PhD Student Abbie Cairns  recently participated at the GuildHE Research Doctoral Festival.  Here the artist-teacher reflects on her experience of the event. 

The GuildHE Research Doctoral Festival, held at Corsham Court, Bath Spa University on 24-25 April 2023, was an amazing event for doctoral researchers.

The festival brought together researchers from various fields and universities to explore and discuss issues related to research culture, integrity, ethics, personal development, engagement, participation, and impact – all in the beautiful grounds of Corsham Court. It was the perfect venue for networking with other PGRS (as well as the many peacocks that surrounded us and provided a unique soundscape for the event!).

The festival was opened with a welcome speech from Professor John Strachan, Director of GuildHE Research and Pro Vice-Chancellor for Research and Enterprise at Bath Spa University. The keynote speech by Dr Ben Bleasdale, Project Director at the Campaign for Science and Engineering, discussed the findings from their Discovery Decade work, which was a landmark study of public opinions on R&D and its role in society.

The festival also included researcher roundtables, where participants had the opportunity to discuss their research with their peers and identify common opportunities and challenges. As GuildHE’s Peer Support Community facilitator this was a personal highlight as we were able to share our research, but also any stumbling blocks we’ve experienced, and ask each other questions too. 


I had the pleasure of facilitating an arts-based workshop for attendees, where participants used collage to explore their perspectives on personal development, wellbeing, and resilience. I was so pleased to see attendees embracing the activity and after an hour of cutting and sticking, we had an art gallery worth of collages, each telling a story. 

The schedule was jam-packed and there were also sessions from the Wellcome Collections on working with collections and from the Knowledge Exchange Unit of the Parliamentary Office for Science and Technology (POST) about working with Parliament, which were informative and engaging. We were invited to pen and share an introduction to ourselves and research areas which could then be shared with the Commons Library or POST – a great opportunity for anyone interested in policy change. 

I was excited to chair a session on day two of the doctoral festival, “So You’re Working Towards A Ph.D.? What Have Others Experienced? And What Happens Next?” The session featured a discussion among Dr. Verity Postlethwaite, current PhD student Joanna Mccallum (via Australia), and Faith Kirigha, current PhD student and GuildHE Peer Researcher, all of whom shared their experiences as early-stage researchers. This discussion was hopefully helpful for Ph.D. students, who often feel isolated and uncertain about what to expect during their studies and beyond.

Hearing from others who have been through the same process can provide valuable insights, tips (make sure you check out the blog written by Verity!), and inspiration. Overall, this session aimed to provide an opportunity for Ph.D. students to connect with others, learn from their experiences, and gain a sense of support and community.

Overall, the GuildHE Research Doctoral Festival was a fantastic opportunity for researchers to learn, engage, and network with their peers from various fields. The festival provided a platform for researchers to discuss and explore issues related to research culture, ethics, personal development, engagement, participation, and impact. It was truly an amazing event that will be remembered by all who attended.

As I come to the end of this blog, I wanted to express my sincerest gratitude and appreciation for the incredible event put together by GuildHE and Bath Spa. The festival was truly amazing, and I feel incredibly fortunate to have had the opportunity to attend.

The range and quality of sessions were exceptional, and I was particularly impressed by the thought-provoking presentations, insightful discussions, and engaging workshops that were offered. The sessions covering topics such as researcher culture, ethics, and impact were especially informative and relevant to my research interests.

In addition to the excellent content, I also appreciated the warm and welcoming atmosphere, the chance to connect with other researchers and hear about their experiences was invaluable, and I left the festival feeling energized and inspired.

Join our PhD Peer Support Community

This blog post is a call to action, a call to you to come to the next GuildHE Peer Session to experience these benefits of peer learning. After all, we can achieve more together than we can alone.