Bristol Mentors: celebrating a successful first year

By Professor Judith Squires, Deputy Vice-Chancellor and Provost

On Friday 7 June I attended the Bristol Mentors end-of-year thank-you event at Colston Hall to celebrate the achievements and work of our mentors and mentees on the scheme. It seems like no time at all since the programme launched in the Richmond Building back in October 2018, but between now and then a significant amount of time and energy has been invested in the scheme.

Some headline stats for the work that has been undertaken are:

  • Over 100 applications were submitted for the pilot scheme, and 56 student mentees accepted onto the cohort.
  • Over 300 hours of time have been given up by mentors this year.
  • The majority of the cohort has been able to arrange invaluable shadowing, work experience and networking opportunities, helping to equip them with the knowledge and skills they need to succeed in the future.

For those of you who are not aware, the Bristol Mentors programme emerged partly from the desire of alumni to give back, and partly because students wanted to learn from graduates who had been there before them. The programme is funded via the University’s Access Agreement and works alongside the Widening Participation and Student Inclusion Team to ensure that students who need support hear about Bristol Mentors. All of our student mentees are from under-represented groups and many have already overcome a level of disadvantage to earn a place to study here.

Law student Tien Tonnu with her mentor Sam Rose

Bristol Mentors has quickly become a crucial new addition to the range of activities that we at the University of Bristol offer to help all students become more employable, with mentors also enabling students to broaden their professional networks. A testament to this is Tien Tonnu, pictured here with her mentor, Sam Rose (Mentor of the Year winner), who gained a spot on a very competitive vacation scheme at a Magic Circle law firm. Tien credits her success in winning a place to the support she received from Sam over the year.

The scheme is a great example of us working as a community – bringing our students and alumni together for mutual benefit. It is also a good example of cross-department collaboration between the Careers team and Development and Alumni Relations. The support of alumni and their voice is hugely important to the University, and this project demonstrates the value of alumni to current students, who describe the scheme in very positive terms:

  • “A fantastic practical insight”;
  • “The provision has been second to none”;
  • “I’m feeling excited and a lot less scared about my future”;
  • “Taking part [in Bristol Mentors] has been key to my success”;
  • “I’ve been truly inspired”.

We sincerely hope that some of these students, too, will become Bristol Mentors in the future. After this year’s successful pilot with 56 mentees, we are currently recruiting mentors for the 100 students enrolled in the programme for next year. If you know of any alumni who would like to become mentors, please contact alumni-mentoring@bristol.ac.uk or click on the Bristol Mentors link for further information.

Finally, none of this would have been possible without the hard work of the students taking part in this programme or the involvement of the alumni, so thank you to everyone involved, with a special thanks to the evening’s organisers: Doug Middling, Alumni Engagement Officer (Widening Participation) and Robbie Fox, Alumni Mentoring Coordinator (Careers).

Research without Borders 2019

I have written before about how the extraordinary research taking place at our University seeks creative, unexpected solutions to global challenges that affect us all in our ordinary lives. This is a testament to the rich, interdisciplinary research culture we foster here at Bristol, and our drive to push the boundaries of knowledge through mutual discovery, collaboration and connections.

The University’s Research without Borders festival celebrates those members of the community who are the engines behind these collaborations and innovations: our postgraduate researchers. Often positioned out of sight from the public, they are the ones turning up each day to drive experiments, conversations and studies forward.

Research without Borders 2019 brings together postgraduate researchers from across disciplines to showcase some of the latest research that is taking place here at Bristol, and to celebrate the vital role our research students play in developing our renowned research profile.

And, perhaps more significantly, the festival aims to put this research into conversation with the wider community around us, and to create a space for connecting with our emerging generation of future researchers.

I warmly encourage anyone with an interest in asking questions, embracing surprises, and thinking creatively to attend this year’s Research without Borders events. The line-up is a fantastic multidisciplinary exploration of some of our key areas of research:

8th May: Chaired by the Cabot Institute, Bristol’s One City Plan: an interdisciplinary dialogue on a sustainable future city promises to be a lively discussion of the ambitious plan to make Bristol fair, healthy and sustainable by 2050.

9th May: Measurable humans: how good does our digital health look? held in collaboration with the Elizabeth Blackwell Institute and our newly-funded EPSRC Digital Health and Care Centre for Doctoral Training, will be an interdisciplinary exploration of innovations and challenges in the digital health sector.

15th May: Showcase Exhibition at Colston Hall, where over 50 interactive, hands-on displays featuring the work of our postgraduate researchers will take over this iconic Bristol building. The showcase event is always a highlight of the University’s calendar, with something of interest for everyone. This year, we are exploring new ways of communicating research, and have commissioned an artwork with acclaimed artist Zoe Cameron produced in collaboration with some of our students to feature as a centrepiece to reflect on what ‘research without borders’ means.

It is important to remember that the problems our academics, students and peers work on in all universities are issues that are not confined by borders – geographical, disciplinary or otherwise. Today’s complex issues affect us all in one way or another. Research without Borders is a festival which celebrates what happens when we work across borders: whether it is our researchers working across disciplines, or our academic community reaching out across to our city’s community.

I look forward to seeing many of you in attendance at this year’s events, and to hearing your own contributions and insights to the research on offer.

Record £50 million funding boost will train our next generation of researchers

I have written before on what a fantastic environment Bristol provides for research, innovation and enterprise.

But at the beginning of this week we received news from a major funder that both confirms this and allows us all to celebrate and affirm our research culture.

The Engineering and Physical Science Research Council (EPSRC) has announced the outcome of the 2018 funding round for Centres for Doctoral Training (CDTs)

The excellent news for us here at Bristol is that we have been awarded funding to lead a record nine of these Centres.

This is the largest number for any University in the UK and makes up 12 per cent of the nation’s total EPSRC CDT investment – providing around £50m of support to train our future researchers.

Our CDTs span robotics, data science, quantum engineering, digital health, composite materials, chemical synthesis, cyber security, aerosol science and statistics.

This is an enormous achievement and I am delighted with the confidence and support we have received from key industrial partners to equip our researchers with the skills they need to meet the industry needs.

This sector-leading success speaks to the excellence of our research of course, but also to the expertise and quality of our postgraduate research environment, built up over many years and many funding sources, to create and support these cohort-led centres.

The work of our Research and Enterprise Development team in leading this major funding bid has been vital and of the highest quality.

The Bristol Doctoral College (BDC) has also been key and will play a huge part in supporting the Centres as they set up and progress.

I am incredibly proud of this success and look forward to sharing the contributions from our CDT Research Teams in the coming months.

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