As a postgraduate researcher you have a number of rights and responsibilities to yourself and those around you. These rights and responsibilities are made up of some formal rules (and occasionally even laws) and many more conventions, expectations and requests. It is important to think about the environment in which you operate and consider how it is managed and governed and what opportunities and challenges this presents to you.
Rights and responsibilities are typically conferred upon you from one of the following sources:
- The law. All organisations and individuals have to operate within national and local laws. This governs a large variety of activity and includes health and safety, discrimination, bullying, data protection, freedom of information and harassment among other issues.
- National regulation. Higher Education institutions are regulated by a number of external bodies such as the Quality Assurance Agency for Higher Education. These organisations lay down rules, guidelines and suggestions for how individuals, or more usually, institutions should operate.
- Institutional regulation. Your institution will have a series of rules and regulations on a variety of issues, including research ethics, the management of research degrees and postgraduate researchers.
- Departmental culture and conventions. There will be a way in which your department operates that is based on a number of rules and conventions. These are frequently informal and you will probably discover them by trial and error.
- Your supervisor's working style. Your supervisor will have a way that he or she likes to work and a series of expectations about how you should work.
- Your peers. Other postgraduate researchers will also have an impact on how you work and are expected to behave.
It is useful to consider all of these influences and to find out as much about what is expected of you as possible. Sometimes these different rules and conventions will be in conflict and you will have to work out a way to negotiate between them. Where possible it is usually a good idea to try and go along with rules and to fit into the established culture. However, if you feel uncomfortable doing this or you feel that they are unjust you have a number of avenues of redress.
- Talk to the people involved. Often problems with rules and conventions can be sorted out just by talking to people.
- Seek some advice. Speak to your peers, your supervisory team, institutional support services or to a local representative and gain their perspective on the issue.
- Get some representation. As a postgraduate researcher you are a member of the National Union of Students and will find that there is local representation available to you. Depending on the problem you may also be eligible to join a trade union and gain representation through that organisation.
- Make a complaint. Part of your institution's regulations will be a complaints procedure which is designed to help you address serious concerns through official channels.
- In very serious (and rare) cases you may also find that you need to take legal advice or even go to the police.
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