All 18 entries tagged Warwick Uni

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December 06, 2011

Is the student occupation relevant to postgrads? – by Ruth

If you happen to have passed through the centre of campus during the last couple of weeks you'll have found it hard to miss Occupy Warwick. Student activists have pitched tents outside the Arts Centre as part of a protest against what they describe as the "marketisation of education".

occupy warwick

The occupiers largely exhibit the kind of bloody-minded youthful enthusiasm that is perhaps (stereo)typical of undergraduate protesters, but can their cause also resonate with PhD students? After all, we're not going to be effected by fee rises (right?) and many of us benefit from corporate investment in our research area. In fact, an injection of private money is just what many of our departments (and, by extension, we) need in this time of economic uncertainty.

For the sake of transparency, I'll admit my own participation in the protest at this juncture. I feel the aims and ideals of Occupy Warwick are deeply relevant to all members of the university body, as well as the wider public. As such, I've spent much of the last fortnight organising and publising occupation events during the day, and camping out at night.

Why would I put myself through this? After all, it's not as if it's terribly warm and sunny outside, and (sadly) I simply don't have the same energy that I did as an undergraduate activist. What keeps me going, and why do I care?

My primary reason for occupying arises from my concern for the future of the entire higher education sector in the United Kingdom. I believe that universities should first and foremost be centres of learning, where research and teaching is undertaken for the sake of public good rather than private profit. The tuition fee rise last year was just the start of a concerted attack upon the idea of a public university. The fee rise was accompanied by massive cuts, with the teaching budget for the Arts, Humanities and Social Sciences entirely scrapped. Now, the government is planning further changes that will see universities run more like businesses and less like - well, universities.

This is a terrible move because the logic of neo-liberalism hardly entails a better environment for research and teaching. An example of this can be found in the University of Warwick's existing system of internal markets, whereby departments are expected to spend a portion of their budgets upon hiring rooms. The intention, presumably, is to force departments to budget wisely and spend their money efficiently. The reality is an inefficient system where many PhD students (and, for that matter, administrative staff) are crammed into crowded offices (if they're lucky enough to get one at all) whilst other rooms lie permanently empty because departments can't "afford" them. Meanwhile many of the departments worst effected compete with one another for a decreasing amount of space.

Moroever, if research budgets increasingly rely upon private funding, we can expect research itself to increasingly reflect corporate interests. After all, why would you want to pour money into the university system if you didn't expect to see something in return? This has already been happening for years, and it's bound to get worse, with research increasingly driven by private prioritity instead of academic inspiration.

The stated objectives of Occupy Warwick broadly address these twinned issues: marketisation and cuts. The points are admittedly somewhat vague and almost hopelessly idealistic, but in being so they push for a discursive shift in how we understand the university system in the UK. Many will argue that the occupation's objectives are impossible to achieve, with sacrifices necessary from the University in order to maintain a high level of research and teaching. However, the whole point of the objectives is that they resist the logic of "the cuts" altogether, and ultimately call upon the University to oppose the government's ideological committment to austerity measures that hit the public sector and the poor, rather than those who caused the economic crisis in the first place.

A second powerful reason for the occupation is that it provides a visible symbol of dissent. The Warwick environment is centred around the spending of money, from the millions invested in shiny new buildings (to be used only by private companies and economically "useful" departments) to the overpriced food we're expected to buy from University outlets. Meanwhile academic, administrative and interpersonal hierarchies govern our everyday experiences. In contrast, Occupy Warwick reflects the wider "Occupy movement" in rejecting the necessity of both profit and leadership. The occupation is an environment in which food, bedding and decision-making are shared, and undergraduates, postgraduates and staff come together to debate and discuss an alternative approach to the University "experience".

This brings me neatly onto my final reason for occupying: the space has provided a fantastic base for interdisciplinary conversations during the past two weeks. As a friend of mine (currently working towards an MSC in Physics) recently noted, if we'd organised the occupation's thirty-plus talks and workshops as a formal conference we'd have reason to be extremely pleased with ourselves!

