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Recruiting (and keeping) Research Students John Kirby Graduate School Faculty of Medical Sciences.

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Presentation on theme: "Recruiting (and keeping) Research Students John Kirby Graduate School Faculty of Medical Sciences."— Presentation transcript:

1 Recruiting (and keeping) Research Students John Kirby Graduate School Faculty of Medical Sciences

2 Why do you want a student? The upside –Have excellent qualification and a high degree of motivation Can be easier to attract good students than post-docs –Can be good value for money Projects often lead to new areas and large grants –Can be highly productive Some groups report up to 1/3 of their RAE submissions stem from PhD student research –Positive contribution to research environment

3 Why do you want a student? The downside –Projects can be expensive Can be a drain on resource (not much money for consumables) –Loss leaders… –Can be very labour intensive for supervisors and other lab workers Time pressures Assessment Thesis writing About 30% of our high impact factor (>10) papers 1 st authored by students

4 The bottom line In order to maximise fee income, the faculty expects all members of academic staff to supervise a mean of 2.3 postgraduate research students. But, you need to appoint excellent students And it is possible to have too many students!

5 How do you get a student? - 1 Apply for a studentship grant –Examples: Research Councils (various schemes) EU schemes (Marie Curie) Faculty schemes Charities –British Heart Foundation, ARC, etc »But, changing priorities (eg CR-UK), credit crunch –Typically need ~ £75,000 for a 36 month studentship (home –EU- fees, with limited consumables) May also be 4-year schemes –Combine with MRes (1 + 3 year) –Advertise the vacancy (through the graduate school) Ask around. Maybe local graduates! –Worth engaging with undergraduate/masters programmes

6 How do you get a student? - 2 Consider an application in your research area from a candidate who is self financing or has other personal support –Often (but not always) an international applicant –>50% of PhD students in UK are from overseas Electronic application –


8 How do students apply? If responding to an advertised studentship –Students might contact the supervisor(s) directly for informal information But –They should also use a reference number for specific web-based application through the ‘E2R’ (enquiries to registration) system



11 How do students apply? If making a general application for PhD training, students also use the online system Student may not have identified a supervisor –but, should provide details (up to 500 words) listing research interests/plans Student may not have secured funding –A conditional offer from Newcastle can often help such students to secure a grant/visa

12 What next? Applications are sent to the admissions team at King’s Gate If application is for a specific (advertised) studentship, details of all applicants are forwarded to supervisors –Minimum requirements: Relevant good upper second class degree (or equivalent) Two satisfactory references Language qualification (see later)

13 If an international application, the Admissions Office will: Check qualifications (including quality of the issuing university) Request references Pass application to Prof Steve Yeaman –(who decides whether to proceed) Then to School/Institute PG co-ordinator –(who selects most appropriate supervisors) Then to individual academic –(who decides whether to offer conditional place and level of fees) –Additional guidance for handling international applications is available at


15 Fees International students are required to pay fees at a high rate –Band 2no ‘bench fee’ –Band 2a£2,525 comes to the supervisor –Band 2b:£5,050 comes to the supervisor –Band 2c:£6,565 comes to the supervisor –Band 3:£9,090 comes to the supervisor –See “Fees Schedule” for definitions, current fees and future predictions Good idea to seek help from staff in the Graduate School Good overseas students can apply for a competitive award from Faculty (ORS scheme) to pay the difference between home (EU) and overseas fees.

16 Qualification For PhD candidates the normal expectation is a masters level degree –Or equivalent experience, etc. BSc students should be encouraged to take an MRes or apply for an integrated MRes/PhD. Why? –In line with normal expectations in EU –Bologna protocol

17 English language Measured by recognised examinations –Typically IELTS (international English language test system) Require overall score of 6.5 (+/-10% error!) –4 component scores »Writing(minimum score of 6 required) »Reading »Speaking »Listening –Or complete a pre-sessional programme of study No measure of success and little follow up


19 References Few academics will write strongly negative references (F of I) –Read between the lines –Look for faint praise or coded messages ‘with the benefit of strong supervision this candidate should…..’ ‘although this applicant has no direct knowledge of the subject area, with appropriate training (s)he…..’ If in doubt, phone the referee for a chat

20 If possible, interview potential students Minimum of 2 experienced supervisors –Supervisory team Ideally, also an additional academic Remember to offer to pay expenses! –Conference call? Decide in advance what you will all contribute to the process –Who will ask what? Keep notes Has the candidate taken the trouble to find out about your work?

21 Why did the candidate apply for this project? What relevant experience has (s)he? –Final year project? –Summer vacation projects? Do you think the candidate will accept the studentship if offered?

22 Discrimination Be fully aware of (and comply completely with) the University’s policy on discrimination –Age –Sex –Disability –Race But be aware that not all funding bodies will support applications from non UK or EU nationals –For example, EU funded students training in the UK often must be citizens of any country in the EU but the UK! Keep a record of your decision – you might be asked to show this if there is any dispute.


