In about an hour I’ll be kicking off the 2011 Edinburgh GRADschool. For those of you not familiar with the term, this is an intensive, residential course aimed at 2nd and 3rd year PhD students at UK universities. During the next 4 days, students will work in multi-disciplinary teams on a variety of tasks with the aim of developing their communication skills, understanding of team-working and personal effectiveness.
I attended a GRADschool as a PhD student back in 1994 just as I was preparing to write my thesis and plan my next steps. At this time there were no researcher training programmes, so the course had a huge impact on me and my attitude to my future career. I can still remember the moment when I realised that my PhD was part of what I could offer the world of work and that it was up to me to work out what the whole picture of my career would include beyond my research expertise.
The research experience is very different now – students can expect to access extensive training programme and by the time they reach their final year they could have had weeks of generic skills training. So why should they commit to an intensive four day residential course?
The “something special” that the GRADschool offered then and still offers today is the chance to work with a group of people under pressure, but in an environment where you get feedback on your performance and the opportunity to develop, review, develop through the course. I hope that the students who leave on Friday will have much better insights into the way they tend to behave in a team, interact with others and with some clearer thoughts about where they can take their skills and values as they identify future careers.
The GRADschool I went on in 1994 changed my life – I came back fired up with enthusiasm for post-PhD life and my motivation was much greater during the dark months of thesis writing. It planted a seed that grew into my current career (even though at the time I never imagined that I’d be tutoring on courses within 4 years and directing a GRADschool 7 years after attending as a student). I know what a difference good training and development can make and I feel a responsibility to the students I’ll meet over the next week to give them the best possible opportunity.
Even in today’s academic environment with access to a whole calendar of training, the GRADschool is something special and I urge those of you who are presented with the opportunity to take it.