Occupy Warwick will be packing up its tents tomorrow. However, the campaign for a better university system will continue well into the new year. If you feel our message is relevant to you, why not get involved?


October 09, 2011

Why don't we use video conferencing more? – by Ruth

I had a good old experiment with the the video conferencing software in one of the Wolfson Research Exchange seminar rooms the other day. I'm quite frankly amazed it isn't used more often: the equipment is very powerful and surprisingly user-friendly, although you do need to set aside an hour or two in order to learn how to use it.

What's more exciting than sharing a talk or taking part in a seminar with a person (or even a room of people!) in another part of the world? I admit that's a bit of a geeky question, but then I am a shamelessly geeky researcher. Video conferencing allows you to exchange ideas and engage in discussion with people you might otherwise never be in direct contact with. This is particularly beneficial if your field – like mine – is somewhat obscure. Moreover, it's far less expensive (hire of the seminar rooms is free!) and considerably more comfortable than travelling to a far-flung conference.

The equipment itself is pretty exciting (if you're into that sort of thing). The seminar room has two fully adjustable cameras facing in opposite directions, enabling you to record a speaker at the lectern, show a seated audience, or zoom into any given corner you fancy. There's also a “visualiser” – a lot like an old-school overhead projector – which allows you to easily broadcast the contents of a piece of paper (or an ipad, or a Kindle, or indeed any appropriately-sized random object). The sound quality is great and Warwick's super high-speed internet ensures that anything you record (or pick up from another) plays smoothly without any of the hiccups you might sometimes expect whilst streaming video.

Of course, there's no point in video-conferencing simply for the sake of doing so. There are many benefits to travelling, and to actually being in the physical room as someone else. If you're going to use the equipment, it should probably serve a specific end.

In my case, that end emerged from a meeting of Warwick's embryonic “identity repertoires” group, when we decided that we wanted to hold an afternoon symposium on asexuality research. Our group aims to make research into sexualities (and beyond) more accessible to the actual groups discussed within such work. We're also interested in linking up with community organisations and grassroots campaigns. The video-conferencing software provides a great platform for us create these very links whilst connecting with other researchers around the world.

We made a rough list of everything we ideally wanted to do during the symposium. This list included:

  • a physical, conference-style setting in which research can be presented and discussed

  • remote participation via video-link for those researchers unable to attend the event

  • online streaming, enabling anyone to watch the event

  • a chat client or twitter feed that allows these external participants to comment or ask questions

  • a recording of the event, to be made available for free on the internet

To our delight, we've figured out how to achieve most of items on this list using the software available at http://ja.net in conjunction with the video-conferencing equipment in the Research Exchange seminar room. We're also fairly confident that we can figure out solutions to some of the apparent challenges that remain (for instance, it is possible for researchers to take part in the video conference via a personal webcam, but it seems that we cannot stream the event online if one of these is being used).

I'll be sure to post again to let everyone know how our event goes. In the meanwhile, why not investigate how some of the powerful technology available in the library can work for you?



July 18, 2011

Research environment @ warwick – by Faisal

Hi, After spending a year in warwick I would like to highlight the excellent research environment at warwick. As a computer vision researcher I was provided with the latest system by my supervisor. The research lab environment is awesome, I feel like coming there everyday and working on my system. It feels like I am now attached to my work place and system. Everyday you get several emails on research events taking place at warwick, and the good thing is most of them are free and have refereshments.

The library resources are vast, and the homeaccess facility to all the library resources is something tremendous. One can be anywhere in the world and access journals, papers, articles, etc through warwicks access. I have found it extremely useful while I went back to my country. There are several other free events organized in warwick to enhance the abilities of researchers, provide them with useful tools to compete with the best in the business.

The calm, and conducive environment of warwick, research labs, library and efficient and easy access to resources makes it a perfect environment for research. I have no doubts in saying that it is surely one of the top universities in the world.


