Monday, August 9, 2021

The PhD: Five Top Tips for Upgrade Success

by Ellie King, PhD Life:

All PhD students have to do an upgrade review. Read below for blogger Ellie’s top tips for your upgrade success.

Apart from your thesis, your upgrade report is one of the most important pieces of work you’ll need to do for your PhD. At Warwick, in your first year you’re registered as a Research Masters student, and it’s only after your upgrade that you’ll be upgraded to a full PhD student status. But, there’s nothing to worry about with this piece of work and its accompanying review meeting. Here are my top 5 tips for upgrade success.

Know what your reviewers want

Your upgrade involves a written report, varying between 4000 and 10,000 words depending on your department, plus an hour or so long meeting with two reviewers (usually two related academics within your department). These reports and meetings can vary massively between departments and even between individual reviewers, so it’s important to know exactly what is required of you. For your report, follow your department’s guidance – they usually have information on their website or even hold an information session for you.

For the review part, you’ll find out who your reviewers are prior to the meeting. These meetings can vary wildly – my meeting was quite a rigorous viva-style defence of my work, but my fellow course mate had to prepare a 15-minute presentation of their work. So, once you know who your reviewers are, send them an email introducing yourself and asking if you need to prepare anything specific. Knowing what to expect will make your upgrade a lot easier to prepare for.

You’re not meant to know everything

Your upgrade usually takes place around one year (or part-time equivalent) since you started your work. Rest assured, you are not expected to know everything by this time. The upgrade is not a viva (although in my personal experience it really felt like one). You’re not meant to know all the answers at the point, but you are meant to be asking the right questions. This is the ideal place to be at the one year mark – an idea of the literature of your subject, a good set of questions you want to ask, and an idea about how you’re going to answer them.

Nobody wants you to fail

In preparation for your upgrade, you’ll have heard the various outcomes available: a pass, a resubmission, a recommendation to complete the research at an MRes level, or a withdrawal. This sounds incredibly scary, but in reality the outcomes are very flexible and are designed to ensure the right course is taken for you. It is highly unlikely that you will be asked to withdraw, and it is very rare to hear students at Warwick ‘failing’ their upgrade. It’s even more important to remember that NOBODY WANTS YOU TO FAIL. The upgrade review is not there to catch you out and show up your inabilities, it’s there to ensure you have everything you need – the guidance, the skills, the support – to complete your research. If things aren’t quite in place, the upgrade is an opportunity to review and revise your plans to ensure you’re most likely to succeed. It’s not a bad thing either if you’re asked to resubmit – I did and it really helped me clarify what I was doing.

Use it as an opportunity

Following on from this, it’s important not the see the upgrade as a test, but rather as an opportunity. Your first year is often filled with lots of different readings, ideas, and plans, and so writing the report is a good chance to sit down and take stock of everything you know and where you’re up to. It helps you get your ducks in a row for when research really ramps up during second year. It’s also a great chance to have other people look at your work and give you their thoughts. Your reviewers will be subject experts in a related field and will have lots of experience and advice. Use this opportunity to tap into that: ask them about potential ideas you have, what they think the best approach for a bit of research is, or if they can recommend any papers you may have missed. The review meeting feels like it should be the reviewers asking you questions, but you can turn this around. Ask them questions too – it’s a rare opportunity to have two (often senior) academics really focus on your work and give it attention. Use that time wisely.

Look Smart, Think Smart

This may sound very daft, but my last piece of advice is about how you present yourself. This mantra of ‘look smart think smart’ helped me through many years of exams – I felt that if I wore something smart I would take the day more seriously and it really helped me concentrate. I’m not saying you have to do the same, because the most important thing is for you to feel comfortable in yourself. But, this is probably the most formal situation of your PhD, apart from your final viva, and you should really treat it as such. Presenting yourself well and showing that you care about the event is important, it shows your examiners that you care about your work too. It may also give you confidence to talk about your work with gravitas, and that’s important too.

