The University of Bristol is a unique environment for postgraduate training.
Interdisciplinarity is at the heart of BCFN and we benefit from the involvement of academic staff from departments across the university. The field of Functional Nanomaterials crosses the traditional disciplines of Chemistry, Physics and Engineering and includes wider research areas such as Biology, Biochemistry and Oral & Dental Science. All our research projects have supervisors from at least two departments to ensure they are truly interdisciplinary.
Both PhD and MSc students complete three complementary types of research projects:
- Two Thematic Exploratory Training Assignments
- An Extended Project (EP)
The first year of practical work provides experience of different fields of research and allows exploration before settling on a specific PhD project. The THETAs are designed to develop research skills and gain confidence, before choosing an extended project and final PhD topic. A key component of the BCFN research landscape is that students are able to freely choose their projects from a wide portfolio of proposals, and in 2016/17 students had over 20 THETA projects to choose from.
Thematic Exploratory Training Assignments (THETAs)
Two Thematic Exploratory Training Assignments (THETAs) are undertaken in the first year (and MSc) programme, one from October to December and the second from January to March. Alongside the research objectives, these projects have an explicit focus on training, and various techniques and procedures are highlighted to develop important skills and expertise. Projects are carried out in pairs or threes and from across the PhD and MSc programmes. We encourage students to choose projects that demand technical expertise beyond their prior experience, and the multidisciplinary nature prepares members of the BCFN cohort for the complexities of working in a research group.
The Extended Project (EP) is a six-month research project from April to September of the first year. It is an individual research project which is undertaken almost full-time, as timetabled activities decrease from April onwards.
For PhD students, each EP has the potential to become a PhD project – this decision is made by discussing the options with the supervisors and BCFN team during July/August.
We encourage our students to consider forming their own EP project proposals, based on their interests, and drawing on their THETA experience. In these cases they also have to assemble the supervisory team, which whilst challenging, has also been very successful and lead to increased “ownership” of the projects by the students.
In August students and their supervisors decide whether to continue the Extended Project as a PhD. Students have the option of starting a different PhD project from October onwards and are given a choice of projects during the summer. The 4-year programme allows for this flexibility and students still have three years to complete their PhD project.