July 14, 2011

Welcome to the Research Exchange: A PhD Networking Event – by Ruth

I'm shamelessly hijacking the blog for a bit of publicity today. Don't worry though, normal services will resume shortly!

Are you a PhD student at Warwick? Do you have (or can you make) a bit of free time tomorrow (Friday) lunch time? If so, you may as well pop along to seminar rooms at the Wolfson Research Exchange for a couple of hours of socialising, information, and (of course) free food...


event poster

You know you want to...


July 06, 2011

It's all gone quiet! – by Ian

It's all gone very quiet on campus. There are no longer swarms of people desperately trying to get to lectures on time. The pubs and eating outlets are empty. In my daily trip to costcutters I no longer have to wait 10 minutes to be served!

This time of year was very bizarre in the first year of my PhD. Since I did my undergraduate degree here I was used to a busy campus for 4 years. Then quiet.

It certainly has advantages, the shops and banks are empty, parking spaces are available any time of day and there are fewer project students to help (and the Chemistry common room has milk for longer).

However towards the end of the summer, around the start of September, I start to get excited about the start of term. Places on campus will open longer, more new faces about and the department has a whole new load of people to meet. I guess as Kenneth said in his blog, campus can be a lonely place, especially if you were a solitary researcher in the arts.

At least football pitches should be easy to book with the undergrads gone!


July 04, 2011

The good times of a PhD! – by Ian

Much of the time spent as a PhD can be frustrating and filled with angst and worry. Research doesn't seem to progress, the equipment breaks down or the material I use is not pure enough. The daily grind can really get to you quickly. Then there is writing, be it a poster, presentation, report or paper. In your eyes it never seems to flow, or you worry no one will care about it (possibly true)!

celebrate

However this makes the good times in a PhD all the more rewarding: when you pass the internal viva to carry on to the next year, when the presentation is finished or when a paper is accepted in a journal! This week I have a paper coming out in applied physics letters (co-authored by Luke Rochford, David Clare, Paul Sullivan and Tim Jones). I am determined not to let the equipment breaking and research not working get me down just for one week!


June 21, 2011

Dances With Undergrads – by Ruth

I've been at Warwick for a fair few years now. I took my three-year undergraduate degree here, then returned for my master's degree after a year out. I'm now almost a year into my PhD, having begun immediately following the completion of my master's.

As a sociable sort, I've therefore been involved in numerous studenty activities for many years. I joined a number of student union societies back in 2005 and remain fairly involved in two of them to this day. I increasingly get the impression that I'm seen as a venerable elder from days of yore (or perhaps simply an old fogey) by the many undergraduates who populate these groups: an experience that has got me thinking about divisions that occur between postgraduate and undergraduate students.

I remember gazing with something resembling pity at the Postgraduate Society socials in the pub a few years back. Why, I wondered, would someone ever want to join a group with such a vague purpose when there were loads of other societies where you could meet people who actually shared an interest with you? At the same time, I grappled with the issue of postgraduate inclusion whilst volunteering as a member of three societies executives. Why weren't many postgrads interested in joining us?

I now of course realise why postgrad students might be inclined to join groups such as the Postgraduate Society, and disinclined to consider other student societies. We tend to have less free time, more established hobbies, and can find the high-spirited exuberance of many younger students can be somewhat bewildering (if not downright annoying). Meanwhile, the Postgraduate Society offers a relatively safe escape from the isolation that can easily consume the unwary researcher.

However, I don't feel these factors necessarily rule out an involvement in student societies. I don't feel a need to attend every event run by Rocksoc or Warwick Pride, and generally tend to turn up for the more occasional and (usually, but not always) more sedate socials. Moreover, I'm generally more likely to hang out with other students who are a bit older: and if more of us turn up, there's more of us to socialise with one another!

I therefore feel it's possible to address – or otherwise circumvent – issues of time, interest and age if you're so inclined. There is another deeply important factor in the undergrad-postgrad divide though: the fact that as postgraduate students, many of us are also staff.