So, those are my top tips for upgrade success. Do you have any others you’ve found are helpful? Tweet us at @ResearchEx, email us at, or leave a comment below.

by Ellie

Ellie King is a Second Year PhD student in Warwick Manufacturing Group. She has been at Warwick since 2014 in the History department, and has recently moved faculties to research applying user experience to the museum sector. Ellie is partnered with the Oxford University Museum of Natural History. You can connect with her on LinkedIn here, or follow her on Twitter @ellietheking

Thursday, August 5, 2021

The late stage (or lock down) loopy la-las

by Thesis Whisperer:

Image: DIYGenius

There's a period of PhD study that I have come to call 'the loopy la-las': when you become highly capable of doing PhD work, but start to become incompetent at, well - almost everything else.

I remember the day it started to happen to me.

It was 2008 and I was deep in a Foucault book, when a call came through from our lovely research administrator (thanks Jane!). Apparently I had missed some fields on my conference funding application, specifically my name. Could I please check my email and get back to her so she could process the form?

I duly logged on and downloaded the form. Then I just stared at the form for the  longest time, trying to understand what it wanted from me.

I thought about the structure of the form and how it forced me to put in two names. This made me think about the processes of colonalism, where surnames were randomly given to people so they would conform with the English way of naming things. I thought about the patriarchy and how my name reflected my father and my husband, more than my mother or myself. Then I started wondering what  'name' meant anyway.

This was getting ridiculous! I shook my head and wrote my name. I then looked at my name for a further 3 minutes, wondering if it was spelled correctly. I couldn't work out if it was ok, so I just saved the form and replied to Jane.

Jane kindly rang me back to point out that I had sent her a return email with no form attached. She started laughing, hard. "You're all like this Inger!" she said, "I spend half my days chasing people to fill out forms. PhD students are so smart, why can't they follow simple instructions?!"

Jane's words resonated with me for a long time. Because I had at least six months of the loopy la-las to go. I regularly struggled to follow simple instructions, but was able to think and write about incredibly complex, abstract ideas all day. Living in this two speed headspace was bizzare and, for a while, I wondered if I was losing it. But now I've worked with PhD students for a very long time time and seen it happen so often I think the loopy la-las is actually be a by-product of the thesis writing process. The classic 'absent minded professor' trope did not come out of nowhere (this -problematic- article onTV tropes reckons it's been around since the 1800s).

The loopy la-las are not all bad. I remember the sensation of my brain lighting up with so many ideas and connections about my PhD. It was great! My notebook was overflowing and the writing was pouring out of me. At the same time this out pouring of creativity was DISTRACTING.

I've watched the loopy la-las play out in many different ways. A mild case of the loopy la-las might mean you just repeatedly misplace your keys. With more severe cases, you start having trouble with things like shopping lists, kids' excursion forms, funding applications and turning up to appointments on time. The worst thing about the PhD loopy la-las, for me, was losing track of my commitments to others. I became that unreliable person who doesn't return calls and emails, forgot peoples' birthdays and turned up late to work - frequently.

I need not point out that it's this stage of PhD life that people can let a mild health problem develop into something more serious because of lack of attention. And watch out for those knives in the kitchen! Seriously - we have been running thesis bootcamp for late stage PhD students for many years now and have noticed our bootcampers are much more accident prone than candidates in their early stages.

I experienced similar difficulties doing simple things like filling out forms during the one period of lockdown we had in Canberra. It's been well over a year since we had any Covid here, so I don't have a lot of experience of the lockdown loopy la-las, but it seemed quite different. Lockdown has the same end of PhD head-in-a-bucket feeling, but perhaps without the urgency of a project deadline and the thrill of creative connections. The problems with keys and knives, however, were the same.

I've noticed the PhD loopy la-las get worse the closer the submission date gets. The tick tock of the PhD clock is always there, but at the end I think it gets louder and starts drowning out other things. The space the PhD project occupies gets bigger and bigger until it's dominating waking thoughts, pushing out other, pretty important stuff.

