Tue 20 Jun 23
Our inspirational research supervisors and support staff were recognised at a special awards night.
Awards were made to academics across all three faculties with a special new award to mark the contribution of support staff to the success of our postgraduate research community.
The award winners were:
Professor Shane Martin, Dean of Postgraduate Research and Education, said: "Each year we recognise the postgraduate research supervisors who create the most inspirational, supportive and stimulating research environment that is possible. This year, we not only acknowledge supervisors but also Professional Services staff who also facilitate these environments. We wanted to acknowledge the fact that there are so many different roles which support our postgraduate students and make their journey smoother. For postgraduate research students, their supervisors and other supporting staff play a key role in the journey of students. The hard work and dedication of our staff who support our postgraduate research students really do have the ability to transform lives and careers."
Developing a strong and supportive culture in his lab is really important to Dr Vlad Teif from the School of Life Sciences at Essex. The Teif Lab is making important breakthroughs in identifying and diagnosing cancer using biophysics, bioinformatics and next generation sequencing. He said: “We work as a team in our lab, so this award goes to all the members of our lab. I think what students like most in our lab is the culture that they have established themselves. This culture reflects their personalities.
“A very important aspect of our lab culture is that we run it as a safe space. Among other things, it means that everyone knows that it's absolutely okay to make any mistakes. I say it many times to new lab members that we are all making mistakes, I am often making mistakes and proud of this. We document all results in real time in the electronic laboratory journal. Therefore, it's very easy to trace and fix all mistakes. And when our final product is presented to the outside world, its already polished.”
Supervising a PhD is a fascinating journey according to Dr Alix Green from the Department of History. She said: “Being a research supervisor is a huge privilege - you’re joining someone on an epic, once-in-a-lifetime journey after all. And every journey is different, it’s personal and particular to them. You try to work out, together with co-supervisors, what you can best offer each student at each stage. When someone has a breakthrough, even when it’s one small knot they disentangle, it’s a precious, shared moment of celebration. I really enjoy collaborating with research students on external projects too.
“During the pandemic, for example, the collegiality in our small team gathering oral histories of the voluntary and community sector and the sense of collective achievement in doing something that mattered to our local partners kept us going. The research students were equal partners in that effort and it simply wouldn’t have happened without us all working together.”
She added that placements and working with external organisations from businesses to charities add to the experience for PhD students: “I’ve particularly valued the way Essex has been so flexible and supportive of building placements and external projects into PhD experiences. It’s good for the students - they’ll graduate not only with a PhD but with a whole set of skills and experiences, backed by the outputs they’ve produced and testimonials from external supervisors.
“Colleagues have been great in making knowledge exchange funding work for the organisations I collaborate with and in ensuring students can balance projects with their own research.
“But most of all, I’m always impressed with just how brilliant Essex History students are on these projects, defying all the media and government stereotypes about the humanities. Our students have led projects that made a real difference to partner organisations and I always say when I’m talking about collaborative research: start with a student placement!”
The diversity of the postgraduate research community at Essex is a huge strength according to Dr Laurel Lawyer, from the Department of Language and Linguistics. She said: “One of my favourite parts of mentoring PhD students, and students at any stage in their academic career, is watching the journey as they develop from relatively untested hopeful future researchers to competent, confident scientists. I believe everyone has the ability to produce worthwhile research, although individuals have different strengths. Helping students discover what their strengths are and how they fit into the broader scientific community is enormously satisfying.
“Relative to many other institutions, our postgraduate research community comes from a particularly wide and diverse set of backgrounds, and this is a huge benefit. The students I get to interact with in Language and Linguistics come to postgraduate study from so many different routes, and with this, they bring a wealth of unexpected ideas and skills.
“Academia at large benefits significantly from learning to incorporate these kinds of non-traditional sources of knowledge and experience. Personally, I learn something almost every day from my own students, and they consistently make my own work better by challenging the status quo.”
Emma Revill is loving the chance to support postgraduate students through her role and seeing them take their first steps in their research careers. Emma, from the School of Life Sciences, said: “When I started in the PGR Administrator role in Life Sciences I expected student engagement and to deliver support, but I didn’t realise how rewarding this part of the job would be. I found PGR Administration most enjoyable, being able to advise applicants from initial stage of enquiry right through to their viva and graduation, joining in with the celebrations and meeting their families. It really is an all-encompassing role.
“I’ve been privileged in the PGR Administrator role to see students’ progression in themselves during their PhD and advancing on to their early career stage. This is the first year of a professional services award and it’s wonderful to have been acknowledged for my efforts and support in the PGR experience.”