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University of Reading Feb 2023: Students' Workshop Resources

Generation Delta Student Workshop Report

2nd stage of the PGR cycle: Retention and Progression (RaP)


Workshop title: “The Doctoral Upgrade Journey”

Hosting institution: University of Reading

Date: Wednesday 15 February 2023

Time: 10.00 am to 4.00 pm

Venue: Edith Morley Room 125, University of Reading

  1. Introduction_ 2
  2. Registration And Attendees 2
  3. Introduction To Generation Delta 2
  4. Academic Upgrade Process By Professor Adrian Williams (University Of Reading) 2
  5. Students Experiences With The Academic Upgrade 2
  6. Students Feedback From Breakout Rooms 2
  7. Well-Being Workshop By Dr Nasreen Majid_ 4
  8. Observations From Students Breakout Rooms And Wellbeing Workshop_ 4


1.     Introduction

This workshop was offered to women who identify as Black, Asian, and/or from minority ethnic communities, who are registered as Home PGR students, and who have already begun their programmes in England and are yet to go to their upgrade process.


The objectives of this workshop were to:
a. Clarify the postgraduate research upgrade process
b. Provide advice and guidance on preparing for the upgrade
c. Provide a forum for discussion between established and early career researchers


The following was the workshop agenda:


10-10.15 – Coffee and Registration

10.15-10.30 – Introduction to Generation Delta (Professor Iyiola Solanke)

10.30-11.30Academic Upgrade Process by Professor Adrian Williams (UoR) -

11.30-12.00 – Professor Amaka Offiah (mentoring programme) and Professor Shaofeng Liu (upgrade experiences)

12.00 - 1.00 – Lunch and Student Network.

1.00 – 2.45 – Student experiences re upgrade

Student breakout groups to discuss four questions:

  1. Where can students go if their relationship with their supervisor is not good?
  2. What happens if university does not want to put a student forward for confirmation?
  3. What support are the universities providing for the wellbeing of students?
  4. Should PGR students have academic tutors? Could this be the academic assessor? Or should it be somebody independent?

2.45 - 3.00 – Tea/Coffee

3.00 - 4.00Well-being workshop – work life balance by Dr Nasreen Majid (UoR)

2.     Registration and attendees

A total of 81 PGR students registered for the workshop and 33 attended the session.

3.     Introduction to Generation Delta

Follow this link for an overview of the research/action project Generation Delta by its PI, Professor Iyiola Solanke. Introduction to GenDelta project and team.mp4

4.     Academic Upgrade Process by Professor Adrian Williams (University of Reading)

Follow this link for to access the slides prepared by Professor Williams on the academic upgrade, Imposter Syndrome, negative bias, and useful coping strategies. PresentationAdrianWilliamsReadingFeb 2023.pdf

5.     Students experiences with the academic upgrade

A panel of three current PGR students who have already passed their upgrade, share their testimonies with the group. See here for the transcript of one of them. Upgrade experience talk

6.     Students feedback from breakout rooms

Divided in breakout rooms, students discussed four questions. Following the questions and the feedback:

a. Where can students go if their relationship with their supervisor is not good?

  • Personal tutor, Wellcome Directors (Wellcome SCHARR programme)
  • Head of department, PGR co-ordinators, Sheffield Wellcome Programme
  • Plymouth University – PGR co-ordinators, PGR experience manager, Doctoral college
  • Goldsmiths – PGR-co-ordinators, programme admin departmental head
  • Reading – mentor, second supervisor, PGR (head of studies), head of school, graduate school
  • Kings – only know supervisors
  • UCLAN – Research degree tutors (but rubbish); Graduate research school (also rubbish); another supervisor

b. What happens if university does not want to put a student forward for confirmation?

  • Sheffield – Mphil transfer, appeals process
  • Plymouth – drop out (not sure), referral process
  • Goldsmiths – not sure
  • UCLAN – Mphil
  • Reading – assessment can be informal, not sure, not heard of people failing
  • Kings – write new proposal and reviva

c. What support are the universities providing for the wellbeing of students?

