The PhD Network in-person Social

Our very first social since what feels like forever!

Most of us in this PhD Network have only seen and talked to each other virtually – over our shut-up and write group – and while strong bonds have been formed, it is finally time to organise the get together we have all been waiting for and quite frankly deserve.

For our new PhD cohorts, this is a great opportunity to meet some seasoned PhD students and grab as many tips and trick from them as possible! As such alumni are also welcome.

But it’s also a chance to get to know the group and who we are, and what the PhD Network does and how it can help you in your studies. PhD study can be very isolating and lonely and it takes a while to navigate all the hurdles that will inevitably come your way – we all know of this, trialled through it – but thankfully together, we can get through it in one whole-ish piece 🙂

I have chosen Coram’s fields as our location as they run a fully facilitated and supervised under 5’s playgroup from 9:30am- noon weekdays – it gives our PhD parents the option to join without worrying if they can or cannot bring children etc

It is a really nice space, with a cafe, and lots of lovely gardens.

Unfortunately, I wasn’t able to secure a budget for this picnic – so please do bring your own food and drinks. We will have a large blanket and some bits and bobbins to nibble but nothing substantial. I hope to see lots of you there. I am -fingers crossed – hoping for good weather and I know I will have good company 🙂 

PhD Mums Breakfast Club

Sundays 9am-11.30am every 4 weeks, starting 8 May

While this space is primarily designed for PhD mums, to talk about the difficulties in balancing motherhood, work and PhD study, and how we often fall through the gaps of these communities without having a community of our own, this is an all-inclusive group. Thus PhD dads, and other parental carers and those becoming parents or thinking of becoming parents during their university study are welcome.

This is a relaxed space for open conversation and dialogue. I may throw in a few games and some fun activities, we will see how we go. But mostly the space is for getting to know each other, to build a little community of peer support and share experiences unique to PhD mumming. Children are welcome, but equally, if you just need a few mins rest, both are welcome. Come as you are! Looking forward to meeting all of you BBK PhD mums and sharing a few laughs together as we navigate the joys but also perils of managing parenthood and PhD life.

Also, If you are a Birkbeck PhD student, and would like to join the Birkbeck PhD Students WhatsApp group please use the invite link below. It will automatically add you to our WhatsApp group. Or our Facebook group.

Join Zoom Meeting: Meeting ID: 846 1564 6681 Passcode: phdmum

Call for Interest/Papers – School of Law Annual PGR Conference

Thursday 26th and Friday 27th May 2022

Every year the Birkbeck Law and Criminology community comes together to listen to, discuss, and support PGR research at the School of Law Annual PGR Conference. We are delighted to confirm the dates for this year’s conference and to let you know that it will be taking place in-person at Birkbeck.

We encourage all PhD students within the School to use this opportunity to share their work – no matter what stage it is at! – and to hear and respond to the work of others within our research community. There is no theme to the conference as we would like the event to reflect the wide scope of fascinating and often intersecting topics each of us are working on across the department.

Presenting your work in academic settings is something that all PGR students who are planning to remain in academia need to have done before finishing their research projects, so this is a fantastic opportunity to gain (further) experience, and practice, refine, or experiment delivering your research in a friendly, supportive, and caring setting. Academic staff will be chairing panels and be in attendance, so this is also a useful chance to get some constructive feedback on your work from a wide variety of disciplinary experts.

Each paper should be 20 minutes. First year students are welcome to present shorter papers of 10 minutes if so desired. There will be Q&A sessions after each panel.

If you are interested in presenting, please send your name, a working title, and a few sentences describing the paper to This will enable us to organise the panels. However, if you would like to participate but need more time to develop your idea that is absolutely fine – just get in touch. It doesn’t have to be perfect at this stage! 

The deadline for submission is 5pm Friday 29th April 2022. 

We hope that this event will be a lovely chance for the Law & Criminology community to come together in-person for the first time in a while. However, we also acknowledge the many reasons that might make this impossible for some of us and so we are ready to explore hybrid options. If you want to participate but can only do so virtually, please get in touch with us. We are also keen to make the event as accessible as possible, so please let us know of any required adjustments if you are able to. 

Any questions or concerns, please contact us at

All the very best and we look forward to receiving the plans for your papers!

Lizzie, Jenny, and Shomo 

Law & Criminology PGR Reps


Our internationally renowned London Critical Theory Summer School returns on Birkbeck’s campus in central London this summer from 27 June to 8 July. The LCTSS may revert to either a hybrid model or a full-scale online programme if Covid-related restrictions globally require us to do so.

Throughout the two weeks, attendees will be immersed in a substantial programme of study with the acclaimed critical thinkers Jodi Dean, Achille Mbembe, Sarah Nuttall, Etienne Balibar, Costas Douzinas, Stephen Frosh, Esther Leslie, Jacqueline Rose and Slavoj Žižek. We are also welcoming Sisonke Msimang as part of our strengthening connections to the WISER institute (Johannesberg).

