The vibrant student community at the Quadram Institute

29th July 2022

We find out about the current Quadram Student Forum members and what PhD life is like at the Quadram Institute

A group of seven young people smiling. A couple of people have thumbs up.

The Quadram Institute is home to a vibrant and supportive community of students that include undergraduates, masters and PhD students. Students work on unique projects that push the boundaries of knowledge in health, microbiology, and nutrition. Within the student community, the Quadram Student Forum (QSF) are a volunteer team that aim to improve student life and act as a collective voice for the student body. Here we find out about the current QSF members and what PhD life is like at the Quadram Institute.

“We are a small team of student volunteers who aim to improve the overall student experience and maintain a thriving student community at the Quadram Institute”, explains the Chair of the Quadram Student Forum Cailean Carter

“We offer social events, training on soft skills, wellbeing support, signposting for support services, and inform students of training and funding opportunities. Most importantly, we represent students’ needs and voices by raising issues with senior management, the Graduate School Office, and any relevant bodies at the Norwich Research Park.”

Ho Yu Liu, the Vice Chair of the Committee continues, “Part of my role includes being the QIB representative for the Graduate School Executive meetings. This gives us the opportunity to relay student opinions to senior staff members that manage student affairs. This aspect is very awarding as I get to actively contribute to discussions about the improvement of student experiences. I assist the Chair and stand in when needed too.  I find the diversity of the role super fun and flexible”.

Starting a PhD

“Being a first year PhD student is a roller coaster of feelings. It’s exciting but also scary at the same time!”, reflects Ho Yu.

“Since starting my PhD, I’ve struggled with Imposter Syndrome. It was daunting moving to new city to work with amazing scientists and I have, at times, felt a bit overwhelmed. It was difficult trying to understand and balance what was expected of me as a PhD student compared to what I expected of myself – this is something that I’m still working on.

“Knowing that there are people who are going through the same thing has helped. They are always there to reassure me”.

Ho Yu Liu continues “My advice is to make sure you communicate honestly with your supervisor and supervisory team and manage what is expected of you accordingly Healthy relationships are built on communication so reach out for help and ask for reassurance if you are struggling with something, whether that be with science or just in general. Being clear about expectations and agreeing on achievable goals between students and supervisors are key to thriving as a student.

Manasik Ali, Training Officer on the Committee shares her experience and tips for starting a PhD, “The Quadram Institute is like one big family.”

“A PhD at the Quadram Institute presents the unique opportunity to study in an interdisciplinary environment, where we explore human health and microbes. This innovative research requires proper support and help from your group members.

Manasik continues, “First year can be one of the toughest years for students. Before you start your PhD, I recommend getting in touch with your supervisor and lab group as you are going to work with them as a team. When you start, it’s good to get to know other PhD students too as they can help with a lot of early questions.”

Why study at the Quadram Institute?

There are many reasons to choose the Quadram Institute as your place of study, including the range of cutting-edge facilities and close ties with the Norfolk and Norwich University Hospital.

“I personally chose to study at the Quadram Institute because I was attracted to study in an institute with a strong research emphasis on the gut microbiome, human health and disease, which has been my interest since doing my undergraduate degree”, says  Admin and Finance Officer of the committee Cat Purse.

“My project is age-related changes to the gut microbiome, their impact on immunity and the gut-brain axis.

Recently, I did a three-month CASE placement with the Histology department at the UK Health Security Agency, where I improved my lab techniques, got a broader perspective on my project and plenty of colourful images to include in my thesis!”.

The work/life balance in a PhD

“As a PhD student, you can end up having long days, but it’s important to take a break”, says Rik Haagmans, the QSF events officer. 

“There’s a whole world outside of your PhD project. Spending some time on a hobby, exercise, or just hanging out with friends are good ways to relax. When you do return to work, you might get a new idea, or remember to investigate that interesting topic that you’d forgotten about.

To help keep a good work-life balance, the QSF organise some great activities.

As the events officer, it’s my task to organise socials where students can meet, relax, and just have fun. The socials are a good way to meet other students, help build a support network and is good for professional development.

Norwich is a lovely city with many things to do. It’s fulfilling to organise an activity and see that everyone is enjoying themselves. We’re planning to go roller skating, canoeing, and pottery painting, just to name a few.”

Mental Health Support

“Doing a PhD is not easy at all, and thankfully we’re starting to pay attention to mental health in postgraduate researchers”, explains Jade Davies who has the new role of Welfare Officer on the QSF committee.

“Did you know that graduate students are more than six times as likely to experience depression and anxiety compared to the general population? This highlights the importance of prioritising and talking about mental health.

I circulate welfare-related events and organise welfare-related training including an Imposter Syndrome workshop.

As UEA students, we have access to a wide range of resources through UEA Student Services, including regular wellbeing workshops that cover topics such as managing emotions, mindfulness, Imposter Syndrome, and Cognitive Behavioural Therapy approaches to deal with unhelpful thinking. The Graduate Studies Office is also able to help signpost students to correct department within the UEA support services.

Seeking support from your supervisors, other members of your research group and your fellow students can help maintain mental wellbeing during your PhD journey.

Physical wellbeing like eating nourishing food, exercise, and good sleep benefit mental health too.

A PhD is a rollercoaster and sharing the highs and lows with your support network will help. It is really important to reach out to people if you’re struggling – chances are your friends and colleagues will have had similar experiences and you don’t have to struggle alone.”

How the student community stay connected

The community of scientists at the Quadram work as a team to tackle different goals and solve problems. Communication between students, Postdoctoral Researchers, Group Leaders and technicians is important for learning – collaboration is key to success.

“We’re all connected online and there’s so much information to take in – it can be really daunting. We aim to make information more friendly to students by making fun and safe spaces online for our community”, says Engagement Officer Gabriel Astorga.

“There are multiple ways all the scientists at the Quadram are updated on each other’s projects and progress. The Quadram host virtual “Coffee Break” science seminars, where students and scientists can present their work. Another way students can chat and share information are through QSF online social media outlets.

We currently have multiple active social media channels- our QSF twitter, our student Discord and new Facebook group. If you see a fun science meme on our twitter, you now know who made it!

I’m excited to connect with new people, create networks and generate new ideas as part of the Quadram Student Forum. Let’s get connected!”