Supervising PGRs from diverse backgrounds

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Guest blog by Welfare and EDI Officers, Sandra Rose and Alice Haslam.

Over the last 6 months I have been working with my job-share colleague Alice Haslam on a project to produce a guide for supervisors working with researchers from diverse backgrounds and how best to support them.  The project came to life with Sphere funding following the ‘Equality, Diversity and Inclusion (EDI) in Postgraduate Research Conference’ which was held at the University of Nottingham in June 2019, where delegates highlighted the lack of PGR specific resources available.

Our project remit was to adapt the existing awareness-raising guide for Personal Tutors and make this a resource which was specifically written for PGR supervisors.  Often resources are aimed at undergraduates and don’t quite fit with postgraduate researcher’s needs.  We wanted to make this guide completely PGR focused to help recognise the importance of our research community and celebrate the diversity within it.

Our first job was to consult with PGRs from across the University community, especially those who identified as coming from a diverse background.  It was really important that the guide was written with information that came from PGRs themselves.  We also spoke to supervisors and other colleagues working in specialist teams such as Disability Support, the Support and Wellbeing Network and the EDI Coordinators team.  We had an amazing response to our consultations which were all conducted during lockdown, and it was wonderful to engage with so many PGRs and University members of staff who felt passionate about this subject and had fantastic suggestions to contribute to the project.

What came out very strongly from our consultation events with PGRs was that we should include as broad a remit of protected characteristics as possible and recognise that for many people they intersect across various protected characteristics rather than identifying with just one.  Many of the PGRs we consulted with felt the idea of their identity could get lost and they felt more like a name linked to a project rather than an individual.   We also found that PGRs can feel that they fall somewhere between staff and student and as such can feel that they are not able to access support – they are sometimes unsure of where they should go for help.

Importantly while there can be additional challenges to being a PGR from a diverse background, the achievement of studying at this level having overcome barriers is something to be celebrated.  We are also committed to fostering and encouraging an inclusive and supportive environment for supervision which will benefit everyone, however they identify.

Our finished guide covers a wide range of protected characteristics and has information about intersectionality to increase understanding of how protected characteristics can intersect.  Throughout each section are practical, simple ideas for ways that supervisors can help to better support PGRs and think about ways to make their working environments more inclusive. It features an interactive menu function so that supervisors can easily navigate to the section they need.  This enables supervisors to use different sections as and when they need them.  We also added a section on mental health support, and some pathways for supervisors to help signpost students who may require some additional support from the University.

Now that the online guide is completed, we have begun a training programme for supervisors to help bring some of the concepts within it to life. The aim is to continue conversations around improving inclusivity and making environments as diverse and supportive as we can.

Anyone who would like to have a look at the guide can find it here.

Alice and I would really welcome your thoughts on this document so please do get in touch if you have any feedback.


Sandra Rose - EDIBLOG
Alice Haslam - EDIBLOG

Sandra Rose (left) and Alice Haslam (right)
Welfare and EDI Officers
Researcher Academy

Equality, Diversity and Inclusion

Trent Building
University Park Campus