24 What next? Let the admissions office know your decision (complete a studentship form and send to the graduate school) –detail project title, supervisors, fee band, start date, grant number, HoI (or proxy) signature etc The admissions office will issue a formal offer to successful candidates and inform unsuccessful candidates –You might also wish to provide personalised, specific feedback The graduate school will make a studentship offer to the successful applicant –Check the offer has been made and received!

25 Selection is critical Every year a number of research students withdraw after registration 1995/9613 1996/9715 1997/9819 1998/9913 1999/0021 2000/0122 2001/0228 2002/0319 2003/0410 2004/059 2005/067 2006/0710 2007/089 2008/95 This represents a significant waste of (your) time, money and effort (and can damage our completion record)

26 Reasons for withdrawal Personal/Health/Financial PhD study not what expected/wanted Lack of results/wrong project for me Unhappy with supervision Student gone AWOL Studies terminated by Dean of Postgraduate Studies Transferred with supervisor to another institution

27 Is withdrawal predictable? Life events – not really –Maybe interruption of studies is appropriate? Weak students – yes –there is a strong correlation between students with a 2:2 or whose language entry criteria have been waived and subsequent withdrawal Has the supervisory team experienced a greater than average withdrawal rate? (some have) Was the student really motivated to undertake this specific project? –Should this have been apparent at an earlier stage? Some students only decide to do a PhD when they get a better degree than anticipated; late applicants… Was the project well-designed, ethical and achievable within the timescale? –Project approval process

28 ‘Exit routes’ along the way The four-year MRes – PhD programme is ideal. If the MRes does not go well, the student can leave after 12 months with (hopefully) a semi-positive outcome –Successful students also benefit from the experience gained during the MRes and will hit the ground running at the start of the PhD.

29 What about 3-year PhD programmes The 8-month progress review identifies students who are unlikely to achieve a PhD –However, a clear decision MUST be reached within the first 12-months Many grants will re-generate first year funding if a student departs in the first 12 months Withdrawal after 12 months shows as non- completion in our overall rates –Remember future studentship funding depends on the maintenance of high completion rates!

30 Induction Project approval –Defines project goals, timelines, supervisory team, assessors –Crucial for assessors to approve projects which have not already been peer-reviewed (eg: overseas or self-funded students) Learning agreement Management of expectations –“But I thought I’d get my own desk, computer, technician and access to the most expensive reagents and equipment….” “and meet my supervisors whenever and wherever I choose…”

31 Expectations: The student Space –Where is my desk, computer, heat, light… Funding –I want consumables, equipment, travel Access to supervisors –Why isn’t my supervisor interested in my work? Work-life balance –“But I want to go to Thailand for six weeks” I want more help with progress reports I want more help with my thesis –My supervisor didn’t read/correct my thesis over the weekend

32 Expectations: The supervisor Where is my student? –Working hours and holidays But I am the co-supervisor –What is my role? Why do they always come to me when I am busy? –Should my door always be open? Management of costs. –Do you provide a computer? Am I a proof reader?


34 Formal supervisory meetings What is a ‘formal’ meeting? –You pass your student in the corridor and say ‘is everything OK’ –Your student politely answer ‘Yes’ Nice, but NOT a formal meeting

35 Formal meetings What is a ‘formal’ meeting? –You are working in the lab/office/field next to one of your students and ask how work is progressing and offer help Should happen, but NOT a formal meeting

36 Formal meetings - 1 Formal meetings are the most vital part of your project Frequency –Often more common at the start than at the end of your project –In this Faculty should not be more than two months apart (or less than 10 per year) –Your student should initiate meetings make an appointment (perhaps even book a quiet room – no phone) Invite all appropriate members of supervisory team

37 Formal meetings - 2 What happens at the meeting? –Examine results and interesting papers and discuss these in detail Make plans Discuss problems Ensure the project is more than a series of small experiments –Plan the thesis

38 Formal meetings - 3 During the meeting –The student should take notes After the meeting –The student writes minutes of the meeting (can be done on-line using the e-portfolio) –Circulates these to all supervisors for additional comment –Bring the minutes to the next meeting Next meeting –You all discover the experiments didn’t go as planned!






44 Scary stuff Overseas students require a “Tier 4” visa The university has a licence from the government to administer these visas –One condition is that we MUST be able to demonstrate student attendance –Audits are not announced At least one licences has been revoked! The e-portfolio meeting record has been designed to provide the evidence! –Keep it up to date for all your students

45 A final word….. You must stop the project and allow the student to write up just when the work is reaching its most interesting phase You must allow the student to develop independence –It is a good sign when a student takes ownership from you Ultimately, your job is to train a good scientist and then encourage him or her to leave your group!

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