The Quadram Institute is home to a vibrant student community. At the heart of our student community is the Quadram Student Forum (QSF). We asked the new committee for 2021-22 about the QSF, joining amidst a pandemic, upcoming events, and what life is like as a PhD student at the Quadram.
First up, for those who haven’t heard of the Quadram Student Forum, can you explain what the QSF is and what it does?
Alp Aydin – QSF Chair
QSF is the Quadram’s student-led committee representing the ~80 students at the Quadram. Broadly, we exist to enhance the experience of Quadram students, both academically and socially. We do this in many ways: with our socials, student seminars, promotion of student outputs, the annual Knowledge Exchange Trip, and more. Even during the pandemic, we continued to host events and seminars (albeit virtually). These activities are crucial for cultivating a connected student body and welcoming new students into the fold. I believe it’s important that students make connections outside their lab groups (across the Quadram Institute and the Norwich Research Park), so QSF strives to facilitate that.
We have a great team that meets regularly to discuss new ideas and execute events. This year, we have yours truly as the Chair, Luke Acton as the Vice-Chair, Gloria Koncz as the Events Officer, Cailean Carter as the Training Officer, Bushra Abu-Helil and Claire Elek as the Engagement Officers, and Wouter Van-Bakel as our Treasurer/Secretary. We have some great plans for 2021-2022. Stay tuned.
You all joined the QSF committee in the middle of a pandemic. What was that like? Were there any challenges, and how did you get past them?
Claire Elek – QSF Co-Engagement Officer
Due to the pandemic, we selected a new committee later than usual into the academic year, and we all knew that it would be challenging. The later selection may have helped new students adjust to being a part of the Institute and allowed everyone to settle in before bombarding them with the new QSF committee and events, however!
The biggest challenge for us as a committee was (and still is) to engage effectively with all students during an extended period of low morale caused by all the restrictions and disruptions we’ve all experienced. The biggest priority initially is to make the newest cohort of students at Quadram feel included. The pandemic has affected their ability to engage with other students outside of their cohort, to mingle and get to know different research groups, and has left little space for socialising within the Institute and outside of it.
To address this issue, we plan to feature all the newest students in the next QSF Quarterly. The feature will allow them to introduce themselves to the rest of the students at Quadram, which cannot be done in person. We also held a student quiz night in March and were thrilled to see new students there! Other events are planned for the future, and we’ll publish these in the QSF Quarterly. We hope to include some socially distanced, in-person events as more restrictions are lifted.
This year has been one of the most challenging years we will ever have experienced. We are super proud of how Quadram’s students have all managed this collectively and individually.
The QSF committee represents the student community at the Institute. Why do you think student representation is important, and what can students expect from the committee?
Cailean Carter – QSF Training Officer
I believe students are respected contributors to the Quadram Institute’s research output. Every student at the Institute has unique experiences, requirements, and identities, and it is important that these are considered in all decision-making affecting students. Having representation means students can voice their concerns and give recommendations for change to bolster their careers. Students can expect the committee to be inclusive and represent the needs of students within the Institute.
What activities and events do you have planned for students this year? How can current, new, and visiting students get involved in these?
Gloria Koncz – QSF Events Officer
We just hosted an online student quiz on Zoom with over 30 participants, which was highly successful. Future activities depend on the lockdown measures in place. If/when safe to do so, we plan to organise outdoor events such as barbeques, picnics and Geocaching. In the latter, groups find well-hidden small objects in the area of Norwich according to a mobile app called Geocaching!
However, even if these are not possible, we are planning other online events. Ideas include online social events where students in random breakout rooms receive sets of questions to answer to get to know each other. This event is an excellent inter-mingling opportunity for those students who might not have a chance to meet otherwise. Other online events might include bingo, virtual murder mystery party and Cards Against Humanity.
All students will receive email invitations in advance for any upcoming events, but we encourage students to join our Discord server for more regular updates. We are always happy to hear students’ thoughts and ideas about events, in-person (when possible) and virtual, so please let us know if you have any great ideas.
Norwich Research Park is home to over 2,500 scientists. What is life like as a PhD student at the Quadram Institute?
Wouter Van-Bakel – QSF Treasurer/Secretary
The Quadram Institute is a great place to do your PhD because it is a research institute surrounded by experts, and you can ask anything. Quadram Institute Bioscience (QIB) offers many training opportunities to all its students, and if you want more, you have further courses available at UEA. Working at the Institute gives you the advantages of a research institute – with a significant focus on science – without teaching responsibilities while also keeping all the University’s available resources.
We work in a new building, which means much of the equipment is modern, and there is a lot of lab space to work. The Institute has a large international community, which means you can learn a lot from other people and their cultures.
Furthermore, the COVID-19 policy has been very good at the Quadram. In addition to measures such as wearing masks and keeping our distance, we also have the option to take weekly asymptomatic tests. It is straightforward to work from home, and this is actively encouraged if you can. You can access all your files via the VPN, and so you don’t have to think about sending your results home.
Thinking back to when you applied for your PhD, why did you choose to study at the Quadram and in Norwich?
Bushra Abu-Helil – QSF Co-Engagement Officer
Norfolk is a poultry farming hub! The Institute’s location allows me to relevantly engage the local community, particularly the farmers, in my research. At the Quadram, we have access to the latest technologies for human microbiome research. It is really exciting for me to apply these techniques to advance poultry health and welfare.
Formerly, the Quadram was known as the Institute of Food Research (IFR), where Dr Ella Barnes OBE pioneered the initial research on the gut of chicks. I am eager to stand on the shoulders of this giant.
For those considering applying to study for a PhD, what would be your number one top tip?
Luke Acton – QSF Vice-Chair
I think there are lots of essential things to consider when applying for a PhD. Potentially the most important is making contact with the group/supervisor before applying. Be Brave! Write to the academic supervisor and explain some of your background, research interests and reasons for participating in the project. Try to understand better the type of research the group does and consider if your interests align with those of the group. Present yourself well and be professional, as the supervisor will begin to assess if you’re a good fit for the project from the very first contact!
Throughout these discussions (and the whole application process!), try to avoid using phrases like: “I’ve always wanted to work in this area” or “I’ve always wanted to do a PhD”, as realistically, claims like these are not usually true. Instead, try to explain why you’ve recently become interested in the field and why the proposed project fits with these interests.
Discover more about Quadram Student Forum (QSF) and find out how you can get involved on their website here.
Follow QuadramSF on Twitter for all the latest updates.