by Anna Stewart
, posted on 28 Aug '20

Queen's University Belfast Share Details of Their Award-Winning Postgraduate Initiative

We had a brand new category for our Postgrad Awards with year - Best PG Student Experience Initiative. We're happy to share that our first winners of this award are The Graduate School at Queen's University Belfast. In this blog they share details of their award-winning initiative, the results and advice to other universities.

Watch Kara Bailie's interview here or read the full blog below.

"Our award-winning initiative is our innovative new virtual programme. After transitioning to remote working due to the Covid-19 pandemic, we moved all of our materials online and adapted our teaching and training styles to deliver interactive, experiential learning remotely. We also transitioned our student-facing services to virtual interactions, including our Virtual Reception and Postgraduate Funding. Here are our virtual programmes for April – June and June – August.

What we set out to achieve

The programme was aimed at all postgraduate students at Queen’s, both taught and research. Due to the pandemic, many of our students found themselves in extremely stressful situations as their progression, funding, exams and assessments became a major worry. We wanted to ensure that the postgraduate community could stay connected for the foreseeable future, while also continuing to progress and develop both personally and professionally through our training programmes.

Overcoming challenges

Our initial challenge at the start of lockdown was the impact that it had on everyone's wellbeing. We experimented with different ways to engage students and build community online; and by offering our community and wellbeing events virtually, we saw our postgraduate community sharing experiences and supporting each other through an extremely difficult time. Keeping in touch with students via our Weekly Update newsletter and social media, we aimed to find out what our postgraduates needed most and then began to gradually digitise each programme accordingly.

Our greatest reward is hearing the overwhelmingly positive student feedback! Many students were apprehensive initially about meeting and doing training virtually, but were surprised by how interactive it was, and how well they were able to bond through online platforms.

Student engagement

Since we launched our virtual programme, we have had more than 100 postgraduate students complete leadership and entrepreneurial programmes and offered over 50 skills and employability workshops to over 1,000 postgraduate students. We joined with our Students’ Union to launch a student-supervisor toolkit, and held a celebration of our postgraduate research students. We have held 63 wellbeing events, drank hundreds of cups of coffee and bonded over team quiz nights and a night at the races!

Our website has also received up to 15 times more visits than it did before lockdown, which gives us a really positive indication of how much our postgraduate community has become connected online, and how quickly.

My advice would be to trust your team, listen to your students, and communicate more than you think you should!

Unexpected results

The award has given our team recognition for our commitment to ensuring an outstanding experience for postgraduates, and the agility of our staff and students in finding ways to remain connected during a global pandemic. We are delighted to have won the award, and feel particularly honoured to have been nominated by our Students’ Union Postgraduate Officer, Gift Sotonye-Frank. We see the award as proof that working collaboratively with our students always produces the best results. We would encourage anyone considering a nomination for next year to use partnerships to highlight excellence."

You can look at our other Postgrad Awards winners here. If you'd like to ensure you hear about next year's awards, please get in touch with us at [email protected].

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