Manchester GRADschool 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.

Our team won the research poster competition!

Our team won the research poster competition!

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 Manchester GRADschool 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…

Highlights and Faultlines of My First Year as a PhD Student

reading

I was reading the book ‘Twenty Years of Learner Corpus Research’ outside on a sunny day.

My first year as a PhD student at the University of Manchester is over, and the end of this year has brought about mixed feelings. I am very pleased to finish my first year successfully and develop myself as a researcher in many ways. On the other hand, the clock is ticking, and my workload will mount up in the next year as I have plans to write for publication and I need to start to draft my thesis chapters soon. Actually, being a PhD student often entails mixed feelings. Luckily, the fleetingness of time usually goes hand in hand with increase in ambition. Here are some of the highlights of my pleasant experiences as a first year PhD student:

  • A sense of community: Before coming to the UK, I was worried about loneliness that PhD students could experience. However, after a short time, I realised that my worries were in vain. At The University of Manchester, PhD students have quite a few communities in which we exchange ideas and support each other. The Postgraduate Research Support Network Sessions and the Doctoral Community@LTE helped me a great deal to get accustomed to a new academic environment and receive very useful guidance and tips from my peers and more senior students. In addition to getting various insights into others’ PhD experiences, these networks enabled us to build bonds of friendship with our peers.
  • Development of intercultural competence: If you are studying abroad, you are more likely to get out of your comfort zone and communicate with other people from diverse backgrounds that you wouldn’t meet otherwise. The University of Manchester is an ideal place to improve my intercultural competence since it welcomes more international students every year than any other university in the UK. I am making every effort to maximise my intercultural understanding in a unique community of different cultures. I have realised that developing interculturality has influenced my cultural self-awareness in that I interpret my own cultural background from several perspectives in a more conscious way. Given that intercultural competence is a key skill in the 21st century, my suggestion for all the new students, especially undergraduate home students  would be to mix with people from different backgrounds as much as possible.
  • Research diary: I kept an informal research diary for myself in order to keep track of my development as a researcher. I have realised that it is a great way of doing an honest self-assessment of where you are. I have just read what I noted down at the beginning of the first semester. In the first few supervision meetings, the questions that I asked my supervisor were so basic that I cannot believe now that I did ask them. My research diary is an excellent representation of my research journey, and realising my own personal development considerably increases my motivation and self-confidence.
  • Teaching: I had the opportunity to deliver tutorials to the first year undergraduate students and gain experience in small group teaching. The dynamics of small group teaching are much more different in the UK Higher Education context from those of large lectures at Turkish universities. Before every tutorial, I made a point-by-point lesson plan in which I wrote which questions I would ask them, what I would say, what I would focus on, etc. I even prepared some jokes and wrote them in my lesson plan! All the courses that I took during my BA and MA in relation to teaching methodology and approaches to teaching as well as my previous lesson plans came in handy this time. This experience as a graduate teaching assistant helped me to encode the academic culture which is again rather different from our academic culture in Turkey.

I am glad that I have managed to focus on these aspects in my first year. Apart from these positive experiences, there are some aspects that create tension for me. In my PhD journey, I refer to these tensions as ‘faultlines’:

  • Routine: Following a routine is generally recommended by lecturers and more senior students. On the Thesis Whisperer’s Blog, it is one of the five things to do in our first year, indeed. It is suggested that treating PhD like a job and getting into a routine will help us later on. I haven’t even tried to follow a routine, and I feel a little guilty about it! In fact, my PhD is more than a job to me, so I do not find a 9-5 schedule feasible for me to achieve my goals. Although I will try to get into a kind of routine to see how it works for me, I enjoy my own ‘routineless routine’ at the moment.
John_Rylands

Taken at the John Rylands Library

  • Internal and external pressures: People I know (family, friends, PhD colleagues, etc.) generally consider me as a good student. You could think that it is brilliant! Even though I appreciate that they have faith in me, this sometimes puts extra pressure on me. I also have confidence in me, but external pressure seems to affect my internal pressure in a negative way. Therefore, the thought of disappointing people is the other ‘faultline’ for me. Next year, I will be regularly doing Tai Chi to ease these pressures.

Apart from these two ‘faultlines’ that my inner self created, I greatly enjoy being a PhD student at The University of Manchester. I hope that I will remain persistent and optimistic enough to have a pleasant PhD journey in the next year, too!