The following training opportunities are available to all Arts and Humanities research students at Birkbeck.
CHASE Creative Writing Residency
18 – 25 May | Near Kings Lynn, Norfolk
A creative writing residency to provide an opportunity for creative writers across the CHASE network to build creative writing skills, further CHASE creative writing projects, develop pedagogical skills and build relationships across the network.
The Residency is a one-week program for creative writers from 18th to 25th May at the Great Barn Farm near Kings Lynn. The week will consist of daily student led workshops and writing classes on theory and practice with a masterclass on the 19th from Sarah Hall, who has published six novels, won the Commonwealth Writers Prize and been shortlisted for the Booker Prize. The week will also include scheduled time for participants to further their own creative projects. It will conclude with a group discussion on teaching best practices and draft guidelines.
Title: Continuous corpo-realities <-> diagramming probabilities and possibilities!
Friday 9 March | 10.00-17.00 | University of Sussex
How do digital tools, environments and research co-construct each other? How can you trace the materiality of your research? How might you diagram the interdependencies of your research sites? What are some of the possible re-mappings and re-imaginings that might occur?
2018 Postgraduate Research Experience Survey (PRES) at Birkbeck
Your chance to provide feedback
All current Birkbeck research students have been sent a personal invitation to take part in PRES 2018. The survey will close on 30 April 2018. Birkbeck is now participating in the PRES on an annual basis and the latest survey opened on 8 February 2018. Further information about the PRES survey at Birkbeck is available on the Birkbeck surveys page.
We are grateful to all who take time to submit a response. The PRES is an important way for the BGRS and for Birkbeck to understand the views of postgraduate researchers in order to address issues of importance and so that we can continue to do what you value.
£100 Amazon Voucher Prizes
If you submit a response to PRES 2018 you will have a chance to win £100 in Amazon vouchers.
How your responses to the PRES are being used
In the 2017 PRES survey we received 331 responses which was a significant increase on the response rate for 2015 PRES where we received 227 responses. The Birkbeck Graduate Research School (BGRS) and each of the Schools were asked to consider the responses from the 2017 PRES and to create action plans to address key issues raised in the survey.
These action plans were considered by the College’s Postgraduate Research Student Reps and by the Research Student Sub-Committee and work is underway to address issues raised.
Highlighted activities since PRES 2017
Birkbeck Graduate Research School (BGRS)
A revised BGRS website was launched in 2017 which provides clearer information to all research students, prospective research students and staff. The BGRS website will continue to be developed over the coming months and now includes a BGRS Blog.
The BGRS has launched a Moodle site specifically for research students and is actively developing the contents over 2017/18. The contents of the BGRS Moodle site include:
Highlighted information for new PhD students
A detailed overview of training and professional development available to Birkbeck PhD students
Lecture capture, slides and handouts from BGRS training sessions
Access to BGRS Research student forums
Details of Birkbeck Postgraduate Research Student (PGR) Reps
A summary of Careers and employability resources for PGR students
Information about internship, teaching and demonstrating opportunities
Video resources for postgraduate researchers and other useful information.
The BGRS is organising an average of 1 social event each term to allow PhD students to meet with each other and has also piloted a series of Shut Up and Write sessions. Future events in 2017/18 include a repeat of the successful three minute thesis competition that this year will take place alongside a poster competition.
Generic email addresses have been established for PGR Reps to ensure continuity and a dedicated programme/ departmental Moodle group is being implemented.
The Research Student Collective, run by students from different departments, is being used to enhance opportunities to share work informally, and all programmes are responding to Staff Student Forum feedback about how to support a strong sense of cohort within a year group and across the years.
A PGR Toolkit has been added to the School PGR Moodle site along with weekly reports on the week in arts and improved events calendar.
A programme of lunchtime training sessions and conversations for supervisors is being implemented in 2017-18, including a session on mental health, a forum for practice based research supervisors and sessions on how to support specific moments in the research student journey.
School of Business, Economics and Informatics
Library resources continue to be improved and updated. Recent database subscriptions include PsychINFO and Mintel. In cases where an article/book is unavailable via existing databases this may be sourced via an inter‐library loan usually sponsored by departments.
MRes students have been given provided with access to the BEI PhD room
Training requirements for research students will include identification of training requirements for teaching activities.
Computing resources are being assessed to check for updates/ repairs where needed.
School of Law
School induction information has been updated to include more information about structure, useful contacts and management lines.
Future improvements to rooms and computing resources is being explored.
A new School Sub-Committee has been established to consider research student issues.
Processes for communicating teaching opportunities are being evaluated.
