Making the most of training opportunities during a pandemic

Matina Shafti, Psychology, University of Manchester, 2019 Cohort

One of the most valuable aspects of doing a PhD is the wide range of skills you can build throughout your time as a student. This is especially made possible for NWSSDTP students who have access to the Research Training Support Grant (RTSG). You can apply to the RTSG to cover various costs relating to your research, such as attending conferences, purchasing books and training events. While the amount you can claim for some things is limited, there is funding available to cover the costs of training relevant to your research. This means that you can go to training events free of cost, as long as it is necessary for your PhD.

As a 2nd year PhD student, I have attended more workshops and training events than I can count. These have ranged from building my wider skillset as an academic (e.g., writing grants), to those that are necessary to carrying out my specific research (e.g., doing systematic reviews). I usually find these events by searching my University’s library or Doctoral Academy pages (University of Manchester) as these frequently advertise training opportunities. I’ve also signed up for mailing lists which regularly email about upcoming events. If you’re not sure about where to find out about these opportunities, I’d suggest asking your supervisors, fellow students or your University’s equivalent of the Doctoral Academy about where you can find this information and if there’s any events that they’d recommend. 

When our lives changed almost one year ago today and we went into lockdown, I was worried that I might not be able to make the most out of my PhD and receive the training that I require. Little did I know that our entire academic world will be moved online. Since March of last year, I have spent more hours than I’d like to count on Zoom, going to lunch catch-ups with officemates, Shut Up & Write sessions, research seminars, conferences, and training events. Attending virtual training has allowed me to continue building my skills and knowledge as an academic, even during a pandemic. These include training for peer reviewing, conferences and qualitative research, which is one of the core components of my PhD.

Although I miss in-person events where you can network with other researchers and have free coffee and biscuits, I also really enjoy virtual training. You’re able to build your skills in a wide range of areas from the comfort of your own home. I’ve literally done yoga while learning about qualitative research on Zoom because I needed a little stretch. My cats also join in on some events (yes, that’s my cat Alfie sitting on my work). During more interactive online events, you’ll also have the chance to meet other like-minded researchers from different institutions, even from across the world, who you might have never had the opportunity to meet otherwise.

To me, the biggest advantage of online training is its accessibility. You can easily attend useful events and these won’t take too much time away from your PhD. I’ve been able to enhance my skills in various areas that I might have neglected if it weren’t for online events. For example, recently I attended online training provided by the University of Liverpool for peer reviewing. Although peer reviewing is an important component of being an academic, I probably wouldn’t have dedicated the time to travel to Liverpool for this event since it isn’t directly relevant to my PhD. However, since it was online, I just took an hour out of my day to attend the training from my bedroom. I found the event to be very helpful and I learnt a lot about the peer reviewing process. The training helped build my confidence so much so that within a few weeks, I had peer reviewed 2 articles!

I highly recommend all students to actively look for and attend training events, whether these are online or in-person. During these times, it’s easy to get tired of your usual day to day tasks. Attending training will give you something different to do, whilst also allowing you to develop important skills and knowledge that will help with not only your PhD, but future career. Especially as a NWSSDTP student, everyone should make the most out of the great opportunity provided by the RTSG to cover the cost of necessary training. Accessing the RTSG is a really simple process. All you have to do is send an expense form signed by your supervisor, along with proof of purchase, to nwssdtp@liv.ac.uk, and you will be reimbursed.

Check out the RTSG guidance for more information on how you can access this fund: https://nwssdtpacuk.files.wordpress.com/2019/07/nwssdtp-research-training-support-grant-guidance-2019.pdf

Happy training!

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