Postgraduate Researcher Representatives' Handbook
The University is committed to creating an environment that allows all PGRs to strive for excellence and develop to their full potential. The University’s postgraduate researcher representatives (reps) play a key role in ensuring that the University receives and responds to postgraduate researcher feedback in order to bring about improvements to the quality of the postgraduate research experience.
The core aims of PGR representation are to:
- Ensure that the views of PGRs about their research experience are represented and considered in key decision-making processes and discussions at all levels, including Departments, Schools, Faculties and the University.
- Help identify ways in which to improve the PGR experience.
The University has an active community of PGR reps across Faculties, Schools and Departments. The aim of this handbook is to provide reps with ideas on how to approach their role and where to go for help. Reps will have the opportunity to attend training and receive continued support and advice from within their Schools and Faculties.
The areas covered in this guide include:
- The Role of the PGR Representative
- Engagement, Communication and Feedback
- Key Documents and Contacts
A PGR Rep will:
- Be an effective channel of communication between PGRs and the University.
- Have the opportunity to comment directly on issues that affect the research experience of all PGRs.
- Consult and engage with the PGRs they represent.
- Represent the views of PGRs via School/Department, Faculty and University PGR committees and negotiate, discuss and find solutions to the issues raised.
- Report the outcomes of discussions to their PGR community.
- Work with PGRs and staff to facilitate change and make improvements.
Who do reps liaise with?
The University has a large network of reps across programmes, divisions, departments, Schools and Faculties. Reps will liaise with other reps and with Department and School PGR Directors, Faculty based Associate Deans and PGR professional services. The committee and contacts information document provides details of the different groups and committees that reps may attend and the key contacts at Department, School, Faculty and University level.
What makes an effective rep?
- An effective rep is one who knows their remit and responsibilities, communicates clearly and acts in a professional manner. An effective rep will:
- Act as a voice for all the PGRs they represent.
- Act as a conduit between PGRs and staff.
- Know who they are representing and be aware of the different needs of the PGRs they represent.
- Collect and gather opinions from all PGRs, finding ways to engage with all PGRs they represent.
- Actively listen to the concerns and feedback from PGRs
- Share relevant information with the PGRs they represent.
- Be aware of the information, advice and support services available to PGRs and know how to appropriately signpost. For example, PGR Life provides information on all of the University support services and has a dedicated section on PGR wellbeing and mental health.
- Recognise their limits and know when to escalate and seek further advice. For example, it is not the reps responsibility to solve individual issues or coach a peer through their viva.
- Respect confidentiality and ensures that the PGRs they represent can talk to them in confidence.
- Attend reps training and other relevant training which will support them in their role.
Further information on the role of the rep is available in the University Postgraduate Researcher Student Representatives policy.
An effective PGR rep will fully engage with their fellow PGRs and with academic and professional service staff in their Department, School, Faculty and the University. The PGRs are best placed to comment on their research environment, and it is your role to put that comment and opinion forward.
A rep will need to:
- Introduce themselves to the PGRs they are representing. You may want to have a short bio with your picture, information about you and how to contact you and ask your School/Department professional services team to send that to all PGRs you represent.
- Gather opinions and views from the PGRs they represent. If you are asking for a change to be made consider the evidence that you will need to collect to show that the change is needed.
- Raise the issues collected from the PGRs they represent and engage in discussions with staff in meetings or informal meetings or via email conversations.
- When engaging in discussions about issues that have been raised, be solution focused. An issue may have been identified and it’s important to be clear about exactly what change PGRs want to happen. Suggesting solutions will focus the discussion on a positive outcome and you are more likely to have ideas that staff have not considered.
Ideas on How to Collect Opinion?
- Speak first to your friends then approach others in your area of research to collect their opinions.
- Listen for what people are saying when you are in an informal setting, for example, at lunch or over coffee.
- Use blogs and websites to generate discussions and keep in touch with other PGRs, including those you represent and other PGR reps.
- Use social media and encourage your fellow PGRs to do the same to stimulate discussion. There are many benefits from using social media but also pitfalls, please see the University's guidance on how to use social media in a construtive and beneficial way.
- If you have a specific issue you want to gather feedback on set up an online survey, the Student's Union may be able to help with this.
- Leave a suggestion box and post it notes in PGR common areas.
- Work with your local professional services team to ensure your contact details are visible and that you are known to your fellow PGRs.
Assure those you represent that any comments or opinions that you put forward in, for example, a committee meeting, will remain anonymous and that you will not personally name anyone.
When collecting opinion things to consider are:
- PGRs may find it easier to talk about aspects of their environment that they don’t like but may find it harder to be objective about how things could be improved.
- Some PGRs may be more vocal than others, make sure you find ways to include and encourage comments and feedback from everyone. For example, you may be representing PGRs who are off campus or who are studying part-time, find ways to ensure you engage them in discussion.
- Be specific, asking a PGR to provide feedback on their whole research experience may not get a response. Breaking your questions down into different elements will help.
