field.
How to make the most of supervisory support?
Send some written work, even if rudimentary, to your supervisor in advance of meeting them to be able to have in-depth conversations.
Could you talk a bit more about the different stages and process of submission?
It can vary depending of the funding stream. Some can set different deadlines for the different stages. First, the draft proposal for example. Then, your proposal is evaluated and ranked at a departmental panel. Then it goes to the funding panel. And from then it’s a long wait until you get a final response. For other finding proposals, there can be a couple of extra steps. This is often the simultaneous processes of applying to the corresponding academic department and applying for funding. In the case of arts, you have to submit a portfolio. Though the different processes there’s opportunity to go back on the proposal and get feedback before the formal submission.
Can you apply for supervisors in other universities?
Not all universities are happy to have supervisors outside the university or even the department. It is only when the expertise is not existent at the department/university. What can happen along the process is that initial supervisors move universities and then they are allowed to continue working with the student because they already started the process and to avoid major disruptions. Other universities allow to have external advisors even if not part of the official supervision team.
6. Experiences from some of Generation Delta leads.
Panel discussion with Professor Iyiola Solanke, Professor Donna Chambers and Professor Uma Kambhampati, chaired by Professor Farzana Shain. At the beginning of the session, each professor gave a quick description of their academic career, particularly their path from the start of their PGR studies to achieving a professorship. Afterwards, Professor Chain did a round of questions:
For the complete Zoom video and audio recording of this session go to Advice from established scholars.mp4
7. Students’ feedback from breakout rooms and open discussion
During this session, the students were split into two breakout rooms to discuss, for 25 minutes, the following question:
What is the single most effective thing that a staff member or department or university could do to support students in relation to admissions, progression and careers?
The main points raised by the students in the breakout rooms were:
There is a code that is inaccessible to those who do not have networks or who are ‘first in family’ to have gone to university. Universities should be aware of these barriers and proactive and systematic in addressing them.
Universities could simplify the processes of applying for doctoral programmes and funding so that it is easier for such students to navigate?
There needs to be transparency about the admissions system. Currently some universities are better than others.
Some universities are also better at having people that students can talk to whereas in others, neither information nor staff are accessible.
Information regarding PGR could be provided using multi-media platforms rather than just brochures.
Students felt that references should not be required in advance of an offer. Students find it embarrassing to ask referees to write references to multiple places. It also contributes to a sense of failure.
Marketing of PGR programmes needs to be more engaging. There is very little representation of EDI on these websites.
Supervisors could communicate their research via video recording as it can be difficult to sense of what a supervisor will be like from written words on websites
There could also be videos showing racialised/diverse student successes.
Online workshops (e.g., entrepreneurship, digital marketing, project management) that started during the pandemic were very helpful and it would be good if these continue. These workshops had a high level of attendance from students of colour.
Can there be greater clarity about expectations? What are the steps? This applies to both admissions and progression.
Could spaces be created for students where they can share experiences? Like communities of resistance to share experiences specific to BAME female PGR students and feel validated.
Besides the above feedback during the plenary, there were also some questions raised by the students which the project leads answered to the best of their capacity:
Is there an appetite within academy to address the issues we have been talking about today?
This has likely increased since 2020 and the George Floyd and Black Lives Matter movement. It has a huge impact in the funding bodies and that’s why this finding stream was created, and more scholarships being created, not just the George Floyd protests but the unequal impact of the pandemic on racialised minorities.
What if I don’t find a supervisor that has direct or indirect links to my specific research proposal which relates closely to my identity?
Ultimately, you are the expert in your field. The role of the supervisor is to help you navigate your own path even if they do not share your identity. Plus, if there isn’t anybody doing something similar, you have a great start already in terms that a PhD is meant to be an original contribution to knowledge. The context of your research or the identity of your supervisors might be different, but the theoretical apparatus your supervisor can help you with can be useful in that context regardless.