Cosy spaces and grand showcases — how the Bristol Doctoral College helps our research students

As a research student at Bristol, you’re not just an important part of your school and faculty — you’re also a member of our thriving Bristol Doctoral College (BDC).

But what is the BDC, and how does being a part of it help postgraduate researchers (also known as ‘PGRs’) during their research degrees?

A key aim of the BDC is to support the development of postgraduate researchers across all research degree programmes, and to enhance their experiences with training, interdisciplinary events and opportunities.

The BDC has a small (but friendly) team who work to make that happen. A lot of our activity is centred on the Personal and Professional Development Programme, a specially curated selection of courses and resources that’s designed to support postgraduate researchers at every stage of their research degrees — from those early days of scoping and planning, to getting ready for that all-important viva.

We also hold events to welcome new postgraduate researchers to our vibrant community — and, in the case of the Research without Borders festival and Three Minute Thesis competition, give PGRs opportunities to connect, collaborate and share their fascinating research with the wider world. Since 2017, Research without Borders has concluded with a grand showcase exhibition in Colston Hall — putting the work of Bristol’s postgraduate researchers right into the heart of the city.

But it’s not all about festivals and large-scale events. Since October 2018, the BDC has overseen a dedicated space that PGRs can use on a day-to-day level. The PGR Hub, which is now on the second floor of the University’ s Senate House, is a place where PGRs can relax, take part in workshops and meet research students from outside of their school or faculty. And, by applying for our new PGR Community Fund, they can get support to make their own events happen in the space — whether it’s a movie quiz or a meditation session.

As one of our postgraduate researchers said: “The BDC and the PGR Hub help you to connect with people from different disciplines, and make you feel like you’re part of one big PGR community.” We couldn’t have put it any better ourselves.

Find out more about what we do, including supporting doctoral teachers and offering funding for placements, on the BDC webpages.

Images: Jenny Hardy

Combining work and study

Tom Burnett is a full-time Communications Manager at the University of Bristol and studies International Relations part-time. He spoke to us about how he manages to fit studying around his career and family.

I’d been thinking about doing a master’s for about 10 years before I actually decided to go ahead with it. For me, being a postgraduate student is completely different to being an undergraduate. I always had a slight regret that I didn’t make the most of my undergraduate studies, but I was young, I had a brilliant time and I’ve still got friends from then, so it wasn’t a complete waste of three years!

The programme at Bristol is well regarded and there are some great lecturers, so I contacted the School, met with them before applying and they helped me work out the best way to fit studying in around my job and family commitments.

Working full time has actually helped me focus on my studies. Because I’ve got limited time, I can’t spend weeks pondering things, I just have to get on with it. I try to go to the library to study early at the weekends. I can then leave at midday having achieved something and go and spend time with my children.

Going back into education when you’ve got a family is hard, but the University is very supportive. My kids are definitely interested in what I’m doing and they understand the importance of learning, so I think seeing me doing it is a good influence on them. I look forward to the day I can put on my gown and invite the family along to see me graduate – it’ll be a day off school for the kids so I’m sure they’ll enjoy it even more!

Mature students bring a different perspective to studying; whether it’s something you’ve learnt during your career, what you’ve experienced if you’ve been travelling or lived in a different country, it’s good to be able to share that with people.

University staff understand that part-time students have another side of their life that they need to take care of, so the Graduate Administration Managers do their best to help you work out a timetable that fits best with your working life, and the academics are mindful that you might need some extra help.

If you’re coming back into education after a break, I’d recommend making the most of the help available. I booked a meeting with a librarian because, the last time I went to a university library, there was one computer for students to use – it’s a bit different now! There are also people who can help with your essay writing skills and your personal tutor is always there if you need advice.

The lecturers are keen for us to progress and for us to make the most of the opportunities the course brings. For example, they circulate relevant job vacancies that people on my course have taken advantage of.

One of the great things about Bristol is that it’s a truly international university. If you’re interested in global affairs you get to spend time with people from all over the world.

What I like most about the University is that it’s very much part of the city, and vice versa. You just know you’re in a great place to live and study, and I’m proud to be part of the University as both a member of staff and a student.

If you want to explore postgraduate study at Bristol, sign up for our November open day.