Institutional support mechanisms
The institution in which you are undertaking your doctorate will provide a large range of services that are designed to help and support you. As a postgraduate researcher (PGR) you may find that you are able to access support services that are designed for both staff and students but that relatively few things are labelled as being specifically for you. If your institution has a graduate school you may find that some of these services are offered through this and are more specifically targeted at PGR. Make sure that you investigate what is available and let people know if you think that there is a gap in provision.
This page outlines the support that is typically available to PGRs. This is a general list - institutions will offer slightly different services and organise and name them differently.
Your department is the most likely place that you will turn when you are in need of help and support. Typically you might call on:
- your supervision team. In addition to your main supervisor, you will probably have a supervisory team. These people should be familiar enough with your research (although the onus may be on you to keep them informed) to offer support when your main supervisor is unavailable
- director of postgraduate study/PG tutor/dean. Within your department or unit there is also likely to be a member of staff with general responsibility for postgraduate research. If they cannot help you directly, they should be aware of other relevant support. Some institutions have mentoring schemes that might put you in touch with another academic. Details should be in your handbook
- research and support staff. These people are likely to be sources of support, particularly if they have worked in your group for some time. They should not replace your supervisor, who has ultimate responsibility for you
- your peers. Peer support is essential to most PGRs. If you are experiencing difficulties, talk to fellow PGRs who may be able to offer advice. You may have a postgraduate representative on departmental committees who can raise common concerns at a meeting. This may not be as applicable to you if you are a part-time or distance PGR.
Your institution is likely to provide a range of services specifically designed to help students. Those that are not specifically targeted at PGRs will still be open to you, and the professionals who work within them will usually have dealt with people in your situation before. Typically, you can expect to find the following types of services:
- counseling services - usually available if you need to talk through problems in complete confidence
- welfare services - for practical problems such as visa renewal, accommodation or financial issues
- academic support/writing centres and learning support units - for help with issues around the academic skills needed to undertake your doctorate. Typically, this will include writing and presentation skills, but may also extend to issues around research management
- careers services - for specific help relating to career choices. They may also be able to help re-motivate you by pointing out how your doctorate will help you along possible career paths
- research training units running training and development activity as part of your research degree. Attending courses may provide you with help and support on key issues. However, it is also worth approaching trainers for advice and additional support
- administrative office with responsibility for postgraduates. Although you may not find pastoral or research support here, you will get definitive answers on regulations that relate to you, something that might be useful if you are unclear about deadlines and procedures
- a person who is ultimately responsible for postgraduate researchers. This may be a graduate dean or pro-vice-chancellor who should be able to help you address serious concerns
- official complaints procedures through which complaints and questions are dealt with. This may offer you an opportunity to get an issue that concerns you addressed at an official level.
There are a number of representatives who you may wish to talk to about any issues that concern you.
- Student representatives are likely to exist at a departmental or university level. Some departments have a specific representative for postgraduate researchers. If there is not one you might want to consider volunteering
- Student unions or guilds are also a useful source of support and representation. As a registered student you are a member of the National Union of Students (NUS) and many universities have affiliation with the National Postgraduate Committee (NPC). Within your institution there should be a named officer with responsibility for postgraduate researchers who will be able to offer advice.
You may find that you are eligible to join the University and College Union (UCU) or other trade union and access the help and support offered by this organisation. Subscription rates are often low for postgraduate members.
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