What I felt characterised the SGSAH summer school was a sense of genuine care and desire to support PhD candidates. From the catering to the choices of workshops on offer and topic for the panel discussion this feeling seemed to run through all three days. I think the feeling of care and support is expressed so well because it comes from a real understanding of PhD candidates; their needs and concerns.
It may sound odd to mention the catering, but it was something that almost everyone mentioned. We were all amazed at how much better it was than any other uni event we’d been to. It might seem like a small thing, but it’s often the small things that show you care. It was a way to say you matter and this isn’t just a box ticking exercise. And as I found out in two of the workshops it’s an important aspect of running a successful conference or workshop events that’s often overlooked.
Which leads to the workshops themselves. I found them very practical and honest about acknowledging the real difficulties involved in aspects of completing a PhD and all the extras that go with it. I found the practical exercises in the workshops really illustrated this focus. The speaker would explain something and then let us have a go at it in groups, which helped me understand all the individual tasks involved in the process. In the cohort funding application workshop, this meant getting a general idea together for a workshop and thinking through how to apply for funding it. It’s even looking like we’ll be pursuing our idea in the future. Similarly, in the conference organising workshop, many of us agreed, it was really helpful to see and think through the things that are often overlooked or could go wrong in a conference and talk through how to address them.
While those workshops focused on the ‘extras’ of a PhD I also found those that focused on developing skills like writing, publishing, and planning for after the PhD practical and prescient. The writing workshop particularly was encouraging and practical. Through a few exercise we were guided through recognising the things that help and hinder our writing, whether it was thoughts, circumstances, or even physical surroundings. The prioritising after the PhD was helpful in thinking through what’s next. For me it really shed some light on what has felt like a black hole of anxiety and been on mind lately. The speaker helped us think through what we needed to prioritise through practical exercises and while being honest about the realities was still encouraging. The publishing workshop as well was one of the first to make me aware of all the rules and bureaucratic hoops to jump through when it comes to things like copyrights and the positives and negatives of all the different choices. All these practical experiences really removed the vail that I find makes so many of these tasks so intimidating. They all gave me practical starting points and ways to move forward that didn’t feel like feeling my way in the dark.
I also found the whole event, from its catering and organisation focused on creating a sense of community, something that many of us struggle with. The shared breaks meant that you would run into the same people day after day even if you didn’t have a shared workshop. They also provided an opportunity to share experiences and process what we were learning in the different workshops. I found this extended to the panel discussions in the evenings, which made me feel included in the broader academic community. They were discussing the future of academia and merely hearing others concerns gave me hope and created a sense of community. I find that there is still some distance between PhD candidates and academics in the field, so it was nice to hear the concerns that I’ve heard from almost every PhD candidate I’ve met being discussed by these career academics who were concerned about them and trying to find a way forward. Yes, these issues affect them too, but it was a broader concern for society and everyone’s wellbeing that was expressed, which added to that sense of genuine care and support.
I guess what I found in it was a sense of honesty and well humanity. No one was trying to gloss over the difficulties and so the panel discussions and workshops were focused on the real needs and challenges PhD candidates face. Whether it was practical skills, self-care, or discussing the anxiety inducing future, the summer school took a head on, realistic, and yet optimistic approach. It recognised that this is a challenging process, but provided practical ways to face those challenges, while still being willing to critique the system and framework that unnecessarily creates some of them. All of which is to say if you have the opportunity to go next year it is well worth it and also a thank you to the SGSAH team for organising such a great event and for just caring.
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