Edinburgh Local Gradschool – Time out from your PhD

Guest blog post from Silke Reeploeg, University of the Highlands and Islands, on her experience of attending Gradschool in 2014.

I very much enjoyed attending the Edinburgh GradSchool in 2014. I am a part-time PhD student with the University of the Highlands and Islands and based on the Shetland Islands, so the 4 day course – apart from its course content – also provided a welcome chance to network with EHGradschool tower pic (2)other students and staff from both Edinburgh and across Scotland.   Needless to say the nearby cafes and bars received the odd post-course visit, and it was great to be able to reflect on each day in such great company!

The course tutors were from a mixture of backgrounds, industry and academia, and certainly made us all feel motivated and I enjoyed our team-building session on the first day, which was less cringe-inducing than expected. The mixture of both science and humanities students made for entertaining group work, with paper towers being constructed and innovative business ideas thought up by day 4. If you are in the last year(s) of your PhD, you should not only attend because you will learn specific skills such as communicating your research/thoughts/wild ideas to people outside your department, but also just to rediscover your subject through the eyes of other people. Yes, we learned about problem solving, time management, project management – but perhaps the most important skills were those intangible ones, such as gaining confidence and communicating to variety of audiences. Of course there were the invariable venn diagrams and personality tests, but let’s face it – it is useful to discover that being an introvert pretending to be an extrovert, and then changing your personality preference mid-afternoon, is ok. No. Seriously. It is. There are a lot of variables. Especially coffee!

One of the things that benefitted everyone were the graphs and statistics used when considering future career options. Showing a room full of potential academics the fact that only 20 per cent of them will actually get a chance to work in academia provided a needed reality check. Plans B and C should definitely be part of PhD training more explicitly (and not just during the last year of your PhD) – a point made during the lively follow-on discussions several times. And, talking of lively discussions: in this world of REF assessments and continuous peer-review, it was great to create (with the help of our tutors) a non-judgemental, playful work environment for those 4 days, which allowed blue-sky thinking and fun to flourish. As we proceeded to hone our reflective skills and the last day drew to a close, I certainly took this sense of fun with me, and left reinvigorated to carry on doing academia and, hopefully, carry on having fun!

Let me just finish this coffee.

The Edinburgh local GRADschool is an experiential 3-day non-residential learning course, designed for doctoral researchers in the last 18 months of their PhD, aiming to raise participants’ awareness of their personal and professional transferable skills.  The next Gradschool will run on Wednesday 15th – Friday 17th April 2015.  For more information see: http://edin.ac/1ixEDPY

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