Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

The GW4+ Doctoral Training Partnership (DTP)

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Q: What is a DTP?
A: Doctoral training partnerships (DTPs) provide postgraduate research opportunities within the NERC science remit combined with professional and technical skills and personal development training delivered by a diverse range of partner organisations.

Q: What is the GW4+ partnership?
A: The partnership is an alliance between the Great Western Four Universities (Bath, Bristol, Cardiff, Exeter) and six research organisations (British Antarctic Survey (BAS), British Geological Survey (BGS), Centre for Ecology & Hydrology (CEH), The Met Office, The Natural History Museum (NHM), Plymouth Marine Laboratory (PML)).  Together these institutions have committed to providing high quality research and training for postgraduates.

Q: What is an Associate Partner?
A: Associate Partners are industry, policy and third sector organisations whose work overlaps with research activities within the DTP.  These organisations have expressed an interest in working with the DTP in developing its programme.

Q: How is the DTP governed?
A: Each of the partner institutions is represented on the DTP Management Board who determine programme strategy with additional support from the Research Theme Board with regard to training, the external Advisory Board with regard to industry engagement and the Operations Board with regard to programme implementation.

Q: How is the DTP funded?
A: The majority of the DTP’s funding is provided by the Natural Environment Research Council (NERC) with supporting funding provided by the GW4+ institutions.

Q: Are other studentships affiliated with the DTP?
A: Yes. NERC iCASE students will receive an invitation to the DTP programme and will be invited to events on a pay as you go basis.  Studentships funded from other sources will be offered access to our training courses on a pay as you go basis as and when places become available.

Q: What is the role of the DTP Hub?
A: The DTP Hub manages the overall administration of the DTP programme, co-ordinating between the 10 GW4+ partners to ensure programme implementation.  The Hub oversees recruitment to at least 37 PhD studentships, development of a postgraduate training programme, communications and finances.

Recruitment

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Q: How many studentships are available?
A: The programme aims to recruit a minimum of 37 studentships under two streams, strategic and thematic. The maximum number of students depends on levels of funding available for that year with a maximum in any year of 48.

 Q: What is the difference between a strategic and thematic studentship?
A: Strategic studentships align with the strategic priorities of the institution and are recruited locally whilst thematic studentships are collaborative projects that are recruited in an open competition across the partnership and agreed by the DTP Management Board.  Recruitment to both of these studentships occurs at the same time.  The only difference  between a thematic and strategic studentship is that up to 9 thematic studentships are available to EU students, and thematic projects are likely to have close collaborations between the GW4+ partners (although this may also be the case for strategic).

 Q: What qualifications do I need to apply for a studentship?
A: Applicants should have obtained, or be about to obtain, a First or Upper Second Class UK Honours degree, or the equivalent qualifications gained outside the UK. Applicants with a Lower Second Class degree will be considered if they also have a Master’s degree. Applicants with a minimum Upper Second Class degree and significant relevant non-academic experience are encouraged to apply.

Q:  Are EU national eligible for studentships?
A: Yes. The DTP can offer up to 9 studentships to EU nationals not resident in the UK.

 Q:  Are EEA and Swiss citizens eligible for studentships?
A: This will be dependent on whether you will be eligible for home fee rate status and you should contact the postgraduate administration at the institution to which you would like to apply for advice on your eligibility.

 Q: Are international students eligible for studentships?
A: In order to be eligible for NERC funding, you must be able to prove settled status in the UK as per the Immigration Act 1971. You must also be able to prove that you have a relevant connection to the UK, which requires that you have been ordinarily resident in the UK throughout the 3 year period preceding the date of the award. NERC does not currently fund international students outside of these criteria.  For advice on your eligibility contact the postgraduate administration at the institution where you would like to apply.