So, why do the loopy la-las happen? It might have something to do with cognitive load.

I'm no expert, but from what I've read, the brain can only process a limited number information 'chunks' in short term memory (four to seven). This is the kind of memory essential for filling out forms. By contrast, our long term memory relies on 'schemas' or frameworks of thinking that connect related things together.  In other words, we 'automate' a lot of our long term memory, which frees up time for short term, on the spot thinking.

This is just me spitballing here, but writing a PhD depends a lot on making connections between ideas, theories, data points: classic long term memory work.

If you're devoting a lot of processing time to long term memory work, perhaps you get less good at short term processing. Or maybe you have more trouble switching between the two ways of thinking (can someone please do a PhD on this?).  Considered in this way, the PhD loopy la-las may be an evitable side effect of all that deep thinking, which is why the loopy la-las need to be embraced and managed, not 'cured'.

In that spirit, how do you lean into the PhD loopy la-las without annoying everyone else in your life and constantly losing your keys?

Here's some ideas:

  1. Try not to let your email inbox get too out of control, this will make the problem of keeping track of commitments worse. Try a program like to-doistworkflowy, Things or (my favourite) Omnifocus. The key here is to move tasks that emerge from email to another system - don't let your inbox become your default 'to-do' list. By putting things on a list, you assist your short term thinking capability.
  2. Speaking of lists: get yourself a good list program for your shopping and house- management needs. I use Anylist, which has a meal planner if you want to go to that level. You can share your lists with the rest of your household and lighten the organisational load. No one can claim they didn't know we needed milk!
  3. Start a bullet journal to keep track of both your work commitments and your creative ideas in one place. The bullet journal was invented by Ryder Caroll, who has ADHD as an assistive tool for cognitive processing. I'm a recent convert to this method, but I'm a fan. I've talked about the bullet journal in the 'On The Reg' podcast I started with Jason Downs. I should write a post about how I use it sometime, but there's a great post on Bullet Journaling during your PhD by Tharika Liyanage on the On Circulation blog. Thanks Tharika!
  4. Make as many of your personal appointments on a repeating basis as you can. When I go to the hair dresser I book my next appointment before I leave. Likewise with my skin check, breast scans and regular blood tests. I started doing this during my PhD because I started to have health problems that spiraled because I wasn't keeping an eye on them. Self care is vital and your diary is your friend.
  5. Finally: warn people in your life that you are experiencing the loopy la-las and reach out for help. Heck - send them this blog post so they know that it's not just you, ok? People may have to 'nudge' you more frequently to do things for them - some people will hesitate to do this because they know you are busy and distracted. Make it ok for them to step up and manage you a little more so you lighten the overall cognitive load.

Good luck with your loopy la-las and if you are in lockdown right now, solidarity! There's some links below. I've left the comments off, but feel free to tag me in social media if you want to chat.


Related links on the Whisperer

Thesis Prison
Listen to the bullet journal love fest in our back catalogue of the 'On The Reg' podcast

Links to other resources
Bullet Journaling during your PhD by Tharika Liyanage
ADHD and bullet journalling
Cognitive load in teaching and learning
Book: Project management for the unofficial project manager

Suggested tools

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Thursday, May 20, 2021

The PhD: Online resources for doctoral writers - an annotated bibliography

by Sian Lund, Doctoral Writing SIG:


Hi everyone,

Great resources created by great educators is what we need if we are going to succeed in the long PhD and Masters thesis journey. To this end, a terrific article has just landed in my inbox outlining, and reviewing, a whole host of great resources for thesis writing and all that goes with it - by Sian Lund from the Royal College of Art PG Art and Design college in the UK. Enjoy the article and the resources. 

Our guest blogger is Siân Lund from the Royal College of Art PG Art and Design college in the UK. She has been the EAP (English for Academic Purposes) Coordinator for almost 6 years. She has a background in language education and is passionate about exploring diversity in communication with a special interest in acculturation processes. At the RCA she is responsible for providing Academic Literacies support for all students at MA and Doctoral level as well as promoting pedagogic strategies for enhancing learning.

