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Actions from the Postgraduate Research Experience Survey

The Postgraduate Research Experience Survey (PRES) is a UK higher-education sector survey that aims to gain insight into the learning and supervision experience of postgraduate research students at UK universities.

It is undertaken every two years and, in May 2019, 61% of University of Manchester postgraduate research students completed the PRES. The University and all Schools looked closely at what has gone well since the previous survey, as well as what improvements are still needed. We worked closely with our PGR Student Representatives.

85% of students thought their research programme is worthwhile. Supervision was what students particularly valued: 93% were positive about their supervision.

The most recent survey introduced a new category, Personal Outlook, which aims to measure students' satisfaction with day-to-day life as a PhD student and work-life balance.

The findings of the survey help us make changes to enhance your experience in our postgraduate research community. Having a high return rate helps us to be confident we are hearing the views of most of the student population.

It is encouraging that, overall, the Faculty of Biology, Medicine and Health did well in the following areas:

  • resources needed for research;
  • progress and assessment;
  • professional development.

Findings from PRES 2019 and subsequent discussions with PGR Reps indicate some areas for improvement. These are given below, along with the Faculty's progress on trying to resolve the issues identified.

Teaching and Training Opportunities and Development

It was clear from PRES 2019 that teaching and demonstrating is important to postgraduate research students, as it provides the opportunity to develop professionally. Part of our ongoing work in improving opportunities to engage in teaching have included:

  • Creating new teaching opportunities, including online and distance learning.
  • Developing a webpage enabling students to apply for teaching and demonstrating opportunities on offer across the Faculty.
  • Running taster sessions to introduce students to relevant teaching opportunities.
  • Creating a new 4-year PGR programme that incorporates a teacher training qualification.
  • Encouraging PGRs to use their teaching experience to gain a Higher Education Academy (HEA) qualification. More details can be found on the Leadership in Education Awards Programme (LEAP) page.
  • Communication with HR to improve processes around contracts and reimbursement for paid teaching work.

The Doctoral Academy works closely with CARD to improve the learning opportunities for PGRs. Some recent developments in response to requests around training include:

  • A review of all Doctoral Academy PGR training.
  • The redesign of the 'Life as a PGR' induction training for all new PGRs, now delivered by Doctoral Academy senior staff.
  • Introduction of mandatory training for 2nd (Maintaining Momentum) and 3rd years (Producing a High Quality PhD/Thesis).
  • Development of a PGR-specific Blackboard site for training activity.
  • Regular bulletins about upcoming training events and opportunities.
  • New training to support PGRs to adapt their research plans to mitigate the impacts on COVID-19.

The University of Manchester is committed to ensuring that all PGRs have the best possible experience while undertaking their research at Manchester. To do this, we need to know what works well and what we could do better, and participating in PRES is one way for you to tell us.

The national survey collects anonymised feedback every two years from all postgraduate research students on a range of issues including supervision, resources, assessment and skills and professional development. It helps the University to evaluate our work and to benchmark our performance against other participating UK Universities. Schools, Faculties and the University will draw up accountable action plans identifying areas where improvements could be made.

We want to hear from as many PGRs as possible about what works and how we can improve your experience. You will receive an email in April 2021 with details on how to complete the survey. You are also encouraged to contact your local student reps at any time with feedback on your PGR experience so far, or on any area for improvement, to which you feel we could respond. Student representative contact details can be found on the PGR student reps page. Alternatively, you can contact the Doctoral Academy at doctoralacademy@manchester.ac.uk.

Wellbeing and Mental health

PRES 2019 saw the introduction of specific questions about PGR wellbeing, and we have successfully argued to continue to monitor across the HEI sector in PRES 2021.

PGR wellbeing is an area we have focused on particularly at The University of Manchester, and we were successful in being awarded funding by the Office of Students and UKRI to work in collaboration with the other Faculties and the Student Union to address issues impacting on PGR mental health. All the work was co-designed with PGRs through our PGR consultative forum.

