There are lots of different modes of support that are really important. Feeling like you’re not alone is even more important in this kind of space I think, because the PhD process is as much a personal journey as it is an intellectual gain. It’s a highly challenging personal journey because these students don’t necessarily have a topic. This is in contrast to other places where I’ve worked where there’s a lab group or there’s some topic community but in the early days here at least there was not much of a topic community.
We have support groups, called GAS, which stands for ‘group accountability and support’. Another staff member actually set up the accountability and support group because she felt she missed out on support as a research student. We have reviews of the GAS groups in a community kind of way, like a shared group meeting. There’ll always be a couple of the students that have been around a bit longer who say something like ‘Yeah …I thought the GAS Groups were going to be a waste of time but actually it’s been fantastic’.
Each year we re-establish the accountability and support groups which is a tough decision because it means we’re breaking some relationships. What we try to do is to make sure that the new people coming in get a chance to connect with the people who have been around a bit longer and are a bit further along in their PhDs so that we ensure those relationships are there to provide different kinds of support.