This can, let's face it, make things strange. I recognised a beardy fellow I know from Rocksoc during an exam I was invigilating yesterday, and ended up having to take him to the toilet halfway through the session. As a postmodern feminist sociologist (what a mouthful!) I tend to think about power relations a fair bit, and this power relation was just plain weird. I'm not (yet) teaching, but can definitely see how PhD types would be inclined to avoid their students in social situations. Talk about potentially awkward.

Still, at the end of the day I suppose it's a matter of how you handle the issue. The desire to socialise with your peers rather than your students strikes me as entirely natural! Nevertheless, there will always be those of us who continue to desire involvement in certain groups. One of my friends regularly attends socials alongside undergraduates she has taught, and no-one ever seems in the slightest bit bothered by this arrangement. I suppose this is partly because everyone is very mature about it, and partly because my friend is comfortable compartmentalising different parts of her life.

I hope I can retain a similar balance, as I don't really want to lose certain parts of my social life any time soon. At the same time, I can't really predict how I'll feel as time moves on. Perhaps with Rocksoc the solution might arise from the society's composition: I'm a lone sociologist in a group full of physicists and engineers, so I should be okay for some time yet!

Dances with Wolves





Hanging out with the occasional undergraduate is totally comparable to this guy's fictional experiences on the 19th century US western frontier.


June 10, 2011

Extensions to PhD registration – by Pete

Follow-up to The PhD limbo period – by Dilip from PhD Life: a blog about the PhD student experience

A timely bit of news, following on from Dilip's post earlier. As of 1st August 2011, all new full-time PhD students will be registered automatically for a period of four years rather than three, and part-timers will be registered for up to seven years.

This does not mean that PhD students are expected (or, indeed, allowed) to take longer to complete. Rather, it's recognising that the vast majority of PhDs run on into a fourth year; even if, as in the cases that Dilip was talking about, this is in order to pass the viva and complete corrections.

What this will do is solve the administrative problems that Dilip raised - no longer will we be shut out of the library after our initial three years passes, or lose access to buildings and have to re-negotiate with University House. Instead, in theory, we should now be able to submit in three years and spend our fourth year doing all the extra bits up to graduation, all without having to go through the administrative hassles of extending access and student registration.

I only wish this had come in in time for me - not having student status after 31st August, when I submit, is going to be a real pain.


May 29, 2011

Honeymoon period! – by Faisal

Follow-up to PhD Fresher – by Faisal from PhD Life: a blog about the PhD student experience

Hey Dilip and Anna, Thanks! I remember this word "honeymoon period", cz every final year PhD student said this to me. All I can say is that I enjoyed my honeymoon. Anna @ 1.5 years hhm, who brought you to reality? I think our system is like Cars, we need sometime to warm up and then we start working fine. Once we are in the research groove, then everything goes on smoothly, rite ! All PhD fresher have honeymoon, and its really sweet for the first year, bt BEWARE of the consequences in the coming year hehe. Coming to reality after 1.5 year is not that bad, some ppl come to reality after 4 years.


May 28, 2011

PhD Fresher – by Faisal

Hey, everybody, this is Faisal, Its my first blog so I donot know blogging etiquettes. Mostly people learn and then implement something, it’s a sensible approach. But there is no harm in trying and learning. Hence, I am starting off with trying to blog and will learn things with time. As an international 1st year PhD student, it was an extraordinary experience to join and study in warwick. The orientation was really nice and people were supportive, initially I felt like I am on vacations for partying. Participating in orientation events was fun, and thereafter exploring how life goes in warwick was also a different experience for me. Everything was going on perfectly as a fairly tale for the 1st few months, but then my supervisor brought me to reality, i.e., Got to work as well.

Frankly, the first few months you are here, it feels like you are in wonderland, i.e., no worries, chilling out with your new friends and enjoying life. I believe life is all about fun and enjoyment but one has to achieve goals and tasks in time otherwise all the fun will vanish. So my short suggestion to all my fellow PhD freshers is enoy the life at warwick and also keep up with your research.



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