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This summer, we’re introducing the volunteers behind The Doctoral Researchers' Group, commonly known as the DRG. These volunteers are researchers, providing a direct line between their fellow postgraduate researchers, University management and Strath Union. These volunteers come from all Faculties and have a variety of backgrounds, expertise, and interests.
Today we're catching up with Roberto, Chair of the DRG, and Georgie, Chair of the Doctoral School Multipdisciplinary Symposium. Both are Engineering researchers; Roberto focuses on marine and naval architecture while Georgie focuses on mechanical and aerospace. We chatted about all things DRG and they shared advice for researchers interested in volunteering.
Roberto - The aims of the DRG are very mixed. First and foremost, we represent all doctoral students across all Faculties at Strathclyde and provide them with a direct line of communication with the University management committees. We are a hub that welcomes any creative ideas and innovative approaches to eventually influence policy and develop the support and training received from the University. Our goals are also to provide a safe and friendly environment for easy integration into the University and to enhance the experience and participation of the broadest possible talent pool. Therefore, two of the various DRG subgroups specifically focus on establishing peer support frameworks and promoting Equality, Diversity & Inclusion (ED&I).
Another essential part of the DRG is organising cross-faculty events to enhance knowledge exchange and networking opportunities and build a sense of community for all PGRs. Above all, you may have heard about our flagship event, the Doctoral School Multidisciplinary Symposium (DSMS), now in its 4th edition. Last but not least, the DRG runs a dedicated blog and various social media platforms to communicate the interests, successes, and constraints of the life of a postgraduate researcher.
Pictured: The team of volunteers behind the Doctoral Researchers' Group at the University of Strathclyde during their flagship DSMS event.
Like the goals of the DRG, I would describe my role as Chair as a mix of responsibilities. My main aim, in brief, is to drive the group's overall direction and be responsible for the DRG's general management. It may sound huge; however, the job becomes easy when working with a great team. Luckily, I am indeed supported every step of the way by brilliant and passionate volunteers. PGRs can come to me for a myriad of requests, and I try to be always responsive and accessible to all. Part of my duties is also being the main point of contact between the PGRs, Strathclyde Doctoral School, and Strathclyde Students' Union.
Furthermore, I get invited to sit on a number of University level committees, and, off the records, these are not always fun and games. Still, it is very gratifying to see when the voices of the PGR community are heard and actions are taken to address any issues experienced. Overall, I can’t even describe how proud and honoured I am to represent all doctoral researchers at Strathclyde and act in the best interest of the PGR community.
Georgie - The DRG offers a wide range of activities for research students to get involved with, all with the common goal of providing a space for PhD students to engage with each other, both on an academic and social level. In terms of specific support, the DRG runs a peer support program that pairs an ‘experienced’ PGR (2nd or 3rd year) with a group of 4-6 new PhD students. This provides new students both a pool of fellow students to engage with whilst also providing them with a resource to answer questions regarding the PhD journey in general.
We also provide the opportunity for students to showcase their research at our annual multidisciplinary symposium (DSMS – Doctoral School Multidisciplinary Symposium), tailor made for Strathclyde PhD students. The DRG also runs a load of social events that are completely social for students to get to know their community and generally have a great time!
Roberto - Among all the great parts of being involved with the DRG, such as making long-lasting friendships, the most rewarding one was probably the self-confidence I developed. In fact, the trust received from the other members truly changed me. For instance, as soon as I approached the DRG as a "Fresher" PhD in 2019, the previous senior committee instantly believed in me and assigned me tasks I was keen on doing for the DSMS organisation. I can't express how much I felt welcome, appreciated, and valued. Also, in such a tremendously friendly environment, I enjoyed something new: the tranquillity and flexibility of working when I was comfortable doing it. Hence, delivering the assignments for the DRG soon became the most enjoyable part of my work routine.
The more I got confident, the more responsibilities I took in the DRG and the more I developed all the transferable skills I was missing from working exclusively on my research. In other words, the best part of the DRG is that it made me grow as an individual above and beyond expectations.
Georgie - I can say with 100% confidence that being part of the DRG has not only enhanced my PhD but my personal and professional life too. The soft and organisational skills I have acquired meant that I was able to secure my dream job before even finishing my PhD in a few months.
I have met tens (even hundreds after DSMS 2022…) of people through the group and have been exposed to the most wonderful diverse community, one you will rarely come across in any other academic or professional environment. These people have brought so much to my life in so many different ways that it’s difficult to describe in one sentence. Having this contact with so many people outside of my research group also enabled me to contextualise any issues or anxiety I was feeling about my PhD and really helped me get through the tough times!
Pictured: Researchers in attendence at the DRG 2022 DSMS.
Roberto - Big shout-out to Dr Lewis Hill, former chair of the DRG (2019-20) and one of the group's founders. He is why I became a member of the group in the first place – my biggest supporter and inspiration to take on more senior roles in time. Regardless of graduating and moving up in his career, Lewis's involvement with the DRG has not faded one bit. In a new capacity as a staff member, he still keeps an eye open if we are in need. Always supportive, available and approachable, Lewis is a true ambassador of all the essence of the DRG.
Georgie - I would recommend that all PhD students engage with the DRG, if you are wanting to ‘’supercharge’’ your CV you can join the senior committee, but if you don’t feel like taking on that much responsibility, you can join, for example, the editing team for the PGR Blog or the Engagement Team who organise our wonderful events. Simply turning up to the socials is a great place to start.
Whether it be volunteering at the DRG or any other wonderful groups and societies at the university (and outside of the University environment), I would recommend not taking too much on in the 1st year of PhD. Although this is a great time to meet people, it’s a vital time to create strong foundations for your PhD, and too much time taken away from this would probably be detrimental to your work. However, 2nd and 3rd year is a great time to get involved! At this point, you will know what your work week looks like and how to manage your time a bit better.
I actually found that, having to fit in my volunteer hours around my PhD work helped me manage my time and be more focused when I was actually working on my PhD. Around the time of DSMS I had to work on DRG related tasks on the weekend due to tight timelines, but apart from that, I always make sure that my weekends are free of ALL WORK (both DRG and PhD). This is essential to avoid burnout!
Big thanks to Roberto and Georgie for taking the time to speak to us about the work they do with the DRG. You can follow along with DRG activity on Twitter and Facebook or explore their blog.
Any researchers who’ll be on campus over the summer the Union will be open all summer so you’re welcome to come and use the Union! Keep an eye on our website and social media for last minute changes to our opening hours. Roasters is serving up hot drinks and food from 8.30am to 4pm from Mon-Fri. We also can offer 50% off the room hire fee for university staff, check our media pack for more information.