By Siân Lund

While building up support in academic literacies skills for our students, I was struck by distinct epistemologies of Art and Design disciplines and how this impacts on the way students develop their research and writing. Through interviews with staff, I recognised the importance of a reflective process of enquiry underpinning the research process in these fields. Tutors often expect the students’ experiences, inspirations and reflections to become part of the writing with individual perspectives and interpretations. 

Combining this creative and often very personal approach with more conventional and critically objective elements of academic writing has caused difficulties for many students. We are often asked ‘how can I combine my individual journey and voice with criticality and academic writing?’ At the risk of opening a huge can of worms here around terminology, I am thinking of ‘objective discussion’ as a genre along a spectrum of ‘academic writing’. Sometimes a tutor’s conversation with students which involves encouragement to use personal perspectives, narratives and a creative approach in the writing process can lead to a struggle for students to combine these elements with critical, more objective discussion. 

To read the rest of this article, go to:

Tuesday, May 18, 2021

The PhD: the thesis discussion – making the move work

Hi everyone, 

I came across this excellent post by Pat Thomson the other day outlining what goes in a thesis discussion. Enjoy!

by Pat Thomson, Patter:

This post comes back again at the discussion “chapter”. It seems you can never say too much about this tricky bit of the thesis.

A caveat before I start. This post is written from a social science perspective and offers a fairly orthodox view of what a thesis has to do. I think it has applicability in other disciplines – but do read this from your particular perspective. I’m not attempting a one size fits all explanation here. If that’s OK with you, read on.

The key to the discussion, whether it is a chapter or not, is understanding its place in the logic of the thesis argument. It’s the nearly final step in a chain of moves. And the discussion leads up to the big claims for contribution and significance.

To continue reading, go to:

Thursday, May 6, 2021

The PhD: My many fancy notebooks for all my fancy moments

by Manpreet Kaur, PhD Life:

Organisation is key to keeping all the ideas and thoughts during a PhD in check. It is helpful to have everything written down somewhere to prevent everything from overwhelming you. Manpreet Kaur shares how having notebooks for different purposes has helped her to organise her PhD related ideas.

I love lists and tick-boxes. I get overwhelmed pretty quickly if there is too much going on in my head and one of the coping mechanisms I have found is writing things down. When I did the Sprint programme during my undergraduate years, this was one of the tips I learnt. If there is a nagging thought in your mind, write it down and then get on with your day. Allocate time to go back to those intruding thoughts and have ‘worry time’ to focus on those.

But not all intruding thoughts are negative. Sometimes, while sitting and staring at birds I remember an email I need to send or something I want to discuss with my supervisor. I’m not the most screen-friendly person and therefore pen and paper is what I like to turn to (and turns out I’m not alone in being this way; check out Ellie’s blog here). So, I have notebooks for several different things in order to keep all my thoughts organised.

The first notebook I have that probably many people do is a planner. I bought this one that I really like because it doesn’t have dates already printed so I only write weekdays and weekends are free (unless there is a looming deadline). There is a section for note-taking for every day where I write down what I did that day. This helps me with feeling productive as well as keeping track of days, and I can always go back to something if I need to.

The next notebook is for all project meetings with my supervisor. It is the place where I write it all down as we’re discussing things. Besides, I take notes from group meetings here too. It’s helpful to have a nice big title about what the meeting was about; it’s like using tags, but offline.

The third notebook is for to-do lists. Hand on heart, I have tried the Reminders app on my phone, given a chance to Google Keep, and Microsoft To-Do as well. However, my hands never grab my phone at times like this. I impulsively pick up a piece of paper and pen, and therefore decided to buy a small notebook for this purpose. I have a margin in the middle of every page, and jot down all my tasks in there.

