PGR student Reps play an important role in supporting our research community. Our PGR Reps of the year Matt Brunet and Malin Schulz share their personal experiences of the rewards and challenges of the role with us.
Why did you originally sign up to be a PGR rep?
Malin: When I started my PhD we had a welcome event organised by current Reps and our PGR director. It was mentioned there that there hadn’t been a Rep from the Soft Matter Group in a while. I thought this would be a good chance for me to get involved and that it would look good on my CV later.
Matt: I wanted the responsibility. Up until I started my PhD I’d declined most opportunities to take on more responsibility as I was worried about how much extra work I would have to do. I was good friends with the previous nuclear physics rep and having spoken with him it sounded like a really rewarding thing to do, so when the opportunity came up I took it.
What it’s like being a Rep – what are the rewards, benefits and challenges?
Matt: The main reward as a PGR rep is making a difference. Whether that’s something big like a university-wide event for your group, or something small like helping another PGR through a difficult time, everything matters and it’s all rewarding in its own way. Being a PGR Rep you definitely get out of it what you put in. If you’re active and engaged then the PGRs you represent will feel valued and will be comfortable approaching you about issues they might have. So I would say the main challenge is staying active and engaged throughout your time as a rep, as well as being organised so you can manage your new responsibilities.
Malin: Being a Rep is not much different to being a normal PhD student but you get these extra insights into what challenges PhDs in other departments are facing and as student representative at the FRDC (Faculty Research Degree Committee) also an insight into what’s going on at a faculty level. Knowing that you can have an impact on your fellow PhD students experience is a very rewarding feeling although it can be a challenge sometimes to get feedback from students. This year I have been awarded Course Rep of the year together with Matt Brunet and I’m incredibly proud of that achievement.
Can you give some examples of how the Reps have helped PGRs this year? Anything you are particularly proud of?
Malin: At the FEPS SEF we have re-introduced an IT representative for Reps to ask about any IT related issues that have come up in their department. We have also compiled a checklist about how to best write IT tickets to get a quick reply and have established a point of contact within IT for students. During the lockdown we have worked together with PGRDs to compile a survey asking PhDs about their lockdown experience and gather information on what has gone well and how a future lockdown could be handled better.
Matt: As the nuclear physics rep I’m particularly proud of how the Physics reps as a whole have worked together. It’s very easy to maintain social groups with the people you share offices/meetings with, but less so throughout a group as large as physics. Over the course of the year we’ve managed to cultivate a sense of community not just in our groups, but in physics as a whole by way of social events we’ve organised throughout the year.
During my time as a rep I chose to take on an additional role as the co-chair of the FEPS PGR Student Engagement Forum which allowed me take part in a lot of high-level discussions as a voice for PGRs. While in this role I have helped push for better transparency with PGR finances, and during the COVID-19 crisis this felt particularly rewarding as I was able to improve the university’s communication with PGRs during a particularly challenging time. It was also through my work as co-chair that I was able to achieve PGR Rep of the Year along with Malin my fellow co-chair which I’m incredibly proud of.
Are there any new skills or knowledge the experience has given you?
Malin: As a Rep I feel my communication skills have improved a lot. I have become more comfortable leading a meeting, collecting feedback and relaying problems to PGR directors or other relevant staff, like the DC or security, at the university.
Matt: I am a naturally sociable person but being a PGR Rep has pushed me further to improve my communication skills, in both one-to-one and group discussions. My role as co-chair has also allowed me to expand my organisation and time management skills, as I balanced PhD work the additional meetings and responsibilities that came with the role.
What can the PGR community do to help the Reps do their job better?
Malin: Communicate with your Reps! Let them know what bothers you and what you are worried about. Also let them know what you like and what you would like to have more of. As a Rep we are trying our best to make sure that every PhD has the support they need and are not unnecessarily delayed but it is a lot easier if we actually know what the issues are that PhDs other than ourselves are facing.
Matt: Don’t forget that it’s our job to help you. I would say this especially to first year PGRs, don’t be afraid to ask us if you’re struggling with something. We’ve probably had the same issue ourselves at some point, and if we can’t help you, chances are we know someone who can, and we’re more than happy to help.
If you would like to become a Rep in future, contact your current Rep to find out more. The Doctoral College would like to thank all PGR Reps for supporting our research students over the last academic year.