The Birkbeck Institute for the Humanities are pleased to offer three bursaries to Birkbeck students and one bursary to an international student to cover the full cost of fees, travel and accommodation during the period of the Summer School in central London. 

This year, there will also be a LCTSS Virtual Programme, an educational experience for those: unsure whether they are ready for the full in person course; with concerns about travel; or on a reduced budget.

The deadline for applications is Friday 18 March. Application forms are available here.

London Open Research Week 25th – 29th October 2021

A group of London-based peers working in the areas of scholarly communication, research data management, librarianship, publishing, and institutional repositories decided to collaborate across institutional boundaries for London Open Research Week 2021: having experienced frustrations with the fractures and divides across the topologies of openness, we have worked together to try and forge a broad event for practitioners and research communities.

Predicated by our experiences at and beyond the four institutions collaborating in London Open Research Week, and working with the theme of  this year’s International Open Access WeekIt Matters How We Open Knowledge: Building Structural Equity, we have curated a diverse and engaging programme of live, online sessions that are free to attend.

Feminist perspectives from Early Career Researchers, critical perspectives on openness, and the increasing tensions arising in the realm of research evaluation and (biblio)metrics and the various intersections with open research will be included, amongst a wealth of international insights from scholars and professionals across the sector.

We welcome you to join us to share in the ideas and benefits that come from commons approaches; as a rich field, working collaboratively and exchanging experiences and ideas beyond our usual operational, departmental, and institutional limitations, we hope to explore the tensions that exist between our current conception and operation of openness in direct relation to structural equity in order to build upon and challenge the equitable premise that ‘open’ is often understood to imply.

For more information and to book please visit: London Open Research Week 2021 If you have questions about any of the events, please contact Emma Illingworth

Workshop: What career? Doing practice research beyond the PhD

More info and booking here.

This workshop is for arts and humanities practice-based/led research PhD students and recent graduates who want to explore their career ambitions in academia and/or beyond. 

Contributors to the workshop include: Sound artist Dr Nina Perry; Senior Lecturer in Digital Media at University of Sussex, Dr Emile Devereaux; contemporary folk artist Dr Lucy Wright; writer Dr Olumide Popoola; Senior Lecturer in Performance and Design at Northumbria University Dr Rachel Hann; Senior Lecturer in Film Production at Staffordshire University, Dr Agata Lulkowska and writer, poet and educator Dr Golnoosh Nourpanah. Organised and facilitated by Dr Sophie Hope and Dr Jo Coleman

New weekly podcast: Corkscrew – Practice research beyond the PhD

Sophie Hope interviews different generations of practice-based research PhD graduates from different disciplines about why they did practice-based/led PhDs in the first place and what they went on to do next. The podcast is produced with assistance from Dr Jo Coleman.

You can subscribe to the podcast here and listen to the first episode with Prof Anne Douglaswho completed her PhD in 1992.

Six lessons from a pandemic PhD student

If you’re starting a doctoral programme later this year, particularly if your institution is still facing COVID-19 restrictions, Ciara O’Brien has some advice.

First printed in nature magazine 6 May 2021. See here for original article

Ciara in the Vincent Building Labs at Cranfield University.
Ciara O’Brien working in the laboratory at Cranfield University, where she started her PhD programme amid COVID-19 lockdowns.Credit: Cranfield University

In September 2020, I started my PhD programme in plant science at Cranfield University, a postgraduate-only research institute in the United Kingdom. I struggled with many aspects of the transition from undergraduate to PhD study at the beginning — particularly with the added challenges of lockdown. With varying levels of restrictions still affecting many researchers, here are some of the things I learnt.

Manage your expectations when setting goals

I had grand expectations of what I would achieve in the first few months of my programme. I did manage to move from Ireland to the United Kingdom, and got myself set up at the laboratory — but I had also expected to have almost completed my first draft of a literature review, designed experiments and started my own lab work.Sign up for tips and tools to help you work smarter in the new normal

Those ideas were swiftly torpedoed. During month one, I did almost no science. I moved to a new country, which meant finding accommodation without viewings and opening a bank account without a credit history. This is normally difficult enough, but I couldn’t visit banks in person and relied on automated systems. Thankfully, I moved before Brexit and didn’t have to quarantine — but simple steps still took longer because of lockdown. I spent hours on the phone with the university’s information-technology department, trying to acquire and set up a work laptop. Once I got it, I did an online safety-training course (only to find I had to redo it because my browser crashed and didn’t save my progress) and filled out form after form to get my student number, student finance stipend and lab-access credentials.

Having not achieved anything resembling PhD research, I was terrified of letting my supervisors down right at the start. But when I spoke to them about my (minimal) progress in reading papers and designing experiments, they had anticipated that these tasks would take a lot of time and reminded me that although filling out every form under the sun might not feel like science, it is work.