 Q: How do I apply for a GW4+ DTP project?
A: Application processes are dealt with by each of the individual partner institutions:

  • University of BathHow to apply for Bath projects
  • University of BristolHow to apply for Bristol projects.  In the programme drop down menu please select the NERC Great Western Four plus Doctoral Training Programme DTP PhD, you can later specify the School of your choice. Please note that you will need to make a separate application for each project.
  • Cardiff UniversityHow to apply for Cardiff projects
  • University of ExeterHow to apply for Exeter projects. On the funding form at the link provided, please: i) select the discipline/department of your lead supervisor and ii) select the title of the Award you are applying for (title will start with “NERC GW4+ DTP PhD studentship”)
  • British Antarctic Survey : How to apply for BAS projects
  • British Geological Survey : How to apply for BGS projects
  • Centre for Ecology & Hydrology : Please apply directly to the main supervisor listed under the project with a CV and cover letter
  • Natural History Museum : On completion of your application, please send via e-mail to postgradoffice@nhm.ac.uk
  • Plymouth Marine Laboratory : How to apply for PML projects

Q: Can I meet/contact my supervisor before applying?
A: Yes. We strongly encourage you do this.

 Q: What are the recruitment deadlines?
A: The project will be advertised on the DTP website from the first Thursday of October and the deadline for applications is the first Friday in January of the following year.  Interviews will be held across the partners starting on the Monday of the second week in February.

Q: What can I expect of the interview process?
A: Interviews can be up to 30 minutes long and students may be asked to present on a research project that they have undertaken followed by questions.  The candidates will be interviewed by an interdisciplinary panel of academics representing the breadth of NERC science at the institutions.

Q: What should I do if my interview dates for GW4+ studentships clash?
A: If your interview dates coincide at partner organisations, please contact the DTP Hub at gw4plus-dtp@bristol.ac.uk to re-schedule the dates.

Q: Can I be interviewed for more than one project?
A: Yes.  If you have applied for several projects in the DTP, you may be interviewed for several of those projects.  If the projects are at the same institution, you will be interviewed once and may be asked to select your preferred project.  If the projects are at different institutions then you will be interviewed at each institution separately and you may receive offers from each institution.

Q: Can I claim back interview expenses?
A: Claims for interview expenses are dealt with locally and are in line with policy at the interviewing organisation.  The interviewing organisation will inform you of the policy if you should be offered an interview.

Q: When will I hear about the decision following interview?
A: Students who have been unsuccessful at interview, will be notified in line with the interviewing organisation’s policies.  For students who have been successful in their application, students who are being offered a strategic studentship can be offered these immediately after interview.  Students who are being offered a thematic studentship will have to wait the results of an open competition between all GW4+ partners in the first week of March and studentships will be offered from this date until mid-March.  The exact dates are updated annually and are posted on the DTP website as soon as they become available.

Q: What happens once I have accepted a studentship?
 A: Once you have accepted a studentship, you will be sent an official funding confirmation letter from the University that you will be registered with.  For those students who will be based at Research Organisations, the organisation will also confirm your successful application.  Students and supervisors will also receive a welcome letter from the DTP outlining the DTP programme for the upcoming academic year.

Q: Can I defer the start date of my PhD?
A: The DTP encourages students to start in September of the academic year to ensure that students attend DTP organised training activities.  However, in certain circumstances, start dates may be deferred to January of the following academic year and incoming students/supervisors should contact the DTP Hub at gw4plus-dtp@bristol.ac.uk to discuss the possibility.

Studentship Finances

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Q: What is my RTSG and training budget?
A: Your RTSG is to be used for research consumables and is a maximum of £11,000 over your 3.5 years. Your training budget is an additional £4,000 over your 3.5 years to be used for training. Student and supervisor are expected to manage these budgets over the duration of the PhD.

Q: What are considered research consumables?
A: Research consumables include lab and field equipment, analysis, conferences, computer hardware (where locally provided hardware is not adequate for research purposes) and software and publication.

Q: What is considered training?
A: The student and supervisor should decide on what is an appropriate training opportunity and it is the responsibility of the student to ensure that they get enough training. If there is agreement that the training is appropriate, then the training budget can be used to cover associated training costs including fees, travel and accommodation for DTP training and training led by external organisations.

Q: How do I manage my budgets?
A: RTSG and training budgets are held at your hosting institution ie. University or Research Organisation and the processes for budget monitoring will be specific to the respective institution. You should contact your local Postgraduate administration who will provide you with details on these processes. Note that we expect student and supervisor to manage their budgets over the duration of their PhDs.

