I am Emma, a 3rd year PhD student and an engage and active school rep at Newcastle University. I was grateful to be selected for the PICNIC programme this year.
My visit at Northumbria University lasted for almost two weeks. I chose this University because I wished to get to know more the similarities and differences in the organisation and its impact on student experience. I wanted to have a wider idea of how it is to be a postgraduate (PGR) student at Northumbria and the biggest challenges one may face. Additionally, its close proximity would not cost on my lab work, being a 3rd year PhD student.
The absence of travel time and my fairly relaxed schedule due to Easter holiday allowed for a very productive time at Northumbria University, where I had the opportunity to meet staff and students. More specifically, I met staff from the NSU (Northumbria Students’ Union) such as the Academic Coordinator, the Vice-President Education, the International Students’ Representative and the President of PGR Society. I also met staff across the University, for instance the Head of the Graduate School, the Research Development Manager, the PGR Director for Health and Life Sciences (City Campus) and the Student Engagement Manager (Coach Lane and London Campus). All staff warmly welcomed me and shared their greatest successes and challenges.
I also enjoyed a campus tour from the Advice and Representation Manager of the NSU, whom I thank for the hospitality and the organisation of all meetings, alongside a tour in the sports facilities from a former PGR Representative for Sport, Exercise and Rehabilitation.
While sharing best practice among the two Universities in Newcastle, I realised Northumbria has introduced a PGR representative in the team of Sabbatical officers for the first time elected for the academic year 2018/2019. The importance of such a representative is self-explanatory, considering the failure of undergraduate reps to understand and support the PGRs in their problems and needs. A lot is to be learnt from the experience of such a rep and the impact of such a role in the wider representation of a large part of students at Northumbria.
Engagement of PGRs is another important challenge that both Universities at Newcastle face. The PGR society was set up to tackle exactly this issue. It seems that it has already been successful in encouraging PGRs to take part in activities and socials, make contacts and friends across the University and develop their communication skills during research seminars.
PGR Society Logo (NSU website)
Moreover, I was impressed by the wide variety of PGR spaces in the library. Full of natural light, bright colours and relaxing environment, silent and welcoming; ideal for both writing up and collaborative work.
While exploring the library, I would never imagine that it also manages a centralised development programme for all students. I found this a very good idea for seminars and workshops that are not specific to a school or faculty. What is more, with a higher number of students attending those development activities, I would expect the quality to only go higher up the scale. This was confirmed by the Research Development Manager and the feedback they receive each year, while at the same time she mentioned various plans to expand the programme as well.
Finally, I found out that access to Northumbria University library can be granted to Newcastle University students with their student card; the opposite is true as well.
Northumbria Uni offers some very different programmes of study compared to Newcastle Uni, such as sport and exercise science and nursing. Northumbria University is a much younger University compared to Newcastle University. I was expecting Newcastle to have a much more established organisation in some areas, which was true. However, Northumbria has managed to make a considerable effort to address students’ needs in advance and create a friendly environment for both home and international students. As a University it has quite a lot of best practice to share and its staff make a good effort to apply their greatest ideas into practice to improve student experience.
Sports facilities at Northumbria University
I have certainly gained a better understanding of the organisation of two different, but very close in distance Universities. Both have their own characteristics, with Northumbria also having to deal with two campuses in the same city, the Coach lane and the city campus. I realised how much support they need to give to their coach lane students, so that they don’t feel isolated from the rest of the University and really admired them for taking the right measures (i.e. free transportation) and for placing certain staff there to bridge the gap. I made useful contacts and was able to distinguish between the staff that study towards a PhD (Graduate tutors) and the PGR students that only work at the University to gain experience. Both are considered PhD students, but their needs for support and development are totally different. I now have acquired a good overview of different ways of approaching issues, with more direct contact of Sabbatical officers with the Pro-Vice Chancellor in a slightly different way than in Newcastle University. To sum up, it was a great experience to chat to so many staff members who were also very happy to work in such a University.
PICNIC programme is a great experience especially when there is sufficient time to explore different aspects of the University. The facilities, especially the ones related to sports and research, were of really good standard and able to accommodate the needs of the University. I met very good and engaged staff, pleased with their workplace. I enjoyed a lot of guidance in different matters and certainly a huge amount of help organising meetings form the students’ union staff. I would love to go back at some point and discuss any further improvements especially after our conversations and sharing of good practice.
If you have any questions regarding the PICNIC scheme please feel free to get in touch with Newcastle University’s PICNIC student contact, Emily Kirk, via email (E.firstname.lastname@example.org). Applications for 2018/19 PICNIC exchanges will be opening early next academic year so look out for updates on the PICNIC website (http://www.raise-network.com/picnic/) and via email.