Professor Jeremy Niven, Dean of the Doctoral School – Reflections

Jeremy Niven is the Dean of the Doctoral School and a Professor in the School of Life Sciences. He’s worked at Sussex for more than 10 years and was previously the Director of Doctoral Studies for the School of Life Sciences. He has led projects funded by the Office for Students on post-graduate researcher mental health and wellbeing, and projects funded by Research England on research culture within Sussex.

Hello and welcome to this issue of Doctoral Connections. I am the Dean of the Doctoral School, a role that I was appointed to approximately 16 months ago, though it certainly doesn’t seem that long to me! In starting to write this piece for Doctoral Connections, I realise that it is definitely overdue and I hope that these pieces will be more regular in the future. 

I thought it might be useful to share some reflections on postgraduate research. I believe that as postgraduate researchers – or PGRs – you are a vital and distinct part of the Sussex community. I recognise the heterogeneity of PGR experiences both before coming to Sussex and whilst here. We are fortunate to have a rich and diverse community of PGRs at Sussex, though we need to recognise that some groups are still unrepresented, something that the Doctoral School along with other parts of Sussex is actively working on. 

As PGRs at Sussex you generate an enormous amount of new research and knowledge, introducing new ideas to your supervisors, research groups and to our community. The production of new knowledge, which is integral to the PhD, requires considerable creativity irrespective of the particular discipline. I’ve worked with many PGRs in my career. Each one has brought their unique perspectives to their work, and I’ve learned an enormous amount of from each of them. Not just what they have found during their studies, though that has been considerable, but also about them, about myself and our relationship. In my view, it’s important to recognise the whole of what you as PGRs add to our community, not just the final thesis. 

My work as Dean is dependent on a fantastic team within the Doctoral School as well as key colleagues in Student Experience. We form part of a network of people across the campus who are concerned with supporting PGRs including some roles you might be more familiar with such as the Directors of Doctoral Studies and Research & Enterprise Coordinators. One of my colleagues, Susanna Broom, the new Head of the Doctoral School, introduced herself in a previous issue of Doctoral Connections. I hope that other members of this network of PGR support will introduce themselves and the work that they do to you in future issues. 

Susanna and I are working together to produce a new vision and strategy for the Doctoral School. This is an exciting time within the Doctoral School and an opportunity to shape it for the future. So, it is really important that that Doctoral School hears your views. I would like to invite you all to take part in a series of ‘vision & strategy’ workshops during March. Susanna and I will both be there. If you’re interested, there are further details in this issue of Doctoral Connections. 

I’ve met some of you at recent events held by the Doctoral School including, for those who have joined Sussex recently, your induction to postgraduate research at Sussex but also at last year’s Festival of Doctoral Research at which I particularly enjoyed the 3-minute thesis presentations. I hope to meet many more of you at this year’s Festival of Doctoral Research in early June, which is always such a great opportunity to appreciate the enormous breadth and creativity of the research that you’re undertaking at Sussex. 

In closing, I recognise that these pieces are a one-sided flow of thoughts and reflections, not a two-way conversation. I hope to be able to have more conversations with more of you in the near future.