The School’s graduate research seminars will be developed and further established.
School of Science
A new centralised Moodle resource is being created for Psychological Sciences students to include schedules of the many seminar series open to postgraduate research students.
A new training workshop for final year Psychological Sciences students will be provided on the examination and viva process.
School of Social Sciences, History and Philosophy
The School’s PGR Committee ran an interdisciplinary research event on 4 November 2017 aimed at meeting student demand for interdisciplinary events and fostering intellectual exchange across the School and beyond.
SSHP appointed a new Research Student Representative who is in close contact with student reps from all SSHP departments. Together, the reps are working together on plans for future social events and scholarly exchanges.
The SSHP Support Fund will be advertised more widely to ensure that students make the most of the resources that are available.
The following training opportunities are available to all Arts and Humanities research students at Birkbeck.
What Future for Theory?
26 March (Goldsmiths, University of London), 23 & 24 May (UEA)
‘Theory’ no longer holds the ascendancy it did in its 1980s heyday. Research has become more archive-oriented, more concerned with the production of knowledge, for which new possibilities have emerged with the advent of the ‘digital humanities’. ‘Theory’, with its specialised language, its immanent readings, became a symbol for the humanities’ inability to communicate their value; the model of the ‘output’ assures academic institutions and the culture in which they operate that humanistic research has something to show for itself. Theory also seems out of step with those contemporary political movements that aim to articulate new subjectivities and identities: theory itself had pronounced the death of the subject, and dismantled the metaphysical assumptions underpinning identity. Increasingly, theory appears a thing of the past.
But at a time when both the university and the humanities are undergoing major transformations, we wish to ask: how might theory, both its canonical past and its emerging forms, help us to make sense of our current moment, its technological/scientific developments, its forms of cultural production? And how does this current moment demand that we rethink the approaches and methods of theory? Particularly pressing are the ways digital technologies are transforming the way we conduct and disseminate research, but at the same time the limits and possibilities of the human: our present moment calls not just to be analysed, but to be theorised.
The programme will be made up of a symposium, to be held at Goldsmiths on 26 March 2018, and a roundtable, to take place at UEA on 23 May. On 24 May, participants will produce a video response to the questions that had arisen in the discussions thus far.
‘Waiting Times’ is funded by a Wellcome Trust Collaborative Research Award held by Dr. Lisa Baraitser (Birkbeck) and Professor Laura Salisbury (University of Exeter). Its remit is to investigate the relation between time and healthcare in the modern period. Spanning both Medical Humanities and Social Sciences, the project brings together and interdisciplinary team of eight researchers, to investigate waiting as a cultural and psychosocial concept, and an embodied and historical experience, in order to understand the temporalities of healthcare in the current climate of ‘crisis’ in the health service.
Under supervision, the successful candidate will devise and undertake a qualitative investigation of ‘watchful waiting’ as used by general practitioners as a practice of care. Data collection will take place across two GP practices in Hackney, London and Silverton, Devon.
Information for appLicants
Applications will be considered from candidates with an interest in qualitative research in health and social contexts, where an interest in issues of time and temporality can be demonstrated. All academic disciplines/backgrounds are eligible.
The studentship will consist of a fee waiver up to the value of the full-time home/EU rate for MPhil/PhD degrees, plus a studentship stipend based on current Wellcome Trust rates.
How to apply
To apply, prospective students are strongly advised to make informal contact with Dr. Lisa Baraitser (firstname.lastname@example.org) prior to the deadline.
They should then send the completed Wellcome Studentship Application Form to email@example.com with an expression of interest (no more than 1000 words) and a CV. The successful candidate will then be asked to apply for a full-time place on the MPhil/PhD in the Department of Psychosocial Studies.
Deadline for applications: February 12th, 2018
Interview date: Tuesday 27th February 2018
Further information about the Waiting Times project are available here.
Evgenia Markova and Laura Pokorny are PhD students who joined the UCL-Birkbeck MRC funded Doctoral Training Programme in Autumn 2016. PhD students on this programme complete rotation projects in year 1 before choosing and developing their PhD project. Both Evgenia and Laura are looking forward to increasing opportunities to engage with new intakes of students.
I obtained a BSc in Genetics from the University of York and during the course of my degree I completed summer internships in the Bulgarian Academy of Sciences and in Genika, a genetic medico-diagnostic laboratory. It was at this point that I started considering a career in science, as I was surrounded by experts in their respective fields who warmly welcomed me into their research environment. I also completed a year-long placement in a biotechnology company, Heptares Therapeutics, where I discovered a passion for biochemistry and structural biology, which ultimately determined my choice of a PhD topic.
