Developing the success of our PGR community

Living between the worlds of student and staff, Postgraduate Research students (PGRs) are an important part of the research ecosystem. To be successful they must make an original contribution to knowledge whilst navigating their own identity as an emerging researcher.

 To help them do this, the university regulations for PGR degrees state that:

“All research students will have access to training and development in research skills and techniques, normally provided by schools and faculties, and in generic skills through the University’s personal and professional development programme.”

But how do you ensure that a diverse population of 3600 PGRs have equitable access to the support they need to reach their potential and produce high quality research?

The PGR Training Review

The University’s PGR Committee (UPGRC) tasked Bristol Doctoral College staff to conduct a review of training provision for PGRs across the university to support the PGR strategy.

We were not trying to map everything on offer, this has been tried before and always failed given the vast number of services offering development opportunities and how quickly this can change.  Our aim was to provide an overview of provision, identify gaps and how it related to the Researcher Development Framework (RDF) – a tool to guide researchers in the predominant skills required to be successful.

To do this we met with 20 stakeholder groups across faculties and professional services as well as PGR students between January and March 2023. Responses from these meetings were analysed and discussed by the projects Steering Group and formed into recommendations which were all approved by UPGRC in May 2023.

Findings and recommendations

3 key areas were identified to improve PGR training and development.

Empowering PGRs to own their development 

The expectation should be set from induction that PGRs are responsible for driving their own development. We want to equip PGRs with a clear understanding of what skills and behaviours are expected, and provide them with the agency to make informed choices about what development they need to access and when. There should also be enough avenues for PGRs to put their skills into practice (presentation of their research, teaching etc) so they have the opportunity to develop their confidence and peer and professional networks.

Improving navigation of the training and development offer (both staff and students)

Improved curation and visibility of existing opportunities are needed to enhance communications and engagement. The offer is fractured across multiple services and digital platforms leading to confusion, duplication, and overwhelm. Services that are usually organised by student, staff or faculty audiences can lead to inconsistencies or misunderstandings over whether support is available or appropriate for PGRs. Solving this problem would improve the PGR experience and make signposting easier for the staff who support them.

Development of an essential training programme

To comprise of not compulsory but highly recommended activity. Topics such as establishing effective working relationships with supervisors, academic writing skills, and collaboration with non-academic partners should be included. A gap in provision was identified around research governance and conduct and so some generic standard training on ethics, integrity and funding should be produced and presented as essential.

Next steps

The next steps for this work will be incorporated into the PGR Strategy Implementation and Student Experience Programme. The Steering Group will retain ongoing oversight of this work.

To read the full report refer to the BDC’s Personal and Professional Development webpage. Any questions can be directed to Maxine Sims ( or Paul Spencer (

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