PGR tips podcasts

What should you know as a new postgraduate researcher? Listen to our podcasts from current PGRs and find out their top tips for settling in, meeting new people, and working with your supervisor

 Fabricio Marques transcript

FM: Hi, my name is Fabricio Marques and I’m an International Student from Brazil, I’m in the final year of a full time PhD in Chemical Engineering and from an International Student perspective, I must say that Birmingham in general, is very open to people all over the world and most of you will agree how culturally diverse the University is. Just looking around, you can see and probably already met students and staff from overseas and the majority of people tell me that their experiences here, have been quite positive too.

So, the community, in general, is quite welcoming and supportive and for me, it’s no different with my supervisors, in fact, my main supervisor is also Brazilian so we get along quite well. Now, obviously, it’s not just because we’re from the same country, but also because of me making good progress with my project and this keeps everyone happy. So, in my opinion, it doesn’t really make such a big difference if you’re an International Student when it comes to having a good relationship with your supervisor because, of course, there are certain basic things which are common place everywhere, like being respectful, polite, knowing when to listen and reflect on what the supervisors are saying, but the culture shock, will also depend a lot on where you’re from and so, you must keep an open mind, is possible, ask people from your own country about their experiences here, because, what’s considered normal for some, may not be for others and if you know other students who have the same supervisor as you, I highly recommend that you ask these students what works for them to maintain a good relationship.

I think one mistake that you must avoid is, taking any kind of criticism personally. The supervisor is not there to argue or to make you look bad, the supervisor is there to help you and make sure you follow the guidelines to meet the targets. Being in the position of a supervisor means that you’re experienced in managing research, so they usually know what’s the best course of action and would do well to follow their advice, but if you think they’re wrong then wait until you’ve thought about it more carefully before you say anything. Now, being a hard worker should also be no surprise, making sure that you’re able to do the work that is expected of you, meeting deadlines for handing in reports, doing presentations, coming to meetings, being punctual and so on.

One good tip that I can give is to always prepare well in advance for meetings with supervisors and plan the session well, including how much time you think the meeting will last, have an agenda of what you’d like to present, maybe some results from experiments or a lit, lit review, leave some time for discussions and asking questions then finishing with a plan of action and then a date and time for the next meeting and now, there’s also room for informal meetings and occasionally, you may just want to have a quick chat with your supervisor, keep them posted on important updates and letting them know how you’re getting on.

So, in summary, the guidelines for everyone are usually very similar and for International Students, it’s a matter of finding out what’s expected of you, reflecting on what’s your work style and adapting it to suit what your supervisors are looking for. And remember to network, talk to people about their experiences and learn from them, so that you ensure that you have an enjoyable, challenging, productive time during your PhD.

 Simon Jenkins

SJ: My name is Simon and I’m a final year PhD student in the College of Medical and Dental Sciences. I’m in a department called Medicine, Ethics, Society and History. I’m looking at fertility treatment and my project is about they way that sperm and eggs should be allocated in fertility clinics in the UK and how decisions are made about them.

I think, the main piece of advice is to be honest and by that I mean, be honest with your supervisors and with yourself about what you know or what your shortcomings are. So, something that really struck me in my first year especially was that I felt like that I didn’t know this, that or the other and then I should already know that and it’s very easy to, kind of, keep things like that secret from your supervisors and then, just, kind of, try and sit on those things and just be like, okay, I’m going to figure this out by myself because I’m behind with this obviously and I’m expected to know this but, your supervisors aren’t always great at knowing what you do know and what you don’t, so they might, sometimes assume you know this, that and the other. It’s worth just coming clean with them at the start of things, you know, where you are and what you’re confused about, so you can get, kind of, you know, help right from the start, rather than putting things off because it will always come back and get you in the end.

So, I’m really lucky with my supervisory team, I have three supervisors and, two of them work in the same building as me, so I see them all the time, whether I want too or not, but, I’m in communication with quite regularly by, I mean, I have all of their mobile numbers on my phone, I know some people might not be a fan of that and I just think, you should not be afraid to ask for, for communication and ask for meetings, because, there’s a certain amount of contact time that you’re entitled too as a student and so, you shouldn’t be shy. If you think something’s going wrong and you need an emergency meeting and it’s worth, it’s worth letting them know.

Well, so, one thing I suppose I wish that I’d known is that, something that I remind myself almost everyday now, is that everything takes longer than you think it will. So, if your budgeting time for something, you always need to leave, what my supervisor calls ‘slippage time’, which is, so, you know, you have in mind, okay, I’ve got a week to do this, so, that you know, on paper and in your calendar it looks absolutely fine but then, when it actually comes down to it, such and such comes up, someone sends you an email, you get side tracked and all of a sudden that time’s slipped away, so you always have too remember that, if you think something’s going to take a certain amount of time, it’s going to take longer.

Well, you know, in terms of social advice, people listening to this might laugh, but, it was said to me when I first arrived and it’s a very specific thing, which is these coffee mornings that are arranged for new postgraduate researchers. My colleague who is a year ahead of me, who started a year before me, he said, go to this coffee morning and just, you know, don’t be shy, get everyone’s number at the end, it may seem really forward, but if you don’t do that then you won't see most people again and I did that and basically, my whole friendship group here is based on that coffee morning and so, we kind of laugh about it now but these, and I’m sure there are other events as well, are really useful for people, so I would recommend that people just go to as many of those things as they can, when they’re first starting.

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