The Value of Academic Retreats for PhD Researchers

I am currently at a retreat for PhD researchers from the School of Social Sciences and Psychology, University of Western Sydney. It’s a two day event at the Sebel Resort in the Hawkesbury Valley. I was prompted by Anna Cooper (University of Salford) to write a quick blog post about the value of such an event for postgraduate researchers who are navigating the swamp that is doing a PhD. Writing this post is doubly useful because I’m delivering a workshop tomorrow on using social media for your PhD – better practice what I preach and blog.

Anyway, back to the value of a retreat for PhD researchers. Here’s why I think this is a good initiative:

1) Most of the School’s PhD researchers are here and most of them are presenting their work. This is a safe, supportive space to share their work before heading to external conferences and events. Practice makes perfect and all that!

2) Peer-feedback is also invaluable – one thoughtful suggestion from someone can change the research direction and offer a new way forward. Also learning how to ask a good conference question and building up the confidence to do should not be underestimated.

3) The sessions have been mixed up a little and its great to see the connections between work carried out in different disciplines and from different paradigms.  Today I went to a session with talks on transgender identities, active-atheists, and real life superheroes – what a mix but the theme of identity transitions stood out. Such a diverse audience also requires students to communicate their research succinctly and (mostly) jargon free.

4) It’s a great networking opportunity. PhD students may not encounter one another on a regular daily basis due to flexible working practices and, more often than not, other commitments. A PhD doesn’t have to be a lonely journey but it can be if opportunities are not there for social relationships to form.

5) I think a retreat like this might help to create a sense of belonging to the School and University for PhD researchers – doing a PhD often has a funny not-staff-not-student status. Investing in PhD students’ development and training in this way speaks volumes towards supporting their progression, successful completion, and beyond that, their employability.

6) I’ll finish the list tomorrow and take some pics. Just wanted to get this out there.Hopefully there will be something to add about social media and creating digital scholars after tomorrow’s workshop.

Time for dinner!

I’d love to hear your thoughts and if you have anything to add to the list, please leave a comment 🙂

7. It’s restorative. See Jonathan Kershaw’s review of the  Royal Geographical Society Social and Cultural Geography Research Group’s ‘Reading and Writing Weekend’ in Wales (below). On that note, space for training activities  beyond presentations (e.g. writing, reflection, communicating research etc) would also be useful.


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