As a graduate student any time taken away from the main task at hand, getting a PhD, can seem like a wasted opportunity. Especially when the time is not actually for a resting holiday in the sun, but is focussed on those hard-to-define transferable skills we are all told to cherish.
So, it may come as something of a shock to learn that I have just spent some such time away from my work, honing those tenuous skills, and have come back re-energized and full of enthusiasm. I spent three (and a half) days last week in sunny Bournemouth, at a UK GradSchool, organised by the UK Grad team (soon to be known as Vitae). This consisted of team building exercises, project management tasks, interview workshop and an outdoor component to bring it all together.
I hope I don’t give too much away, but the main thrust of the week was solving different problems and facing different scenarios in small groups of about 6 or 7 PhD students. Tutors, with a wide range of career and personal experience, helped us learn from each exercise and guided us through the emotional experience of a new team being formed. It’s hard to describe what working with 5 other PhD students from wildly varying areas felt like, but it was definitely intense. By the end of the week, people had gone through more with the others in the group than perhaps they ever had with those they work with every day. In particular the opportunity to give and receive individual and honest feedback on how we affected those around us was surprisingly powerful.
Interview skills were explored in a task designed to test students as both interviewees and panel members. Sitting on the other side of the desk really highlighted how much of the process is about the applicant selling themselves. It was hard enough to distinguish three candidates answers from each other after a long morning, so making an impression is clearly important.
Overall, my experience of GradSchool has completely brushed aside any reservations I had about it taking up valuable time. I may not measure last week in terms of words written or papers read, but the skills learned (and hopefully friendships made) will make the coming year much more manageable.
To learn more about the GradSchool program visit the introductory page at UK Grad, but be warned that word has spread and courses are booked out months in advance!