Q: Can I access any more funds to top-up my RTSG?
A: All studentships come with a fixed RTSG rate of £11,000 that does not make any distinction between the nature of the projects. Ultimately it is up to the student and supervisor to manage this budget.

Q: Are there any extra funds for conferences?
A: Conference expenses are to be taken from the RTSG, however, there may be extra funds in the future specifically for conferences which will be communicated to students.

Q: I have a disability. Are there any extra funds available within the DTP to make the necessary adjustments required to carry out my research?
A: Yes. Students who require a disabled student allowance should make a request at the university at which they are registered who will then make a funding application to the DTP.

Q: I will be carrying out my research in London. Will my stipend be adjusted to include a London Weighting allowance?
A: Yes. Where projects will be based at an organisation in London, an additional London allowance of £2,000 is provided for each continuous 12 month period spent within the Metropolitan Police district.

PhD Progression and Supervision

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Q: When do I have to submit my PhD?
A: You are expected to submit your PhD in 4 years following your start date.

Q: Is there extra funding for me to continue to studies beyond 3.5 years?
A: All studentships are 3.5 years long, and no extra funding will be available for students who need funding beyond this period.

Q: Can I suspend or interrupt my studies?
A: The DTP does not encourage the suspension of studies unless for maternity and paternity leave, medical leave or for some workplace secondments. Occasionally, opportunities arise for students that would take the student away from their project for a period of time. If the student has their supervisor’s approval to suspend their studies to allow them to take up the opportunity, then this is permitted. Where suspensions are agreed, total periods of suspension must not normally exceed one calendar year during the lifetime of the award.

Q: How do I suspend or interrupt my studies?
A: The process for the interruption or suspension of studies is dealt via your local postgraduate administration although DTP students should inform the DTP Hub at gw4plus-dtp@bristol.ac.uk if they intend to suspend their studies providing us with their reasons and the date of their suspension.

Q: What is the process for termination of my PhD studentship?
A: Unfortunately PhD study is not for everyone and acknowledge that some students feel that they can no longer continue their studies for a variety of reasons. Termination of studentships are dealt with locally and students should adhere to local (Research Organisation and/or University) policies and procedures. At the same time, students should also inform the DTP Hub by email at gw4plus-dtp@bristol.ac.uk of their intentions.

Q: What is the difference between my main supervisor and my University supervisor?
For students not based at Universities, their main supervisor will be based at their host institution and will be leading the project and should act as the main point of contact for project related discussions. The University supervisor is responsible for overseeing progression monitoring procedures at the University at which the student has registered. Details of these procedures can be obtained from your registered University post-graduate administration.

Q: What is the process for visiting my co-supervisors at different institutions?
A: Students with University co-supervisors will have visiting status set up for them on starting with the DTP. Students with research organisation co-supervisors will need to inform co-supervisors of their dates of their intended period of stay at the institution for the appropriate visitor permissions to be set up.

Q: What are the expectations of co-supervisors on the projects?
Co-supervisors are expected to actively engage in the PhD project and the DTP monitors levels of co-supervision annually through its researcher development report. Where there are concerns of levels of engagement, this will be reported to the DTP Management Board.

Training

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Q: What is the DTP training programme?
A: The DTP Training Programme consists of an Orientation Event, Autumn School and Foundation Researcher Training Courses, Associate Partner Event, Work Placements, Annual Student Congress and a flexible Advanced Researcher Training component.

Q: Will I meet other DTP students?
A: Yes.  You will meet students within your cohort from across the GW4+ DTP partners at the Orientation Event and then again at the Autumn School.  Students from across all cohorts will then have the opportunity to meet one another on the foundation researcher courses that they register for, the annual conference, the Associate Partner event and winter and summer socials.

Q: What parts of the training programme are compulsory?
A: We expect students to engage with the training programme over the duration of their PhD and expect students to attend the Orientation Event and Autumn School in their first year and the annual conference and Associate Partners event in their first, second and third years.  Foundation researcher training courses are not compulsory for all DTP students, however, if you register for the course your attendance is expected.

Q: Why do you have an Orientation event?
A: The Orientation Event is an opportunity for students to gain an understanding of the DTP programme and meet members of their fellow cohort through a number of team building activities focused on interdisciplinarity.

