Guidelines for PGR Representatives to the Department of Physics and Astronomy
Last Updated October 2018
1. Representing Students: Listen, Record, Report, Find Solutions
As Postgraduate Research (PGR) representatives, it is your role to give PGR students a voice within the department. If an issue is reported to you, you should listen carefully, take notes, and ask for clarifications if deemed necessary. You are advised to refrain from taking sides in the matter, but to instead reassure the student that their issue will be duly reported to the department, unless they specify otherwise. It is important to ask the student if they wish to remain anonymous. When in doubt, make sure to conceal the identity of the student when reporting an issue.
1.1 Conserving the Anonymity of Students
When reporting on an issue from a student who wishes to remain anonymous, take care to not reveal their identity by accidental means. In particular, make sure to:
• Proof-read your emails your emails thoroughly to ensure their name has not been used, even initials.
• Use gender neutral pronouns (they/them/their etc.) when referring to the student.
• Avoid including superfluous details that could give away their identity.
If you believe it is not possible for you to report the issue without making the identity of the student known, you must first contact them to discuss this.
1.2 Contact List
The following is a list of people within the department to whom any issues may need to be reported:
• PGR Director/Lead: Dimitrii Krizhanovskii (Room E16, firstname.lastname@example.org) until 31 Dec 2018/ David Whittaker (Room E12b, email@example.com) from 1 Jan 2019.
Note: The terminology PGR Director is used predominantly at departmental level, whereas PGR Lead is used mostly at faculty level.
• Director of Teaching: Susan Cartwright (Room D22, firstname.lastname@example.org).
• Head of Department: Paul Crowther (Room F09a, email@example.com).
• PGR Student Member of Equality and Diversity Committee: Catherine Phillips (Room E46, firstname.lastname@example.org).
1.3 PGR Committee Meetings
One of the roles of the sitting PGR representatives is to represent postgraduate students during the PGR committee meetings. It is advised that at least one member of the PGR rep team is present during PGR committee meetings. The PGR committee oversees the general organisation and logistics of the postgraduate program and recruitment in the department.
The role of PGR reps in these meetings will be varied. Reps may report issues raised by postgraduate students that should be discussed by the committee as a whole, or may be asked during a meeting or pre-emptively to ask students for feedback on a specific issue, and then report back a collated response. It is important to keep good records of reports given to the committee and the feedback provided by students.
It is also important to read the minutes of the PGR committee meeting once they have been received. Don’t be afraid to speak up if it seems that they are not an accurate reflection of the discussions had during the committee meeting!
1.4 Be Pro-active!
As PGR students and representatives, you are in a unique position to actively help find the best solutions to the problems arising or reported within the department. A few examples of this are the recruitment policy of PGR reps, and these very guidelines. The need for these documents was identified by the PGR rep team and they took the lead in drafting up solutions and getting in touch with the relevant members of the department to get feedback and approval.
• Be open to criticism when coming up with solutions and take the time to listen (to other reps, academics, student feedback, etc.).
• Be patient but persistent. Getting things done in a large department can take time.
Give people sufficient time to get back to you but don’t give up if you don’t get an answer to your first email. Send a gentle reminded asking for feedback, talk to people around a coffee... Communication is key!
2. Supporting Students: Guiding Students to the Right Resource
You should be aware of the various resources offered by the department and University so that you are able to point PGR students in the right direction, should they come to you with a particular problem. As an individual you are not expected to solve the problem for them, and are advised not to, but rather to guide the student to the help they need.
2.1 Important Resources and Documents
Understanding what is expected of students and what they are entitled to:
• If you have not already done so, you should read the Research Degree Programme Code of Practice. Whilst all PGR students are expected to read this, it is of particular importance to PGR reps. It is important to note that supervisors should also be familiar with this.
Getting help/making complaints:
• Students that are victim to bullying or harassment can be directed to SSiD for support. (NOTE: a flowchart will be released soon to help guide students with such issues, it should be put here too).
• The listener scheme can be of great help to students with issues. Katie Tehrani (email@example.com) is the current PhD student listener. Future PGR reps should also undergo listener training.
• Student Access to Mental Health Support (SAMHS) can offer counselling services, which can be suggested to students who feel they are struggling in any way with their mental health.
• The procedure for generating complaints regarding delivery and quality of teaching, tutorial support, supervisory provision or any other matters relating to the programme of study can be found on the SSiD complaints website.
Keep these guidelines up to date:
• Test the links once a year. It is not rare for links from the website of the University of Sheffield to die because of a restructuring of the website.
• If you feel like supplementary information should be added to this document, do it!
The PGR director should be kept informed of any significant changes or additions.
3. Running the Ship
It is a good idea to organise monthly PGR rep meetings to catch up on what has been done recently, and set up new objectives. It is also an opportunity to let your team know in advance if you are expecting to be away for a while etc.
3.1 Organising Socials
Social gatherings for PGR students within the department are very important to help people feel they are part of the community, make friends, and maybe learn some new science from someone outside their group.
• PGR coffee mornings are organised once a month, and are currently scheduled for the last Monday of every month at 11am.
• In the past, PGR coffee mornings have been organised in partnership with SoMaS, to help foster inter-departmental relationships. It is ideal to organise 2 or 3 of these per year.
• Other events have been organised in partnership with the SoMaS PGR reps, such as a rapid fire presentation evening, and are a great addition to the usual scheduled activities. Events which give students an opportunity to practice or learn a new skill as well as socialise are encouraged, on top of the usual socials.
3.2 Budgets and Reimbursement
Social activities such as the above can be financially supported by the department. A running spreadsheet is kept on the PGR google drive, and is used to keep track of the budget assigned by the department for PGR student social activities. It is a good idea for one of the team members to keep on top of this.
As you pay for supplies for socials, make sure to keep all receipts, so you can get reimbursed. Any sum under £35 can be reimbursed from petty cash in F10, providing you have the receipt and PGR budget code for which to charge it to. If the sum is greater than £35, you will have to fill in a form for reimbursement and attach the receipt, which should be returned to F10 for processing.
3.3 Online Presence
As a PGR rep you will need to communicate information to the students of the department, which will mostly be done via email. This may to get feedback from students about an idea, or to advertise an event.
Sending reminder emails (∼2 to 3) is recommended, but be careful not to overuse this resource, or you run the risk of students not paying attention to emails that are sent if they are too frequent. Also, do not hesitate to talk to your fellow PGR reps in person!
Although you are free to express your own opinions on social media (providing you remain civil), you should be mindful that expressing very polarising views publicly might make you less approachable as a representative.
I would like to thank my fellow PGR representatives, Paul Crowther, David Whittaker and Laura Oliver for their suggestions and contribution to the creation of this document.