Another notebook I have is a leather journal my sister got for me. It feels very serious, so I use it for the least serious purposes. This is where everything miscellaneous goes, ranging from notes from an online webinar about laboratory sustainability to the third draft of my next poem. This is also where I jot down notes from project-related online talks and conferences that I attend.

I also have a journal that I use as a personal diary. I am currently on my third one and I go for all the fancy textures for these ones. I have found journaling to be very motivating and writing helps me organise my thoughts.

With the papers I read, I like to make hand-written notes because it slows me down and helps me to think about what I am reading. I have several notepads for my reading, all papers numbered with an index page. This takes a long time sometimes, especially when I find a paper that becomes a favourite, however I remember that during my MRes I found these hand-written notes very useful when writing up my thesis. I’m doing this all in the hope that it’ll prove useful later on.

One thing we can safely conclude is that I am, despite being so passionate about climate action, an absolute tree killer. Believe me, this bothers me a lot, however, nothing else works. As much as I love fancy images of people sat in a comfy sofa with a laptop typing away, I am all for an old wooden desk, and pen and paper. I think I just do better when handwriting. Of course, there is the other stuff I do such as buying FSC approved paper/notebooks, recycling paper and stationery and using all the notebooks to the fullest. These notebooks truly help me with staying on top of things. It means that I have less to store in my head as it all rests safely in the pages.

Do you prefer notebooks or screens to keep organised? Tell us about your favourite habits around keeping track of to-do lists and monitoring your progress. Tweet us at @ResearchEx, email us at, or leave a comment below.

by Manpreet

Manpreet Kaur is a first year PhD student in the Department of Chemistry. She has been at Warwick since 2016, and did her BSc and MRes here. Her research project focuses on the design of photoelectrocatalytic systems for the synthesis of nitrogen containing compounds. You can follow her on Twitter here and further details about her project and background can be found here.

Monday, May 3, 2021

Doctoral writing across disciplines: style and voice in the borderlands

by Susan Carter, Doctoral Writing SIG:

I’m returning to a theme that intrigued me back when, as a doctoral learning advisor, I worked across disciplines with doctoral students who consulted me with their problems (Carter, 2011). Candidates sometimes wanted to talk about problems that surfaced specifically in the borderlands of doctoral interdisciplinarity. Back then, research interdisciplinarity was recognised as valuable but in my experience as a doctoral learning advisor, there was never a cohort of peers to ask for advice and mutual support.

Now, post-Covid, and in the face of evident climate change, it seems that solutions to tough global challenges might be best found by working across disciplines and we need to establish support for interdisciplinary doctoral research. And yet my hunch is that, in the tradition-hugging entrenched disciplinary norms and biases of academia, candidates could run into the same problems. Here’s my practice-based list of what can be tough.

  • doctoral level research undertaken in areas where the candidate doesn’t have relevant undergraduate level knowledge
  • trouble finding supervisors with the confidence to work in new and unknown ways;
  • supervisors competing with each other for dominance of their discipline’s epistemology;
  • everyone involved is always out of their comfort zone at some stage—that can cause project-damaging emotion;
  • difficulty finding examiners (potential examiners fear their own inability to understand the project in all its aspects and this makes it easy to say no to a chore);
  • innovation looks riskier when it’s coupled with interdisciplinarity;
  • employment post-graduation can be difficult to get, and for those wanting academic work, can mean teaching content that is not well-known when the only job offer is in the least well-known discipline; and
  • crossing writing styles along with crossing disciplines can make it hard to get the thesis done

Because this blog is writing focused, it is the last item on the list I am addressing here, although I know from previous doctoral learning advisor experience that often intellectual discomfort and emotional insecurity make interdisciplinary writing’s style and voice really hard to produce.

Inevitably in those past conversations we’d end up back with the practicalities: you will have to decide which journals to target, where you want to work afterwards, what you want to teach if you aspire to become an academic.

Grounded reality often directed choices about writing style.

