First week as new Dean of YGRS

Last week was full of new beginnings for my family: I became the Dean of York Graduate Research School, my son started senior school and my daughter a new class. The house is still buzzing with a mix of excitement at the prospect of fresh opportunities and nervousness at the unknown!

It is a great honour to have the opportunity to lead York’s amazing community of postgraduate researchers through the next four years. Seeing my own PGR supervisees blossom and fledge (excuse the terminology –I’m a ecologist!) over the course of their PhDs never fails to inspire and uplift me. 

Me at my proudest in January at the graduation of two of my PhD students Dr Annie Murray and Dr Lucy Mitchell.

PGR students are integral to UoY’s research community and thus, our capacity to deliver a ‘University for Public Good’ as envisioned by the Vice Chancellor. During my recent secondment to Defra, policymakers were emphatic that R&D will be critical to a swift economic and social recovery from the impacts of COVID-19, for a greener and healthier nation

Over the coming months, I will be sharing with you my vision and strategy for YGRS as it develops. For an intro – here are three key areas where I am committed bringing about change:

Recruitment: I am seeking to diversify the PGR student intake to be more representative of wider society. With colleagues, I will be looking to develop an evidence-based approach to stimulating changes in culture and processes that will widen the PhD pipeline and increase diversity in the academy. This isn’t just a question of fairness and being ‘the right thing to do’ (although of course it is); Diversity of perspectives, experiences and values are needed to identify and research the next big challenges.  

PhD Models: YGRS will be investigating how different PhD models can better serve the needs and aspirations of individuals, the university and employers. Is front-loading a PhD at the start of someone’s career, for example, always leading to the most creative and effective outcomes? Also, the ‘lone scholar’ model that characterises many PhD theses is at odds with the collaborative process by which government departments co-create policy position papers. For some students and some projects, I think that different PhD models can better embed skills and attitudes that will enhance employability. Which leads me to……

Employability: Worrying about finding a job is stressful, so I want to ensure that our supervision and training provision truly prepares our students for employment across sectors. The World is changing so fast. In order to future proof the careers of today’s postgraduates, as Dean I am committed to ensuring that you have the opportunities to develop both the intellectual and emotional skills to address the next big challenges – and to move into new jobs and sectors that we might not even be able to imagine now. 

The COVID-19 pandemic and #BlackLivesMatter movement, for example, have laid bare the inequalities and other challenges facing many of us.  My hope is that YGRS’s enduring legacy will be a generation of PGR alumni with a positive, flexible and resilient mind-set, ready to transform the economic, social and environmental futures for society.

If you want to know more about me then have a look at my career bio and if you would like to meet me (virtually), I will be contributing to the York Researcher Conference on the 23 September and Postgraduate Induction on 25 September. From October, I will also be hosting regular AMA events where you can Ask Me (and other panel members) Anything (within reason!) that is PGR related. More details to follow…..

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