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Answers to questions! (conference workshop)

Hilary Burgess, Robert Saunders and Vivien Bacigalupo, Wednesday 24 March, 1.45-2.45pm

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14 March 2010

Hilary Burgess, Robert Saunders and Vivien Bacigalupo

Wednesday 24 March, 1.45-2.45pm
Workshop 6E
Central Meeting Room 11

When you started your research student journey you may not have known what the questions were that you needed to ask and many of these may just now be bubbling to the surface!  If you have a question about progress issues, the probation review, doing field work, University regulations or future careers then come along and ask this panel of people who have seen a PhD through to the end.  We look forward to seeing you there.

Hilary Burgess is Director for Postgraduate Studies in the Centre for Research in Education and Educational Technology (CREET). Her work as Director encompasses the full and part-time PhD programme, the part-time Doctorate in Education programme and the MRes programme. From 1st March 2010 she will be Academic Coordinator in the Research School and will lead the Research Career Development Team.  She is currently Chair of the National EdD Network and External Examiner for the EdD at the University of Roehampton.  She is an elected Council Member of the British Educational Research Association (BERA) with a portfolio that encompasses early career researchers and the BERA Committee for Conferences and Networks.  Recently, she was appointed as a College Peer Review member for the review of applications for accreditation as a Doctoral Training Centre and Doctoral Training Unit by the ESRC.  Her own research and publications have been in the area of primary teaching and mentoring and more recently, Teaching Assistants and Workforce Reform and was a contributing consultant author to the Cambridge Primary Review. She has written numerous articles in journals and chapters in books alongside authoring Open University course materials. Her most recent book is called Achieving Your Doctorate in Education.

Robert Saunders is a Reader in Molecular Genetics in the Department of Life Sciences, where he researches the basic biology of ageing.  In that research, he uses the fruit fly Drosophila melanogaster as a model system, and takes a genetic approach.  From January 2008 until February 2010, he held the potition of Academic Coordinator in the Research School, in which capacity he led the Research Career Development Team.  The RCD team is responsible for the delivery of career development events across all disciplines, and for all career stages.

Robert's research career followed a stereotyped path typical of the sciences.  His first degree was in Genetics at the University of Edinburgh.  Subsequently he embarked on a career in Drosophila research with a PhD in molecular genetics, also at Edinburgh.  From there, he moved to Imperial College and subsequently the University of Dundee for postdoctoral research, during which time he studied the cell cycle, and conducted genomic research, again using the fly as a model.  He continued the genomic research while undertaking a Wellcome Trust Senior Fellowship in which   techniques he developed for the Drosophila genome project were applied to the medically important fly Anopheles gambiae.

Robert joined the Open University in 1999, since when his research focus has been on aspects of the basic biology of ageing; specifically on oxidative stress and its relationship to the ageing process, and currently on modelling the human progeroid disorder, Werner's syndrome in flies.

Vivien Bacigalupo was appointed to the post of Head of Research Degrees in 2008 following on from her 15 years of experience working for The Open University. She was previously the Head of Partnerships Office having managed or facilitated over 25 successful partnerships. Prior to this she was a Programme Manager in the Faculty of Health and Social Care and a Course Manager in the Science faculty. She has also worked as an Associate Lecturer and was seconded to the Centre for Outcomes Base Education for 6 months. In her various roles she has gained much experience of University Administration and Governance. Prior to joining The Open University, Vivien was a science teacher (12-18 age group), but has also worked as a production manager in a crisp factory and as a technical sales manager for an American company selling modified starches to the food and pharmaceutical industries.

Extra content

Answers to Questions! (Session 6F)

Hilary Burgess, Robert Saunders and Vivien Bacigalupo (Wednesday, 24th March, 2010; 1:45 pm)

Came in late for the question time – as I changed sessions.

Distance from university

Students are asking about living more than 15 miles from the campus. Rob says the problem about not coming in regularly is that they don’t build up an academic community - although they might be working from home. Rob continues saying that of course if you have partners, it changes your personal circumstances. Hilary is saying if the person is willing to travel and be there to meet your commitments and obligations it is not a problem – but you need to apply to get the waiver.

Why have you thought about considering student’s accommodation?