We’d turn to consider the journals, looking at conventions regarding referencing systems, predominance of active or passive verbs, and use of personal pronouns, sub-titles, metaphors, quotation and other markers of epistemology. Choice needed to be based on where genuine passion resided in the interdisciplinary project. The student’s preference in style when they read should guide too: it helps with perseverance to like your own writing style.

Often interdisciplinarians would make the case that no particular discipline dominated their research so it felt inauthentic and untrue to their research to arbitrarily privilege one of them. But they would recognise that interdisciplinary jobs aligned with what they were doing would be unlikely to crop up. Preference of one discipline then became important if an academic job was a goal. If it wasn’t, thinking quite practically about the likely places that might offer work also suggests the kind of writing style that might be acceptable there.

Writing for journals may then become making a case for bringing in practices, literature, methods etc. from a different discipline to contribute to thinking within the discipline of the target journal. Framing becomes important. It can get round reviewer dislike of the unfamiliar to explain overtly ‘To [what is usual and familiar in this journal] I bring the benefit of [the unfamiliar] because this theory [or scholarship or methods] enables insight into [whatever it helps].

Well, framing is always important; one of the most important skills that doctoral candidates learn is that researchers must take what they find and frame it so that the worth of their original contribution to knowledge becomes clear to examiners, and to their discourse communities, and in the best case scenarios, to the rest of the world.

The need to publish may shed some light on decisions. Talk about journals as the starting point might seem off track when the most immediate need is to choose style for the thesis, but the style within the thesis should be a good fit for future publication. The upside of interdisciplarity is that research framing may make it possible to take the same research findings into two articles in different disciplinary outlets. 

Then within the interdisciplinary thesis, defence of writing choices can deflect examiner criticism. Here’s an example: ‘I chose the epistemology of Social Science with respect to how crucial it is in this area to factor in the cultural, social and political preference of users. Thus personal pronouns governing active verbs occur in many places in this Engineering thesis.’

One candidate drew on hard science methods in a highly cultural and spiritual research project ‘to counter any possibility that what I find would be dismissed as native “mumbo jumbo”’ (Baker, 2014, p. 26). Baker’s (2014) thesis is worth looking at for how bravely it crosses disciplines with a fixed purpose, how firmly it defends the crossing and how rich the result is.

That leads back to the idea of borderlands. When I wrote on interdisciplinary doctorates in 2011, I used borderland theory. That functions as an extended metaphor for the trade that people make across borderlands: often illicit, so both risky and potentially very profitable; often with rules that shift; always working across cultures. Does it help with thesis-writing to keep that metaphor in mind as confirmation that borderland crossing is something people have done for ever, because it is worth doing?

If you have experience in supporting interdisciplinary doctoral writing, please post a comment, or let us know if you would like to offer a blog post on this topic. Interdisciplinary research seems more relevant now than it was in 2011, and we could share ways to support it.

And as a postscript, that borderlands metaphor is in play in a Special Issue of Teaching in Higher Education journal on doctoral education: ‘Working in the borderlands: critical perspectives on doctoral education’ which is now formally published as Volume 26, Issue 3. 


Mary-Anne Cheryl Tapu Augustine Baker, M-A. C. T. A. (2014). He Ariariatanga Whakangawari No te Maori: He Rangimarietanga i Tua o Te Arai: A Theory of Maori Palliation: A Peaceful Journey through the Veil. PhD, University of Auckland.

Carter, S. (2011). Interdisciplinary thesis practicalities: How to negotiate the borderlands. In Batchelor, J. & Roche, L (Eds.), Student Retention and Success: Sharing and Evaluating Best Practice: Proceedings of the 2009 Annual International Conference of the Association of Tertiary Learning Advisors of Aotearoa/New Zealand (ATLAANZ) (pp. 1-10). Christchurch: ATLAANZ.

Monday, April 26, 2021

Australia’s universities dominate global impact rankings

by Brendan O'Malley, University World News:


The University of Manchester in the United Kingdom has topped a table of more than 1,100 universities around the world on action towards the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), according to the third edition of the annual Times Higher Education (THE) Impact Rankings, released on 21 April.