Q: Why do you have an Autumn School?
A: The Autumn School provides students the opportunity to familiarise themselves with the language of other NERC disciplines.  Through a series of computer and field practicals, students will gain a first-hand experience of the theory and practice of these other disciplines.

Q: What is the difference between the Foundation Researcher Training and Advanced Researcher Training?
A: Foundation Researcher Training are DTP organised courses provided for the students on the DTP based on student training needs analyses and guidance from the research theme and external advisory boards.  Advanced Researcher Training are often discipline specific courses offered by external course providers that have been identified by the student and supervisor as an appropriate training opportunity.  For the latter, it is for student and supervisor to organise this training.  The training budget can be used for both foundation and advanced researcher training costs.

Q: Are there course fees for the foundation researcher training?
A: There are no course fees for students who are funded by the DTP.  However, accommodation and transport will not be covered and this can be claimed against your training budget.  Course fees apply to those students who are not funded by the DTP including iCASE students, students from other NERC DTPs and non-NERC students.

Q: How do I register for a course?
A:  The course timetables will be released by the end of July for the upcoming academic year and both students and supervisors will receive this.  Students should discuss the courses with their supervisors and identify those courses that would be most appropriate for them.  For students who have not yet started their studies, this should be done before the DTP Orientation event. Students will be provided with a password with which they can access the DTP online registration system using their University email address.  The online registration system can be accessed via the course webpages on the DTP website add link: http://nercgw4plus.ac.uk/training/foundation-researcher-training/   and students will need to register by the deadlines.  Places are allocated on a first come, first served basis.  Students will be given priority to those courses aimed at their year of study.  For courses aimed at all years, students in their first year of study will get priority.

Q: What equipment do I need for the training?
A: The minimum requirement is a laptop and we would expect students to bring their own.  If this is not possible then the student should contact the DTP Hub.  Any other equipment that might be needed will be made known to the student before the course.

Q: What if I am unable to attend the training?
A: The DTP acknowledges that exceptional personal and/or work commitments may affect an individual’s ability to attend all DTP courses.  If you are unable to attend the training, we expect you to inform the DTP Hub providing reasons for your absence with at least two weeks’ notice.  Non-attendance on compulsory events will be reported to the Management Board, and in the instance of foundation researcher training, may lead to reductions in training budgets corresponding to the course fee rate.

Q: Where will the annual conference be held?
A: The annual conference will be hold on a rotating basis between the GW4+, Oxford and Spitfire (Southampton) DTPs.  The conference was held in Oxford in 2016 and the location for 2017 will be either a GW4+ city or Southampton.

Q: What will be expected of students at the annual conference?
A: This is a compulsory event for all students.  Students in their first year will present research posters and students in other years will be encouraged to give oral presentations.  A number of group activities will also be organised and students will be expected to participate in these.

Q: Why do you have an Associate Partner event?
A: The Associate Partner event provides both researchers and associate partners the opportunity to familiarise themselves with one another’s work and provide a platform upon which future collaborations can develop.

Work Placements

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Q: Are work placements compulsory?
A: No, however, we do strongly encourage students to undertake work placements. For CASE students, who already spend between 3 to 18 months of their PhD in a non-academic environment, work placements should be independent of their PhD research.

Q: How long can a work placement be for?
A: Work placements should be between one to three months with one month’s extra funding to be provided by the DTP to those students who undertake placements.

Q: How do I find out about work placements?
A: The DTP will advertise work placements via email and the GW4+ DTP website as and when they arise. Students are also encouraged to approach organisations they would like to work for and discuss the possibilities there might be for a placement. These contacts can be made through proactive networking or using existing contacts you or your laboratory might have.

Q: Who can I do my work placement with?
A: We do not have restrictions on who you can do your placement with and opportunities can be either national or international. What we expect, however, is that the hosting organisation goes through the appropriate approval processes for the placement ie. via the job description form.

Q: What is the process for securing a work placement?
A: For those placements that are advertised by the DTP, the application process will be made clear at the time of advertising and placements will likely be filled on a competitive basis. For those placements that have been found by students, the hosting organisation will need to submit a job description to the DTP using our job description form for approval by the Research Theme board. Once the job description has been approved, dates for the placement should be confirmed to the DTP and placement agreements will be issued.

