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Doctoral Academy team

Exciting new ideas and opportunities for our postgraduate research community

24 May 2023

Here at the Doctoral Academy we’re delighted to have appointed Dr James Farror as our new Head of Development and Experience. In this post, James shares his thoughts and ideas as he takes up this new role, and the positive changes and opportunities he hopes to bring to postgraduate research students.

“It’s been a few weeks since I took up my new post, and I am excited to come into the role at a pivotal moment for postgraduate research.

There has been considerable debate over the past few years around the future of doctoral education and the culture in which researchers develop. In order to meet the increasingly complex challenges facing the world, several government strategies have been published with the aim of developing a more diverse and dynamic research workforce. In turn, this realignment of priorities has compelled UKRI and the Research Councils to reconsider how effective doctoral education is in its current state and whether the existing support structures are fit for purpose.

In my new role, much of my focus will be on ensuring that the Doctoral Academy’s provision and services reflect the evolving needs of our customers, stakeholders and funders. To this end, I am currently overseeing an extended version of the team’s annual programme review. We have already conducted focus groups with postgraduate research students across the university and have started conversations with our major stakeholders, including the college Postgraduate Education Deans and Directors of Postgraduate Research across schools.

Through these discussions, we have been able to highlight several priority areas. In addition to an appetite for greater diversity in the development opportunities that the Doctoral Academy provides, there is also clearly a desire for more tailored careers and employability support and more visible opportunities for students to engage with other researchers, whether in person or online, in both social and professional settings. Postgraduate research students also want more targeted support for minority and underrepresented groups and researchers with particular challenges and barriers to engagement. Finally, more transparency is desired by both staff and students around the services that the Doctoral Academy provides and the learning events and resources that we offer.

Addressing these issues is going to take time. We have however already started to get the ball rolling in many areas, with the introduction of a number of pilot initiatives and operational changes, which have already been announced or will be announced in the coming weeks and months, including:

  • A new suite of development provision, including lunchtime roundtables, research sandpits and one-to-one support clinics;
  • A new Development Fund, through which postgraduate researchers can pitch for up to £1000 to undertake a development activity;
  • Changes to scheduling patterns to allow for more activity during summer months, to benefit part-time and distance learners;
  • Paid outreach opportunities, including secondary teaching positions through a new partnership with the Brilliant Club;
  • Paid placements, including a research position within the Doctoral Academy;
  • A residential writers’ retreat in August, giving students an opportunity to spend a weekend away focused purely on the development of their thesis;
  • A review of the online communities that we manage and promote and how we link activity to wider societies at the university;
  • A root-and-branch review of our communications methods, with the aim of simplifying and streamlining our processes;
  • A mapping exercise of all our synchronous and asynchronous learning events and resources, ensuring that students are aware of the range of options available to them.

We are excited to introduce these changes and new initiatives, and we hope they will make a significant positive difference to your experience.”

For more information about our existing and upcoming initiatives, keep an eye out on our regular ‘digest’ emails and our intranet pages.