Championing PhD research

(c) David Pratt

Lucy Parnall, Head of Bristol Doctoral College and Research Strategy, illustrates the way legacy gifts have helped PhD students during the pandemic.

Part of my role as the Head of Bristol Doctoral College is to enhance the experience of postgraduate researchers and to make sure our PhD students have a positive time at Bristol. We run the PGR Hub, a dedicated space for postgraduate researchers to meet up with colleagues and attend training sessions. We also work to equip our students with the skills and experience they need to be successful during and beyond their PhDs, in academia and in other careers.

A PhD can be transformative on an individual level, as well as for a particular research area. They are amazing opportunities for students to undertake a project they’re passionate about and enable interdisciplinary research between different subject areas or with industries and community partners. PhD students bring a vibrancy and energy to the University and are an essential part of both our research and student communities.

Over the years the University has received gifts large and small that have been left in supporters’ Wills to support a wide range of priorities across the University, including students in financial need. During the pandemic these legacy gifts for student support have been vital, especially for our current PhD students.

Postgraduate research students were suddenly and acutely impacted by the pandemic. Unable to access vital resources like laboratories and archives, and with everything closing at once, there were limited alternatives for them to use. Fieldwork was disrupted for some students, which meant they were unable to collect the data they needed for their research. Priorities changed for a lot of the external partners that some PhD students were working with, for example the NHS. This meant that students had to rethink how they were going to continue working. Many of our students also had caring responsibilities and some had to shield themselves.

There was a lot of concern from students that they wouldn’t be able to achieve their PhDs within the required timeframe. This is where the foresight of our legacy donors really showed its strength. With the gifts that donors had given to support Bristol students in financial need, we were able to invite PhD students to apply for additional funding so they could extend their research. Legacy funding supported 142 students from 40 different programmes, enabling our students to work towards fulfilling their ambitions and successfully completing their PhDs.

It has been so positive to hear that during the pandemic students have been able to submit their theses, present their vivas, complete their PhDs and contribute to excellent research across all faculties. It would have been devastating for Bristol and the wider research sector if we had a cohort of PhD students who were unable to complete their studies.

If the pandemic has taught us anything it’s the importance of planning for an uncertain future. Legacy gifts help Bristol to meet whatever challenges and opportunities may lie ahead with resilience and optimism. By leaving a gift in their Will, legacy donors have supported students in these unprecedented circumstances, and contributed to Bristol’s vibrant research.

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