But in terms of higher education systems, Australia is the world leader, with its universities claiming four positions in the overall ranking top 10, three more than any other country or region.

In total, 17 universities from 10 different countries and regions claim a top position across the 18 rankings, including Mexico, Thailand, South Africa and Saudi Arabia.

The rankings assess university commitment to sustainability at an institutional, local, national, regional and global level, from carbon neutral campuses to global partnerships responding to the COVID-19 pandemic at a multi-national level.

Launched in 2019, the Impact Rankings are the first global attempt to measure university progress towards the 17 SDGs, providing a total of 18 rankings, one for each SDG as well as an overall table.

The University of Manchester came first in the overall table after achieving first place for work towards both SDG 11 (Sustainable cities and communities) and SDG 12 (Responsible consumption and production) and second place for SDG 14 (Life below water).

Vice-Chancellor Dame Nancy Rothwell said the University of Manchester is “delighted to top the world” in the rankings, “but more importantly we’re pleased to be part of a growing community of universities committed to measuring and sharing their societal impact”.

She said the university values the feedback the rankings provide about their performance on each of the global goals.

“They cover every aspect of a university’s impact: our research, our teaching and learning, our engagement with the public and how we operate as sizeable organisations in our cities and regions.”

Top 10 institutions overall

The top 10 institutions overall are: University of Manchester, UK (1), University of Sydney, Australia (2), RMIT University, Australia (3), La Trobe University, Australia (4), Queen’s University, Canada (5), University of Wollongong, Australia (=6 or tie 6th), Aalborg University, Denmark (=6), University College Cork, Ireland (8), Arizona State University (Tempe), US (=9) and University of Auckland, New Zealand (=9).

While Western countries dominate the top 10, 24 countries and regions from six continents appear in the overall top 100, demonstrating a high level of commitment and excellence across global higher education for achieving the SDGs.

Phil Baty, chief knowledge officer at THE, says the rankings – with a record 1,240 universities participating this year but 1,115 institutions ranked – demonstrate that universities are showing “just how important they are to helping global society solve some of its toughest challenges”.

He said: “The results of this year’s rankings demonstrate the cohesiveness of institutions worldwide for a single shared goal, with representatives from 24 countries and regions, and six continents in the top 100 alone.”

All of Australia’s entrants appear in the overall top 200, while the University of Sydney comes first in SDG 6 (Clean water and sanitation), the University of Canberra tops the table for SDG 10 (Reduced inequalities), La Trobe University takes first place for SDG 15 (Life on land) and the University of Newcastle climbs from =82 last year to claim number one spot for SDG 17 (Partnerships for the goals).

Some 405 institutions entered the rankings for the first time, with Canada’s Queen’s University achieving fifth place overall and topping the ranking for SDG 1 (No poverty).

Top ranked universities by SDG

The number one ranked institution overall and for each SDG are:

• Overall: University of Manchester, UK.

• SDG 1 (No poverty): Queen’s University, Canada.

• SDG 2 (Zero hunger): Metropolitan Autonomous University, Mexico.

• SDG 3 (Good health and well-being): Oregon Health and Science University, US.

• SDG 4 (Quality education): Aalborg University, Denmark.

• SDG 5 (Gender equality): Princess Nourah bint Abdulrahman University, Saudi Arabia.

• SDG 6 (Clean water and sanitation): University of Sydney, Australia.

• SDG 7 (Affordable and clean energy): King Mongkut’s University of Technology Thonburi, Thailand.

• SDG 8 (Decent work and economic growth): University of Johannesburg, South Africa.

• SDG 9 (Industry, innovation and infrastructure): Four universities tied in first place: University of British Columbia, Canada; Delft University of Technology, Netherlands; Technical University of Munich, Germany; and University of Toronto, Canada.

• SDG 10 (Reduced inequalities): University of Canberra, Australia.