Q: Am I paid during my work placement?
A: Yes. If salary costs cannot be covered by the organisation, students will receive an extra month’s stipend to undertake their placement. For placements that are longer than one month, no extra funding will be provided and the student will continue to receive their stipend for the remaining duration of their placement. For placements where salary costs are covered, students must be paid in line with the respective national employment legislation. If one is funded by a different scheme then it is up to your supervisor to decide whether the secondment is worthwhile.

Q: Can I use my training budget for work placements?
A: Yes. The training budget can be used to cover all of the costs of a work placement excluding salary and daily living costs ie. travel and subsistence. However we would encourage the hosting organisation to provide this financial support in the first instance.

Q: Can I suspend/interrupt my studies during a work placement?
A: If you will be receiving your stipend from the DTP during your work placement then you will not be able to suspend/interrupt your studies and you will need to submit within 4 years. If however you are being funded by the hosting organisation or an independent source then you should suspend/interrupt your studies and extend your submission deadline date.

Q: What is expected of the student during the work placement?
A: Students are expected to work as any other employee of the hosting organisation and as set out within the job description form. Students will be expected to maintain contact with their main supervisor during this period and contact can be kept through email, Skype, telephone or in person. Students are expected not to undertake their PhD research activities during working hours. The DTP will not expect students to attend training courses that run at the same time as their placement.

Q: Can I do my research while doing my placement?
A: No. The work placement is supposed to broad your professional horizons and you will be working as temporary member of staff at the hosting organisation and thus working for them.

Q: Can I do more than one placement?
A: Yes but students must have the support of your supervisor to do this. No extra funding will be provided by the DTP for extra placements and students will still be expected to submit their PhDs within 4 years (except in those instances where students suspend/interrupt their studies for the placement).

Q: Can I terminate my placement early?
A: Our expectation is that students would complete the full duration of their placement. However we understand that situations may arise and personal circumstances may change. Before terminating any placement early, students must contact the DTP Hub outlining the reasons for why they would like to terminate the placement.

Research Experience Placements (REP)

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Q: What is a Research Experience Placement?
A: The NERC GW4+ Research Experience Placement (REP) scheme is aimed at addressing the shortage of individuals with quantitative skills coming into earth and environmental science. We offer paid summer placements of between 8-10 weeks across the GW4+ partners for undergraduate students in quantitative disciplines to engage in active research projects in the NERC area.

Q: Am I eligible for a REP?
Students should be:

  • Studying for a degree in a quantitative discipline (e.g. mathematics, statistics, computing, engineering, physics)
  • Undertaking the placement in a different academic department to their undergraduate degree either within their own institution or another institution
  • In the middle of their first degree studies (or Integrated Masters)
  • Expected to obtain a first or upper second class UK honours degree
  • Eligible for subsequent NERC PhD funding (UK, EU or right to remain in the UK)

Q: How do I apply for a REP?
Students should apply to the DTP Hub gw4plus-dtp@bristol.ac.uk submitting a REP Student Eligibility form, CV (no more than 2 pages) plus two references, transcripts and a brief covering letter (1 page). The deadline for applications is usually beginning of May.

Q: What is expected of me during my REP?
Students should:

  • Commit to the complete term of the project
  • Engage fully with the research project and maintain contact with supervisor
  • Complete a survey on the REP experience following the placement
  • Provide timely communication to the DTP Hub regarding the REP experience
  • Input into the final REP report to be submitted to the DTP Hub

 Data Protection

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Q: Is my information shared across the partnership?
A: Yes. The University of Bristol may need to make disclosures of your personal data through your time on the programme to ensure the effective management of your studies and comply with its obligations to funders. Your personal data will always be processed in accordance with the Data Protection Act 1998.

Q: Who should I contact with regard to accessing personal data?
A: If you wish to have access to any of your personal data as held by the University please email data-protection@bristol.ac.uk. There may be a fee of £10 associated with requests.

Q: What should I do if I do not want my information shared?
A: Contact the DTP Hub in the first instance.

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