Building your research community

In this post, Raeni, a PGR in the Department of Accounting, and Isbahna Naz, a PGR in the Department of Management, share some tips that they found beneficial in developing their sense of community during their PhDs.

3- 4 years doing a PhD is a long time. Some may say, “Life is on hold while doing my PhD”.

We are, of course, all on different journeys but with the same aim. Before COVID-19, we have a study space in the Muirhead Tower, where we could meet, interact and create a community within our cohort even though we are from different research interests. Having a sense of belonging with our peers alongside the journey is essential in numerous ways.

A pre-COVID-19 reading group session – Raeni is at the far right.

Being a member of a research community allows us to stimulate research progress, access an excellent seminar programme, discuss opportunities, and recognise other organisations beyond the campus. The community also sometimes directs us to get opportunities, for instance, acting as teaching or research assistants. Keeping us busy while engaging with others also helps our wellbeing.

The Postgraduate Research Experience Survey 2020 (in which UoB didn’t participate) found “that issues such as loneliness and isolation are key”. However, some of you may ask, how I can build a community while I am not on campus?  Here are some points that we found beneficial in developing our sense of communities during this PhD.

Strengthening the relationship with supervisors

Maintaining communication with supervisors is critical. Keep them updated with whatever happens that may disrupt or enhance the research project through email, and GRS2 will allow them to monitor progress.

Making the most of available resources

There are plenty of resources around that allow us to engage, for instance, by taking part in teaching opportunities, actively participating in training seminars, reading forums, workshops, summer schools, within and outside of our Department, School, College or research centres across campus.

Volunteering as a member of organising committees, student reps or other activities

By taking part as a member of the organising committee for the Birmingham Business School Doctoral Conference, I developed further interactions with each member. My colleagues have become my informal mentors now.

Maintaining your peers and networks

Within the current state, physical office space might not be available, but we can optimise the presence of online space such as the Common Room Project on Discord. There are other platforms to keep updated: Canvas, intranet, emails, University Graduate School twitter, the Guild of Students, or WhatsApp groups within each School. Remember that we have a cohort to discuss our research with even though they are from different fields; we have opportunities to ask for some feedback.

Maintaining a productive and supportive environment

Giving an allocated time to join some writing activities or dedicated time to focus on our “SMART” (Specific, Measurable, Achievable by the end of the session, Relevant, and Time-bound) study. We found some activities, such as writing retreats, shut up and work, and the Forest app facilitates working productively.

Balancing with Wellbeing activities

Regular workouts, watching movies, yoga classes, languages classes, cooking, and planting and sharing with other cohorts or having time to do it together virtually.

Beyond Birmingham

We can find several other communities, such as within the same sponsors (funding providers), country of origin, online research communities from Vitae, social media, research societies (such as the Centre for Social and Environmental Accounting Research).

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