• SDG 11 (Sustainable cities and communities): University of Manchester, UK.

• SDG 12 (Responsible consumption and production): University of Manchester, UK.

• SDG 13 (Climate action): University at Buffalo, US.

• SDG 14 (Life below water): University of Plymouth, UK.

• SDG 15 (Life on land): La Trobe University, Australia.

• SDG 16 (Peace, justice and strong institutions): Queen’s University, Canada.

• SDG 17 (Partnerships for the goals): University of Newcastle, Australia.

Professor Tshilidzi Marwala, the vice-chancellor and principal of the University of Johannesburg, South Africa, said its top ranking for SDG8 – after coming 48th last year – was an “exceptional feat”, but its work in tackling global issues was also demonstrated by its top 100 ranking overall, in 92nd place.

He said the university remains “steadfast in supporting the UN SDGs through our research, teaching and learning, community outreach and engagement, stewardship and knowledge transfer”.

La Trobe University Vice-Chancellor Professor John Dewar AO said the rankings were an “outstanding endorsement” of the university’s commitment to improving quality of life, health outcomes and the environment through high-impact research, teaching innovation and meaningful partnerships on a local, national and global scale.

“Coming first in the world for protecting life on land highlights La Trobe’s leading role in investigating better ways to produce high-quality foods and medicines while reducing environmental impact and restoring vulnerable ecosystems.”

He said the rankings reflect how closely La Trobe’s values and ambitions “resonate with important global issues and the very real work we are doing to align with and advance the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals”.

Russia is most represented country

Russia (86) is the most represented country or region in the rankings, with an additional 33 universities ranked in at least one SDG table since 2020. Japan has 85 ranked institutions, followed by India (57), Turkey (55), UK and US (both 52), Brazil (47), Pakistan and Spain (both 40) and Iraq (38).

Baty said: “The THE Impact Rankings offer a platform for universities in every corner of the planet to showcase their active commitment to sustainability. The record turnout this year shows how universities are standing up to be counted and fulfil the vital role they play in society.

“Success in any of the SDGs means being responsible at every level, from the individual institutions, all the way up to the multinational. Therefore, we are thrilled to see the growing number of debutants who have qualified this year, as it shows just how seriously they are taking their roles in helping to ensure a sustainable future.”

In this year’s ranking postgraduate-only institutions were included for the first time.

A ‘catalyst for action’

According to THE Chief Data Officer Duncan Ross in his explanation of the methodology, it is hoped that the rankings “can be a catalyst for action, a mechanism for holding our universities to account, and an opportunity for them to highlight great work that they are already doing.”

The THE Impact Rankings assess universities on metrics across all 17 UN SDGs. Data was collected from universities and Elsevier and the metrics were developed in partnership with Vertigo Ventures.

The findings are displayed in 18 league tables, one for each of the 17 individual SDGs and one overall ranking table. To appear in the overall ranking table, universities must have submitted to SDG 17 (Partnerships for the goals) and a minimum of three other SDGs.

According to THE, a university’s final score in the overall table is calculated by combining its score in SDG 17 with its top three scores out of the remaining 16 SDGs. SDG 17 accounts for 22% of the overall score, while the other SDGs each carry a weight of 26%. This means that different universities are scored based on a different set of SDGs, depending on their focus.

A university’s contribution to individual SDGs is assessed on the basis of research metrics (27%) and other evidence-based criteria. So, for instance SDG 1 (No poverty) is based on research on poverty including scale and citations, as well as the number of papers co-authored with a university based in a low- or middle-income country; other factors are the proportion of students receiving financial aid; and evidence of university anti-poverty programmes providing student support and community support.

Comparison with previous years’ rankings is difficult because the number of participant institutions increased by 211 (or 38%) from 556 in 2019 to 767 in 2020 and further increased to 1,240 this year; secondly, the number of SDGs included rose from 11 to 17 between 2019 and 220, increasing the number of metrics ranked.