A key aspect of the PGR role is to be an effective communicator. Reps will be:
- Attending meetings with staff in Departments, Schools, Faculty and the University and presenting PGRs’ views at these meetings.
- Speaking to PGRs outside of meetings.
- Passing issues on to other teams where appropriate.
- Contributing to Department, School, Faculty and University activities such as the Postgraduate Research Experience Survey (PRES).
- Working with colleagues to come up with solutions.
- Keeping your PGR community updated about what’s going on.
Starting Conversations with your PGR Community
- Use whatever method of communication is best for you whether that be face to face or online.
- Make sure you are visible and known to the PGRs you are representing, the professional service teams can ensure your name and contact details are visible online.
- Be open and approachable.
- Ask open ended questions.
Having Challenging Conversations
It can be challenging to raise issues of concer, provide feedback or make suggestions for change. Do not be afraid to raise issues of concern that PGRs have raised. Here are key points to be aware of during these types of conversations:
- Be clear and concise in what you want to say, prepare this in advance of the conversation.
- Be solution focused, think about what you are hoping to achieve from raising a particular issue.
- Be aware of any nonverbal behaviours such as posture, volume and tone of voice.
- Actively listen to the responses to the issues you raise and clarify what the response is before moving on to the next topic.
- Agree a way forward and next steps.
You may find it useful to attend one of your Faculty researcher development team training sessions on communication skills.
As a PGR rep, your role is to:
- Provide both positive and negative feedback to staff.
- Act as a communication channel between staff and PGRs.
- Provide feedback to staff and PGRs and close the feedback loop.
How Do You Feedback Effectively?
The ABCD method of feedback is a good place to start:
Accurate: When commenting on a particular learning or research experience be specific and wherever possible provide evidence, for example from a survey, for what you are saying.
Balanced: Do not pass on only negative comments to staff. Recipients are more likely to feel defensive and reject your suggestions out of hand. Say positive things too – the so-called “feedback sandwich”.
Constructive: Reps are not there just here to identify problems; reps can also help to find a solution. When raising issues, try and make a suggestion at the same time.
Depersonalisation: Even if the PGRs you represent think that an individual has done something wrong, it’s always hard to make or receive personal comments. Try not to make personal comments about someone and instead talk about the impact on the learning and research experience.
If there are grounds for a formal complaint about an individual contact the PGR professional services team for advice on the fomal channels.
The feedback loop
Always remember to close the feedback loop. Feedback to the PGRs you represent after any meetings (both formal and informal), so they know the outcome of the feedback they presented. Also, if you show the impact of what you’ve been doing they’ll be more likely to feedback. Again, you can use many different methods to ensure responses and actions are fed back.
Some Reps use a feedback form to be clear on the issues, points of discussion and proposed solution; this allow you to easily track what changes are being made. Filling it in as you go along and sharing with those you represent can help to keep PGRs informed.
PGR representatives will attend a range of meetings, either at Department, School, Faculty or University level. The aim inviting reps to such meetings is to ensure the views and voices of PGRs are heard during discussions about issues affecting PGRs.
Preparing for Meetings
Before the meeting
- Find out who the secretary and chair of the meeting are so you have full details of dates, venue and time.
- All attendess should receive the agenda, minutes and other relevant papers in advance of the meeting. Read the papers before the meeting and think about any issues particularly relevant to PGRs on the meeting agenda and plan adequate time to collect, collate, and summarise the views of the PGRs you represent.
- Gather feedback from your PGRs and decide if you would like to have anything added to the agenda. If you would like to add an item to the agenda let the secretary and chair know in advance of the meeting.
- Read the minutes of the previous meetings and prepare a list of actions and matters that need following up.
During the meeting
- Be on time, let the chair and secretary know if you are going to be delayed.
- Be prepared to take notes via iPad, tablet, laptop or pen & paper and record any key points raised in the meetings as well as any reflections you have.
- For any issues you have raised, clarify the next steps and timeline for discussing and resolving the issue.
- Never be afraid to ask questions or to challenge views and opinions.
- If there is something you don’t understand, the chances are there’s someone else in the meeting who does not understand either. Ask for clarificaiton.
- Remember the ABCD of effective feedback.
After the meeting
- It may take a while for minutes from a meeting to be issued. So note down any action points and for you and act on them as soon as possible.
- Don’t forget to report back to the PGRs you represent.
- Check the minutes when you receive them and clarify anything you do not understand with the secretary..
The Code of Practice for postgraduate research degrees constitutes the central reference document for policies, procedures and good practice at the University of Manchester. It sets out the responsibilities of the University, faculties, schools and supervisors so that PGRs know what they can expect from the University.
Faculty of Biology, Medicine and Health
For questions about programmes contact Iqra Habib.
For questions about PGR training and development opportunities contact Centre for Academic Researcher Development.
Faculty of Humanities
For questions about programmes contact your School administration teams.
For information about PGR training and development opportunities contact the Faculty Researcher Development team.
Faculty of Science and Engineering
For questions about programmes contact:
For information about PGR training and development opportunities contact the Faculty Researcher Development team.