Rotation Projects (Year 1)
‘My choice of PhD project emerged through engagement with rotation projects which took my research in novel directions. This flexibility to develop and mould the final project has been a great opportunity.’
Rotation 1: My first rotation project ‘Structural elucidation of a component of the COPII secretion system’ was with Dr. Giulia Zanetti (ISMB, Birkbeck) where I encountered electron microscopy for the first time and obtained preliminary structural information on a component of the COPII secretion system.
Rotation 2: My second rotation ‘Age-dependent neuroinflammation in the brain of a Wnt signaling pathway mutant’ was with Dr. Patricia Salinas at the MRC LMCB and utilised immunofluorescence to study the time-dependent brain inflammation profile of a Wnt signalling pathway-defective mouse model.
Rotation 3: Finally, I spent my third rotation ‘Single-molecule fluorescence investigation of the COPII coat assembly’ in Dr. Alan Lowe’s lab in (ISMB, Birkbeck) where I studied the dynamics of an endoplasmic reticulum membrane model as remodelled by purified COPII proteins.
‘The ISMB has excellent facilities which provide access to structural biology and cryo-EM. It has been easy to move between facilities at Birkbeck and UCL as part of the jointly run ISMB.’
PhD Project: The Kinetics and Assembly of the COPII Secretion System (Year 2 onwards)
The intracellular trafficking of biomolecules is an essential property of eukaryotic systems. The COPII vesicular transport system is responsible for anterograde intracellular transport processes at the ER membrane, where COPII component-lined vesicles incorporate protein and lipid cargoes. My project aims to investigate the mechanisms of COPII budding and coat assembly, which are currently poorly characterised. I will study COPII assembly and dissociation using an established membrane model,
Giant Unilamellar Vesicles (GUVs), and the mammalian COPII proteins, as expressed and purified from insect cell culture. I will utilise cryo-electron microscopy and single-molecule fluorescence in the study of the COPII coat assembly through in vitro reconstitution. My PhD supervisor is Dr Giulia Zanetti, ISMB, Birkbeck.
I studied for an undergraduate degree in Biochemistry at the University of York. In the summer between my second and third year I carried out a 2 month research placement in Paul Pryor’s lab at the Centre for Immunology and Infection at the University of York, where I was identifying chlamydial effector proteins involved in disrupting the trafficking of the bacterium to the host lysosome. I really loved working in a research setting and this was when I realised I wanted to do a PhD and pursue a career in research.
Rotation projects (Year 1)
Rotation 1: My first rotation ‘Manipulation of Nuclear Function by Chlamydia trachomatis’ was in Dr Richard Hayward’s lab (ISMB, Birkbeck). Previous research in the Hayward lab had identified alterations in nuclear architecture during infection by C. trachomatis. Namely, the nuclear shape becomes distorted in infected cells, lamin A/C is decreased at the inclusion distal face of the nucleus, and there was a degradation of nucleoporins at the inclusion proximal face of the nucleus. I confirmed these findings by aiming to understand the mechanism underlying the lamin A/C decrease.
Caspase 6 is a candidate for the degredation of lamin A/C due to the fact that lamin A/C is degraded by caspase 6 during apoptosis. By treating infected cells with a drug which inhibits caspase 6, I was able to block the lamin A/C decrease in infected cells. This was shown by confocal microscopy and by western blot.
Rotation 2: My second rotation ‘A novel mechanism of targeting and transport of a P. falciparum protein down the secretory pathway’ was in Dr Andrew Osborne’s lab (ISMB, UCL). The mechanism leading to protein transport, and in particular trans-membrane protein transport, in P. falciparum is not completely understood. Proteins destined for export must cross many membranes of the parasite before entering the host cell. Models have proposed whereby TM proteins are extracted from membranes at various stages of the secretory pathways and trafficked via chaperones (Papakrivos, Newbold and Lingelbach., 2005; Kneupfer et al., 2005; Gruring et al., 2012). However, the concept of pulling proteins out of membranes during protein export is unsupported outside the Plasmodium field. Recent work in the Osborne lab and others has provided evidence that the PNEP protein Pf332, which has a single TM domain, behaves in line with this extraction model. I used yeast as a model organism and showed that, when Pf332 is expressed in yeast, there is a subset of soluble protein. This suggests that the machinery needed to pull the protein out the membranes is conserved in eukaryotes. In this rotation I used techniques including western blotting, parasite culturing, cloning, and florescence microscopy.