Volunteering to help others helps you in the long run

Most PhD students will start at a university that is new to them, which means meeting a new set of supervisors, technicians, professors, administrative staff and more. Once you do get to know these people, it’s a lot easier to know who to ask for what.

But it’s more difficult to go through the ‘getting to know you’ process online. Volunteering to help out with ‘dirty’ jobs helped me to get to know people and brought me into the lab to meet others face-to-face. I also garnered favour among others in my team. I spent a week defrosting freezers, and another week moving sacks of potatoes from one room to another. I can’t count how many hours I spent cleaning our lab equipment that had been in storage! But now, I know nearly all the technicians in my department — so asking for help or guidance is less daunting.

This also gave me a sense of ‘family’. Lockdown meant that numbers in the lab were kept to a minimum, so I didn’t meet many people as ‘organically’ as others might have in normal circumstances. I also couldn’t travel home without putting my family at risk. Christmas would have been unbearable if not for the people I met in my first few months, and now we all have a support network.

Take ownership of your project

Just before I started my programme, my supervisor sent me the grant application she had used to get funding for my project. At first, I stuck to it like scripture, focusing mostly on the references used in the application rather than getting a feel for the field in general. Even when some parts of the project didn’t fit with the others, or I found gaps in the literature that I could and wanted to address, I didn’t have the confidence to claim ownership of my project.

But as I started to design experiments and develop hypotheses, I wanted to delve deeper into some aspects of the project and scrap others. Some of the proposed experiments were just not attainable with the allotted time and resources, and once I explained why to my supervisors, they were really supportive of my changes. One of the initial goals of my project was comparing harvest times of fruit, despite early- and late-harvested fruit being used for completely different purposes. My corporate sponsor, Orchard House Foods, doesn’t work with one of these harvests, so I would have had to source options from different farms just to do a study that has already been done several times. After three months, I finally asked whether it was really worth investigating this, giving my reasons, and we scrapped it.

Even though I didn’t design my PhD project from scratch, taking ownership has allowed me to ‘pitch’ changes to both academics and industry partners and has been one of the most valuable skills I’ve developed so far.

Your style does not have to match your supervisor’s style

My two main supervisors are food scientists Mari Carmen Alamar and Natalia Falagán. Mari Carmen is known for running around the lab and yelling everything, so you can always hear her coming. Natalia is calm and collected, keeping everything scheduled. If you set her lab coat on fire, she’d probably just take it off and get the appropriate extinguisher.Collection: the PhD

At first, I tried to mimic their styles as closely as I could, switching to match whoever was working with me at the time. I tried making lists and timetables in Natalia’s style, but was adjusting the times so often that it was more complicated than winging it. If Mari Carmen ran, I ran after her — and couldn’t last long because of my short legs. I needed more coffee than my heart could handle to match her intensity. This turned out to be a waste of energy spent trying to be someone else, when what I needed to do was accept my own working style. I still run, but only on rare occasions, and my to-do list is written on the back of my hand rather than scheduled in a diary. If you see someone with a working style that you like, adapt yours to include it. But, just because someone is your supervisor, that doesn’t mean you should model everything you do on the basis of how they do it.

Manage your expectations of yourself

When I first started my programme, I tried to work all day, every day — including weekends — thinking that’s what was expected of me. From hearing presentations of other PhD students and seeing the work that goes into publishing a manuscript in a journal, I thought the only way I could keep up with people ‘smarter’ than me was to outwork them. Of course it wasn’t, but I was comparing myself with an ideal that doesn’t exist. This was made worse by not having much contact with people further along on their PhD journeys, because I was working mostly from home. Putting this pressure on myself was emotionally and physically exhausting, so, when I was getting constructive feedback, I took it as criticism instead of help. I expected myself to do things perfectly the first time. I didn’t take breaks when I needed them, and ended up having to take longer ones later. Admitting to yourself, and your supervisors, when things are overwhelming early on will end up saving you time and sleep.

Always enjoy the small achievements

There are a lot of setbacks in a PhD programme, but there are just as many achievements. A presentation went well, someone complimented your diagram, you finished an hour early: these are all things worth celebrating as much as losing the post-it note you were writing on is worth stressing about.

I’m someone who worries about the little things — as much as I try not to — so making sure I am as vocal and celebratory over small achievements is important for my balance. Papers and grants are not the only things worth congratulating other people for, too. After finishing my first draft of a literature review (in month seven), I took a full day off to eat pizza and watch daytime television. And I will forever be keeping a pint of ice cream on hand to celebrate finishing that analysis or getting through a progress review.doi:

This is an article from the Nature Careers Community, a place for Nature readers to share their professional experiences and advice. Guest posts are encouraged.