  • Well-being and referral to free counselling. Most of the Unis have this but some only well-being. Some Unis have email addresses which students can contact to request either well-being and/or counselling sessions. Some Unis provide info about how these facilities can be accessed during students’ orientation programmes!!
  • “Minimum” responses to email queries and “Generic” responses
  • COVID period management – peremptory reactions – give extension but no follow-up process – being connected to who can actually help.
  • Kings- Unclear- general counselling/student officers
  • Sheffield – counselling – 6 sessions, own desk space – printed name. Wellbeing pot of money for PGR students. Genuine nice communal space. Admin (Lisa) – caring for student plants! Literature lunch/ language lunch. Structured social time. Mentoring scheme from old PhD student. Dep. Organised.
  • Reading- access to counselling -6 sessions. Attempt at representation in-person/online choice. Lunch time seminars. End of term celebration lunch
  • UCL - student union and own desk
  • Goldsmith- chaplaincy- free lunch. Similar to Kings mental health service. Kitchen area- not everyone knows in a graduate centre. Monthly working progress sessions. Yearly department PGR conference. £1 lunch.
  • There generally is ample support available across the university. Support comes in the form of help with finances, hardship, parental or other form of responsibilities. There are decolonising cafes, workshops, reading groups pertaining to a variety of interests.

d. Should PGR students have academic tutors? Could this be the academic assessor? Or should it be somebody independent?

  • A big ‘yes’ to needing academic tutors.
  • Academic tutors – most PGRS do not know about academic tutors beyond Bachelor’s level. Reading has this for Master Level Students- maybe for some disciplines, not sure if for all. Ideally, tutor should be different from a supervisor. Departments need to provide more facilities to enable PGRs interact with one another and support one another. Some depts have social networks amongst students, which offer a lot of support.
  • Having someone from supervision ie personal tutor/ not related to academics. Academic assessor being friendly face in upgrade viva to provide personal context to your studies. Essentially a good idea, more support, someone not related to the project
  • Some universities already have academic tutors. The ones not having them would like this help. The academic tutor should be someone related to the students’ field of study, not entirely independent.
  • Academic tutor to provide support such as reading their upgrade report before submission and to signpost students to relevant services available, and help them to progress in their PhD.

7.     Well-being Workshop by Dr Nasreen Majid

Follow this link for to access the slides prepared by Dr Nasreen Majid for a workshop on well-being Wellbeing Workshop.pdf

The aims of the workshop were to:

  1. Understand your social and professional networks and how you perceive yourself fitting in within these networks (push and pull factors)
  2. Reflect on how you view the notion of well-being and what actions you take to look after your well-being
  3. To create next steps in focusing in on yourself

One of the activities of the workshop had the students write a letter to themselves, which they would receive by post two to three months after the workshop. After this time, we have found students praising the positive impact of the letter writing activity. The letter was about reminding themselves of their priorities, both academic and personal, which helped to bring much needed perspective in terms of well-being during the doctoral study journey.

8.     Observations from students breakout rooms and wellbeing workshop

a. There is a large variation in what students are provided with across universities​

  • one or two supervisors? ​
  • Academic assessors or not? ​
  • Academic tutors or not? ​

b. Most universities have a range of services that students can access: ​

  • Wellbeing support and counselling, though this was often considered to be too generic​
  • Graduate School​
  • hardship support​
  • seminars and occasional free lunches​

c. students saw a need for​

  • low level academic support of the kind the supervisor could not offer, possibly a subject tutor​
  • possibly math support centres or other technical skill providers​
  • PhD buddy from among more senior PhD students​

d. they also saw the need for​

  • pastoral support​
  • nonsupervisory academic support even in the viva​

The big thing that makes a difference is a sense of community. The example from Sheffield where a single administrator could bring this sense of community to the students. ​

When considering their well-being, the students did not cite their PhD as either contributing to, or taking away, from their well-being. This was somewhat surprising. ​

In general, it was clear that there was wide variation: ​

  1. in processes across universities about what does happen when an upgrade is failed. ​
  2. in students’ knowledge about what happens if they fail their upgrade. Many options were mentioned including: MPhil transfer, appeal, referral, drop out, did not know anybody else failing, and re-submission. ​
  3. in student’s awareness of what was on offer within their universities. Some students were very clued in and others more lost.