Rotation 3: In my third rotation ‘Single-molecule studies of the molecular mechanisms of the nuclear pore complex during C. trachomatis infection’ in Dr Alan Lowe’s lab (ISMB, UCL) I used super-resolution microscopy to gain images of the nucleoporin degradation seen in my first rotation, and to learn more about the kinetics of importin-beta transport in the nucleus during infection. I used the technique of photoactivated localization microscopy (PALM). In short, PALM imaging uses the principle of stochastically activating, imaging and photobleaching photoswitchable fluorescent proteins in order to temporally separate closely spaced molecules (Betzig et al., 2006). The resolution achieved in PALM imaging is over an order of magnitude higher than the diffraction limit of light. By transfecting infected cells with importin-B (nuclear transport receptor) tagged to a photoswitchable fluorescent protein and imaging by PALM, we could gain a much higher resolution picture of the organisation of the nuclear pores, and could follow the kinetics of transport via single-particle tracking.
‘Working within the ISMB environment has been a great way to find out more about the work of other PhD students and staff through weekly presentations during term time known as Friday Wraps’
PhD project: Studying Vaccinia virus fusion using a minimal model system (Year 2 onwards)
Vaccinia virus (VACV) is the prototypical Poxvirus. Poxviruses enter cells by acid mediated fusion, using the most complicated virus fusion machinery identified. Whilst genetics indicates that poxvirus fusion relies on 12 viral proteins, to date the organisation of this machinery, its mechanism of fusion, its fusion peptide, and the structural and molecular details of poxvirus fusion remain a mystery. Therefore to address this lack in our knowledge, I aim to develop a new minimal model system to study VACV entry and fusion. This system will be amenable to super-resolution imaging studies allowing us an unprecedented view into the biological requirements of viral entry. My PhD supervisor is Dr Jason Mercer LMCB.
The following training opportunities are available to all Arts and Humanities research students at Birkbeck.
Thought and Image: Processes of Reciprocity
Friday 2 February 2018 | Goldsmiths, University of London
The process by which an idea becomes an image and an image an idea is by no means straight forward, nonetheless this alchemy is the key task Audio Visual PhD students must perform. We are happy to announce this programme of Master Classes with leading artists who will talk about the generation of ideas and artworks in their current practice. By taking advantage of the collaborative nature of this venture between Goldsmiths, LUX and Birkbeck we will present a wide variety of subjects and approaches from both UK and internationally based artists.
The first event features Alia Syed, a London and Glasgow based filmmaker who has been making experimental films for over 25 years.
Researching Popular Music: Methods, Debates, Publics
Friday 2 – Saturday 3 March 2018 | Goldsmiths, University of London
Students are investigating music-making communities, musical-cultural identities and histories, modes of musical production and dissemination, theories of sound and sonic practice, and other musical topics. What ties almost all of these projects together is some idea of the popular: of music’s publics, and its modes of everyday musical participation. But the popular music studies canon cannot always provide methodological models for what is a set of highly innovative PhD studies. To address this, Researching Popular Music will bring together students across the CHASE institutions to present and discuss their work, both with each other, and with invited speakers working at the forefront of music and sound studies.
This brief review highlights BGRS training and development opportunities organised in the 2017/18 Autumn term. These opportunities are part of a wider landscape of training and development resources available to PhD students at Birkbeck and which are summarised on the BGRS Moodle site. Birkbeck is in the process of establishing Training Needs Analysis for PhD researchers to identify their training priorities and navigate their way through the wide range of opportunities which are available at Birkbeck and beyond.
Autumn term highlights
PhD students who began recently were invited to attend a workshop titled ‘Making a success of your doctorate’. This all day event led by Professor John Wakeford of the Missenden Centre, provided expert advice and hints covering the organisation and management of PhD research and how best to complete PhD studies.
Students who were already underway with their PhDs were able to attend a ‘Surviving your Viva, and Beyond’ workshop led by Dr Jennifer Fraser, formerly from the Centre for Transformative Practice in Learning and Teaching at Birkbeck. This interactive workshop helped prepare students for their PhD viva and decisions about what to do afterwards.
Several new sessions have been organised for postgraduate research students.
Birkbeck’s Equality and Diversity Lead, Ammara Khan, ran the first Unconscious Bias Training session for postgraduate research students exploring the concept of unconscious bias and how it could impact on life as a PhD student.
In order to supplement existing resources for all Birkbeck researchers a Research Integrity and Ethics Session specifically for PhD students was held by Dr Sarah Lee, Head of Research Strategy Support, in order to provide a better understanding of personal, pragmatic and policy factors and to help attendees apply this in their PhD.
