Memory is a funny thing and the longer I postpone blogging about the last 2 days of GRADSchool the less I’m able to distinguish between the two. So this post is about both days, each equally fraught with challenges and great moments.
I remember crawling out of bed the morning of Day 3 thinking “Man, how am I gonna get through this day.” Despite getting 8 hours sleep I was still tired, the sort of I-just-pulled-an-all-nighter-and-now-I-got-to-go-out sort of tired. It was a weird head space to start the morning which thankfully cleared when I had my 2nd mocha latte sugar shot during Professor John Playle’s talk on policy impact. His talk was an interesting case study demonstrating what he termed ‘the long game’ in developing real impact at the level of policy (regarding the mental health nursing and the NHS). His talk made me think of the road ahead of me and the path(s) that I could take post PhD. What impact will I have, down the road? Which road? In TESOL there are various areas that are relevant to my field of research yet, I’m still unsure of the type of impact that is possible. A lot (more) to think about.
“Storming”: This is where my memory gets really hazy. I remember that between the two days my team (go Blue!) went from travelling in frustrating circles to getting organised by allocating tasks so that we ran like a pretty well oiled machine. The time it took to get to from one end to the other, in retrospect, was astounding, given that a) we don’t know each other very well b) we had tons to do and c) we were all committed to getting the job done, perhaps not in the same way. During these times it was certainly challenging to work with so many different individuals under a lot of time pressure, yet, we managed to get there! This process was referred to as the “storming” stage of group dynamics, where all groups learn to work together with a bit of thunder and lightening. During this time we discovered that once each of us had a task to do we were good to go – it was just getting there that was a bit rocky. What helped during these three days was having a “Code of Conduct” or a set of “Group Rules” that we had written up as a team. Having this was really useful during team review sessions at the end of each day, where we could see what worked and what didn’t and, by doing so, helped us identify what areas we needed to work on.
Day 4 had us introduced to Gillian Mawson and her work as a social history researcher on Guernsey evacuees during WWII. I found the process of moving from academia to public engagement particularly interesting because there was a very human element to her presentation. Given that all the keynote speakers are involved working with people her work stood out in the sense that there were other people outside of academia that were actively participating in her work. The media, primary schools, grandmothers, families, journalists – the lists is immense. Speaking for myself, it was a very good reminder of how academic work does matter and that a lot of the responsibility is up to me, the researcher, to get my research out there (more thoughts on this later).
OMGwhatelse: After her talk the morning was spent getting our film finished. Despite a heart-stopping, panic stricken moment of technical difficulties (OH windows movie maker…where do I start *grumble*), we were the first group to hand in everything. Like, everything! I remember sitting in the empty room with my team, waiting for the other groups, in a bit of a daze taking it in. I think it may also have been the adrenaline wearing off. 🙂 The film premier itself was great because there were so many interpretations on the theme of impact. We had all sort of creative presentations – stop motion, black and white silent films, interviews with members of the public, talking heads – it was really cool to see what other groups were working on.
A quiet finale: To wrap up GRADSchool, the final activity we did as a team was go to each person and, in 2 1/2 minutes, tell them one thing positive that your observed about them and one thing that you believed they could work on in the future. This was a big ask and required a lot of courage, sensitivity and trust in each other. Looking back, I think this was our biggest achievement in that we were able to be honest with one another despite not knowing each other very well. The feedback I received from my group members was great, not because it was all positive (*heh*) but rather they gave me something to really build upon. My group had a unique perspective on me because they don’t know me very well, and thus based their comments on what they learnt about me over the 3 1/2 days. I could have dismissed their comments with a “they don’t know me at all” or “I’d be different under different circumstances” but I didn’t. I considered it was a privilege to have worked with such passionate, determined and insightful individuals who are quite different from myself, so, it made sense to me to listen to what they had to say.
In all, GRADSchool is a hell of a ride. Unlike preparing for a conference, where your energy is focused mostly on intellectual pursuits, the experience you go though can (at times) push you close to your limits in the most unexpected ways. You are engaged the whole time (no joke) at different levels, which requires a lot of energy and commitment to keep up. Lots of ups, steep unexpected drops but never, ever boring! I learnt a lot about myself and how I work with other people as well as being challenged to really think about how my research can have an impact. It was not an easy experience, but defiantly, completely, worth every minute.
Dedicated to the Blue Team: Martyn, Jess, Tanya, Ugo, Vicky, Heidi, Mona and Helena. Plus a very special thank you to Emma, our very wise and infinitely patient group facilitator.