This is an area we will continue to invest in, but recent activities and outputs include:

  • Developing and curating PGR-relevant wellbeing resources (PGR Life).

  • Conducting research to discover the prevalence of mental health problems and the factors that impact on PGR mental health and wellbeing.

  • Piloting peer-to-peer support mechanisms. We will roll these out more widely.

  • Wellbeing apps, tested within PGR community.

  • Working with university support services to improve their understanding of the distinctiveness of the PGR journey and PGR student needs.

  • Improving links to NHS referrals to mental health services for PGRs.

  • Introducing training for supervisors and advisors around PGR mental health and wellbeing, including a new online PGR Supervisor toolkit. Good Supervisor training is now mandatory for all new academics.

  • Routinely reviewing information on interruptions and extensions for reasons relating to wellbeing and mental health.

  • Facilitating better work-life balance. Initiatives include the introduction of a PGR Parents support group and the Anything But Research’ awards.

  • Inclusion wellbeing questions in PRES 2021.

Research Culture and Developing Professional Networks

Issues raised included (i) lack of opportunities and guidance for forming professional networks, (ii) limited opportunities to discuss research. Several initiatives have been put in place.

  • Society Membership Fund: the Faculty contributes £50 towards one annual membership fee for an academic society over the period of a PGR student’s programme.

  • Conference Support Fund: a competitive fund to support costs associated with disseminating research findings at national or international conferences.

  • Presentation Opportunities Database

  • The Doctoral Academy Graduate Society (DAGS) has continued to flourish with an increased budget and student engagement. Its 3rd annual conference was held in June 2019, where students from across the Faculty presented their research. Students from all stages of their PhD studies were encouraged to attend to gain experience of presenting to and networking with fellow researchers. Despite COVID-19, online conferences and showcases have been held by many divisions during 2020 and more are in progress for the coming year.

 

Working Environment and Culture

Significant changes have been made in some areas of the Faculty to address issues raised.

  • With the move online due to campus closure, there was significant investment in IT support and allocating laptops and equipment to enable students and new starters to work remotely.

  • Creating PGR-dedicated space for those whose offices remain closed

  • PGR students have been relocated, resulting in consolidation of students into new working areas allowing greater opportunities for interaction with staff and reduced need for hot-desking. 

  • More space was acquired in other areas to help better accommodate PGR students.

     

Communication and Feedback

Issues raised included (i) lack of clarity on the role of PGR student reps, and (ii) disjointed communication of PGR relevant issues via the announcement systems. The following have been implemented.

  • Regular student rep forums chaired by the School rep with the PGR director attending to facilitate direct two-way communication.

  • School rep attendance at University and Faculty leadership meetings (Doctoral Academy and Manchester Doctoral Centre).

  • Regular training sessions and handbook for PGR Reps.

  • Regular email bulletin sent from the Doctoral Academy collating PGR relevant information.

  • Weekly DA drop-in session to support PGRs in extension requests

The University of Manchester is committed to ensuring that all PGRs have the best possible experience while undertaking their research at Manchester.

To do this, we need to know what works well and what we could do better, and participating in PRES is one way for you to tell us.

The national survey collects anonymised feedback every two years from all postgraduate research students on a range of issues including supervision, resources, assessment and skills and professional development.

It helps the University to evaluate our work and to benchmark our performance against other participating UK universities. Schools, Faculties and the University will draw up accountable action plans identifying areas where improvements could be made.

We want to hear from as many PGRs as possible about what works and how we can improve your experience. You will receive an email in April 2021 with details on how to complete the survey.

You are also encouraged to contact your local student reps at any time with feedback on your PGR experience so far, or on any area for improvement, to which you feel we could respond. Student representative contact details can be found on the PGR student reps page. Alternatively, you can contact the Doctoral Academy at doctoralacademy@manchester.ac.uk.