Other workshops provided training for: impact and communication skills; for how to make calls for papers at academic conferences; good prose writing for PhD Students; and an historical methodological masterclass with Professor Julian Swann.
The BGRS Moodle site will be used to establish digital objects (e.g. handouts or lecture capture) for those who wish to re-visit course material or who were unable to attend on the day. We have begun to make such resources available and will continue to develop this over the coming year.
Opportunities for Birkbeck PhD students to meet
During the Autumn term there have been two opportunities for the wider community of PhD students to gather and meet. The BGRS induction session welcomed new PhD students to Birkbeck and invited returning students to meet at the start of term, with around 70 attendees. Later in the Autumn term the BGRS Winter party provided another opportunity for students to meet with around 50 postgraduate researchers attending.
Shut up and write
We have continued to organise Shut Up and Write sessions, with more than 220 registrations to attend since we began running them in July/ August. During the Autumn term we organised 2 to 3 session every 2 weeks. Attendees have continued to give positive feedback about these writing sessions which provide opportunities to concentrate on writing alongside other PhD researchers and to build connections with those who take part. The BGRS intends to continue these shut up and write sessions throughout the year and registrations are now open for the Spring Term. During the Spring Term we hope to offer a concentrated all day writing event based on the same format as these sessions – this will be announced in due course and listed on the BGRS Eventbrite page.
On the 4th of November 2017 Birkbeck’s Graduate Research School hosted ‘No Trespassing: The Risks and Rewards of Interdisciplinary Research’, a half-day workshop organised by Dr Dermot Hodson from the Department of Politics. Inspired by Albert O. Hirschman’s concept of trespassing, this workshop, primarily taught by members of staff from across the School of Social Sciences, History and Philosophy (SSHP), brought together a wide range of expertise and personal perspectives on the intellectual benefits and dangers of interdisciplinarity. Understood as studies that deploy methods and insights from several traditional fields with the aim of integrating and combining multiple forms of knowledge, interdisciplinary research aims to make connections between concepts and to reassemble them in a circular way. Recognising the value of interdisciplinarity, the workshop stressed that interdisciplinary training should be integrated into academic careers. At the same time, it warned about the risks of superficiality associated with interdisciplinary research and the dangers of being excluded by disciplinary politics. In this sense, collaborating across disciplines involves a serious and careful rethinking of well-established academic borders that give meaning to specific fields of knowledge. Taking research beyond its comfort zone involves a creative crossing of a range of subject boundaries. Even though not all research should be interdisciplinary, the increasing complexity of issues with which we are faced as scholars compels us to look beyond single subject areas by stepping over the borders that contain our academic reality.
As Birkbeck students, we think that such boundaries are crossed in libraries, mediated exclusively on search engines and during formal academic meetings. What if we also attempt to trespass such delimiting lines of knowledge in other ways? While my first year as MPhil/PhD student in the Department of Politics was rewarding, I initially struggled to connect with many of my fellow students. Since last year I started organising monthly meetings with Politics PhD students and this year we have a WhatsApp group with more than 30 members. November’s workshop was also a fantastic opportunity to reflect upon our links with PhD students from different schools and departments at Birkbeck. At the event, we had the opportunity to discuss ways of increasing our interdisciplinary ambitions on a human level. Thanks to the efforts of Janice Lazarus, from the Department of Geography, PhD students from across the School of Social Sciences, History and Philosophy are now meeting weekly. This new intellectual network is helping us to step over our own disciplines by generating relevant ideas and arguments that go beyond departmental affiliations. Why is it working? Because it is an informal, real and direct way to avoid more ‘structured’ conversations that allow us to reflect upon personal experiences and projects with the potential to enrich our work.
Law, History, Geography, Politics, Art, Biology and Archaeology at times seem incommensurable but we are linking them through methods of analysis that are discursive in theory but practical in scope. By sharing research goals, we are becoming more aware of the fact that there are different paths of knowledge. Qualitative and quantitative methods, immersive fieldwork, archives and discourse analysis are being shared as a way to trespass rigid theorization. In so doing, generating new knowledge becomes a social activity of discovery that gets more and more exciting each week. Such meetings can also offer a possibility to ‘humanise’ the unpredictability of our research, both in premises and intentions. This is not necessarily something that can be grasped easily from our laughs, personal biographies or individual storytelling or from our most awkward and funny moments. Interdisciplinarity is not just a matter of addressing complex questions through a multiplicity of perspectives. Interdisciplinary research should be about reflexive rethinking and informal interaction that trespasses disciplinary boundaries.