The School of Humanities & Social Science at Liverpool John Moores University is about to host its first PhD Picnic, and it seems apt, therefore, to explain and reflect on the idea behind this new initiative in an attempt to encourage other universities to create and support similar schemes.
No matter if your department, school, faculty, or university has an established postgraduate culture or if you are actively trying to build and encourage a vibrant postgraduate research environment, the peer support, training, and academic community you facilitate for your postgraduates forms an integral part of their researcher experience, their performance and productivity, their professional development, and their wellbeing.
PhD Picnics seek to build the foundations for these aspects of postgraduate research by providing a social occasion and space for PGRs to share current concerns, exchange strategies and ideas with established academics, and create a supportive community of peers, be it at subject, school, or university level.
The concept is simple: free lunch and refreshments (funded by your university, school, faculty, etc) create a comfortable and social space in which students can discuss the general as well as more specific issues in the progress of their research programme and where research staff can share their approaches and strategies. It also encourages a sense of community and tackles the sense of isolation many postgraduates – especially PhD researchers – feel so keenly during their studies.
We will be holding ten picnics per year, guided by a mix of approaches. Some sessions will be themed according to topics that PGRs have indicated are of particular interest to them at the moment (indicated in our case through an online poll and ranging from time management to beginning publishing and teaching, or preparing for your viva voce); others will provide a more open platform where any current issues or hurdles can be brought up and discussed; others again will provide a space for students to present, informally, parts of the their current research. Picnics happen monthly (with the exception of August and December), and dates are determined by Doodle polls to ensure as many people as possible are able to make it.
To make sure there’s plenty to discuss and that we have input and experience from a wide variety of researchers, I will be posting prompts and questions on Twitter via #PhDPicnic in the hope that you will share your views and insights. And of course I hope that you will use the hashtag when you organise your first PhD Picnic!
So watch this space for more updates, ideas, and reflections on this initiative, and please share your own experiences of similar projects!