The Postgraduate Research
Student Experience

A Student Voice Report.

Date published: 20 May 2020

In May 2019, the Students’ Union launched a Policy Inquiry on the postgraduate research student experience at Royal Holloway. This Student Voice Report marks the culmination of our efforts to engage with the postgraduate research community over the past ten months. It presents an in-depth analysis of our ongoing discussions with students, and highlights both their positive and negative experiences at Royal Holloway while undertaking a research degree.

Moreover, as Policy Inquiries are raised with the aim to bring about change, this report additionally lists recommendations framed around issues of key importance for both the University and the Students’ Union with the hope they have significant and long-term positive impact on current and prospective postgraduate research students at Royal Holloway.

Report Recommendations

Below is a the summary of the recommendations from the report.

There are issues with current University facilities which pertain to postgraduate research students, especially in regards to a consistent lack of available research space and resources.

1.1 The University should conduct a full, comprehensive review of the PGR space on both the Egham and Bedford Square campus.

1.2 The University should increase the number of lockers in the Research Postgraduate Library Space in the EWD building.

1.3 The University and Doctoral School should improve signposting information about accessing library resources at Senate House online.

1.4 The University should extend opening hours for commercial services during the periods outside of undergraduate term time.

There is a strong consensus among current postgraduate research students that the University should streamline services provided by both departments and the Doctoral School, with the aim to improve signposting of information, training and engagement with the postgraduate research community.

2.1 The University and the Doctoral School should provide coherent and easily accessible information regarding research student progression and attainment.

2.2 The University should update the content on their website which links to University services so that it is tailored more towards postgraduate research students.

2.3 The University and Doctoral School should increase the flexibility of induction talks for postgraduate research students.

2.4 The University and Doctoral School should consider implementing separate induction talks for MRes students.

2.5 The University and the Doctoral school should signpost whether information and training talks are relevant to MRes students.

2.6 The University should improve the provision of online training resources on either Moodle or the Doctoral School website.

2.7 The University should allow international postgraduate research students the opportunity to access the same University support services like EDC and CeDas.

2.8 The University should provide full transparency on where the £400 writing-up fee is spent and provide an official document which clarifies this information to students.

2.9 The University should work alongside the individual Schools or departments and reintroduce ‘Roundtable Days’.

2.10 The University should create a clear, accessible and coherent delegation of responsibilities between Doctoral School and academic units (Schools and departments).

While the majority of doctoral students are generally happy with supervision at Royal Holloway, there are still areas which could be improved that will allow all students to have a successful and professional working relationship with their supervisors.

3.1 The University should create a consistent and transparent process across Schools and departments in the specific instance when a supervisor leaves the University.

3.2 The University should provide clarification and enable an understanding about the difference between a supervisor and an advisor.

3.3 The University should introduce clear information on the College and Doctoral School website which explains the research student-supervisor professional relationship.

3.4 The University should clarify the process for reporting a complaint relating to supervisor misconduct and make this information easily accessible.

Improving students’ mental health and wellbeing across all levels of studies in higher education is an issue the University takes seriously and, while there have been some great steps taken to improve undergraduate mental health, there is more work to be done for research students. The research student experience is significantly different from taught undergraduate and postgraduate taught courses. The University needs to alter its services and address the problem within the postgraduate research community where poor mental health and wellbeing is a common occurrence.

4.1 The University should provide mental health training to all members of academic staff involved in supervisor roles.

4.2 The University should provide online resources with coherent and relevant information about mental health and the research degree.

4.3 The University, the Doctoral School and departments should run coordinated events which focus on the pressures of undertaking a research degree.

4.4 The University Wellbeing Services should create a separate strand of service for postgraduate research students.

Our engagement with students highlighted there needs to be better information relayed to doctoral students about their career development following completion of the degree. The University Careers Service currently provides very little support for research students at Royal Holloway.

5.1 The University Careers Service should run a Postgraduate Research Degree Careers Fair every year, with both academic and non-academic opportunities present.

5.2 The University Careers Service should work alongside the Doctoral School and offer more sessions specifically tailored for postgraduate research students.

5.3 The Doctoral School should include more talks about career opportunities within the Research Development Programme and uploaded the content online.

5.4 The University and the Doctoral School should update the content on the website about career opportunities after completing the research degree.

The Students’ Union is aware that we have not provided the same level of service to postgraduates as we have towards undergraduates. While a lot of students in our discussion groups and online survey admitted they did not know what type of role the Students’ Union should play in their degree, we hope the following recommendations will have a positive impact on the research student community at Royal Holloway.

6.1 The Students’ Union should expand opening hours on services out of the traditional undergraduate term time.

6.2 The Students’ Union should host a greater number of mature events for postgraduate research students, and should contribute towards a more coordinated events programme between the University, departments and the Doctoral School.

6.3 The Students’ Union should increase outreach on research student issues and offer more support for students.

6.4 The Students’ Union should consider the current level of involvement and should further encourage postgraduate research students to become more involved in student groups.

6.5 The Students’ Union should undertake a review alongside the Postgraduate Research Student Collective as to whether the current Academic Rep system works for PGR students.


Next Steps

  1. Present the report and findings to senior stakeholders in the University, receive a formal response of intent to work on recommendations
  2. Present and agree a timeline with the University for the implementation, ensuring that recommendations are prioritised in accordance to time-sensitive actions
  3. Continue to work with the PGR Collective in monitoring the progress of the report, both at University level and departmental level
  4. Set up regular contact with relevant University stakeholders to ensure the delivery of the report
  5. Communicate progress to the PGR student body

University Response

Deputy Principal (Academic), Professor Katie Normington

"We are delighted to receive this work by the Students' Union which captures the views of postgraduate research students. The action plan is detailed and we look forward to working with students, particularly in light of the effects now of Covid-19, to ensure that we prioritise the recommendations to ensure that they are best supported in the times ahead."

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