Please note that I first published this post on my blog on 4th May, 2015.
As a PhD student, my day normally starts with a cup of coffee and creating a daily to-do list, and it continues with writing and reading in front of the computer. Last week, at Manchester GRADschool, I stepped out of my PhD routine and had the privilege to explore and work on different skills. This year’s GRADschool theme was “Communicating Effectively: You, Your Team & Your Research”, and we were given a wide range of tasks, including making a research film, creating a research poster and storyboard, writing a film treatment and press release, tweeting, etc.
We had the chance to work in teams of six researchers from different disciplines towards the deadlines. It was interesting to see that the team members had different approaches of how a task should be carried out. Though we (Green team) worked harmoniously towards completing the tasks, working in a team was a very challenging experience. In this challenging journey, we practised debating and negotiation skills. As the deadlines approached, the pressure increased and tension seemed to seep into our team room. However, we managed to maintain effective collaboration. The last-minute tasks added to tension, leaving us under pressure, but we got used to ‘expecting the unexpected’. Actually, this made our experience more real-life. At the end, we managed to finish all the tasks on time. A set of unexpected tasks pushed us to develop flexibility and remain open to spontaneity.
At the end of each day, we had team reviews, reflecting on how we worked together, what worked out well and what we could have done differently. This was both useful to understand the group dynamics well and to do self-reflection about my role in the team. What I liked most was the feedback session on the last day. We spent five minutes with each team member, and gave each other positive feedback on how we worked and constructive criticism on what skills we would need to sharpen. I absolutely enjoyed receiving positive feedback and constructive criticism since this process raised my self-awareness of how I worked in a team. Also, giving feedback to my peers provided me with the opportunity to practise the delicate art of offering constructive criticism.
In addition to the group tasks, we were also required to tell our PhD to the camera in 60 seconds and explain our research to one of the participants very briefly. These tasks made me think about the different ways of communicating my research clearly and how I could attract non-specialists’ attention to at least one aspect of my research. While I was listening to others’ research, I realised that I was genuinely interested in the talk when the speaker added a personal element to his/her research at the beginning. I tried to use the same strategy when I talked about my own research.
Manchester GRADschool was not all work. In fact, the whole event was really enjoyable with all the team games, drawing activities and bite-size workshops! I also socialised for 3.5 days with other researchers, which is actually rather unusual for a PhD student! Within the team, I worked with five other PhD students, each of whom was from a different country with different background. This was an enriching intercultural experience as we talked about global issues, our countries and cultures, apart from our PhD lives.
Manchester GRADschool was a very unique and fulfilling experience which increased my self-awareness and self-confidence and enabled me to practise a wide range of skills. I am now back to my desk, fully refreshed with great memories…