Postgraduate: Iran; Lord of the Rings; Postgraduate workshop

An Iranian Ph.D. student is helping his government with a $130m (£75m) claim that the 1991 Gulf War damaged the country's fish stocks. Iran is trying to prove to the United Nations that the oil that spilled into the Persian Gulf following the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait killed fish and other marine life. Ecosystems health expert Dr John Dennis, from Bradford University, is co-ordinating the search for evidence. One of his colleagues is Nima Pourang, a Bradford Ph.D. student based in Tehran. Pourang is catching prawns in the Persian Gulf and dissecting their guts to measure the levels of heavy metals, which originate from oil. This is the field of environmental forensics, and the techniques being used are accurate enough to pinpoint the source of the oil down to a specific well. A claim to the United Nations is due to be submitted within the next six months.

* We reported in October on Aberystwyth University's new MA in audience and reception studies. The first students are lucky enough to have started at an exciting time - Aberystwyth has just announced the launch of a major international audience study into The Lord of the Rings film trilogy. The study will ask whether there is any truth in the notion that Hollywood is colonising the world's imagination. "Has this most English of modern myths become a tool for American cultural imperialism?" asks a university spokesman. "Or do all societies see in The Lord of the Rings films what they want to see?"

With the third part of the trilogy due for global release in December, teams of researchers in 20 countries, including Slovenia, India, China, Canada, America, Australia and New Zealand, will be working on the project. This will mean analysing publicity, merchandising and media coverage, collecting an expected 100,000 web-based questionnaire responses, and conducting a series of in-depth interviews with cinema-goers. Postgraduate students at Aberystwyth are helping with tasks such as translating questionnaires and collecting press clippings and merchandise.

* Bangor University is scoring a first with its plans for a five-day postgraduate workshop. The UK Grad Programme event, to take place next spring, will be open to research students who are not publicly funded as well as those who are. "It will be the first event of its kind to be run in conjunction with a Welsh university, and will save students in Wales having to travel to Manchester or London," says John Perkins, the assistant registrar at Bangor, who has responsibility for graduate affairs. The event will be free to publicly funded students and there will be a charge of about £600 to others, which Dr Perkins expects their sponsors to pick up. The course will cover transferable skills training, coursework research methodology and presentation skills. An outdoor pursuits element is planned in addition, possibly using the Welsh national Watersports Centre at Llanfairisgaer.