Hilary says in the past there was a thought about having a graduate house. Rob is talking about having residential schools hosted here but Vivien says it is the cost in the end. Rob is saying that there is a lack of evening culture which was often associated with the work – the campus effectively shuts down at teatime. Vivien said they used to be (the BBC) but now it doesn’t.

The student says she moved from Oxford and she expected the housing to be a lot cheaper but it isn’t.

Why isn’t there an ATM?

Partly because of the monopoly of Natwest on the campus and it has been discussed with other banks but nothing has come out of it. Plus the bank branch only does a limited number of functions. The service has reduced over time. For example, international drafts could only be done at the main bank.

Hilary is saying that it would be nice to have a bookshop rather than just a shop but Rob says it would eventually go away anyhow because of online bookstores. Besides the bookshop tends to support the undergraduates in other universities.

Vivien says if you accept the OU as it is – then you’re fine – but if you expect it to be like a traditional university then it would not be what you want.

OU Clubs

The OU clubs are usually open to everyone not only OU members of staff.

OU Camera dark room

The dark room has disappeared after the refurbishment. Rob suggested emailing the Camera person or Sue Scime from the OU clubs to know what happened.


Vivien is asking if the students feel as if there is a social life

The students said they think there was – but you need to work at it – but she wasn’t expecting it.

The Beale suite replacement is the Mulberry suite. When the students did the postgraduate research conference, they used to have dinner at the Beale suite. Hilary said she is going to take the examiners in the Beale suite.

If you have to do a powerpoint with your probation mini-viva?

In CREET you might do it, but other disciplines it may not be necessary.

The part-time probation assessment

The probationary report expectations are the same for the full-time students but just a longer time before you need to submit it.

Asking whether to see examples of probationary report?

You can see examples from other students. Your probation report would be proportional to the year you’re in – i.e. they’ll only expect you to write a report appropriate for a first year students.

Can you go along to a mini-viva?

Very unlikely unless you have a really good friend but you can have a practice mini-viva. Rob is saying that mini-vivas are quite congenial so you should not really feel scared about it. If the student runs into a problem – then the supervisor is involved as well. Vivien says that most students progress to do their PhDs even if they had to do remedial actions. Vivien says for some students it is fairer to deregister students rather than setting them up to fail if they weren’t able to show sufficient progress.

Progress report

The progress report is a joint dialogue between the supervisor and the student – but note it is an assessment of the student.

Vivien explains that the progress report does not go to a committee but the probation report does.

Vivien explains that the progress report is taking stock of what you’ve done and what you have to do – it is an indicator of progress.

Vivien is explaining that what you do from your PhD does not have to shake up the world but rather to demonstrate that you have the skills for being an independent researcher.


Generic reasons for passing the probation report

  • Managing their time well enough to do the work – if you’re having regular meetings with your supervisor and discussing your work it is unlikely to run into difficult situation
    • The part-time external students probably faced more problems as they don’t have regular contact with your supervisors who can keep you in check
    • Being organised and treating it as a project
    • Being realistic
    • Focusing on the research questions
      • Exploring the research questions in a systematic way such as the literature review and the appropriate methods
      • Having sufficient motivation to keep it going
        • Particular when focusing on other stuff such as family, administration etc.
        • There are a lot of pressures on people


As a part-time student, am I doing the right thing? Am I doing enough?

The part-time students do feel like this – but you need to develop a network of people who you can keep in touch with and you can share your problems who are in the same position as yourself.

Time management

Vivien is saying that you’ll progress a lot more if you use time management skills – take out all the holidays and the time you’ll be away and you’ll notice you really don’t have a lot of time to get everything done.

Presentation of the progress profile

Do you bring the box file showing the evidence? Hilary is saying you bring a couple of A4 pages stating the skills and how you evidenced it. Rob is saying how you present this is variable – in the Sciences the mini-viva is all about the reports. Vivien says you need to discuss with your supervisors and other people in the faculty to determine the practice.

After mini-viva how long do you have to take to the corrections?

It has to be done within 15 months of registration i.e. by December of your second year if registered in October. Ideally do it before the start of your second year because then you’ll be doing corrections in your second year when you should be doing second year work.

Can I use my research training budget towards books?

Yes once you can’t access it in another way but you can probably put it and see what they says. Best time to put in your bills at the end of the financial year then if there is money in the budget then it would be accepted.

Anesa Hosein
14:06 on 24 March 2010

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