Not what, but who! 12 PhD students participated on a workshop at Masaryk University faculty of Social Studies in Brno (Czech Republic) about their thesis, research work, and life beyond academia. As a leader of this group I used several techniques which are useful on team-buliding in the business sphere. But the approch was a real zen.
“I have to know well rules in academic sphere, if I want to break through them” – wrote on the flipchart a student, when we summarized experiences of this day. They were asked to revisit the first moment of the workshop, when members of group explained their expectations and investments. It was emphasized that this workshop is similar to an empty box: we can retrieve what we put into it.
PhD students offered several exciting topics: intimate partner violence, institutional development of mental health care policy, on-line sexting, right wing extremism, political and economic conflicts in post-Soviet countries, community media and development of minority groups. Not only topics were heterogenous, but also participants: from the Czech Republic, Balkan and Caucasus regions, San Francisco and one just returned from Mexico.
The focus this day was not only academic. The group discussed theses and methodologies (and of course philosophy behind them), but we really concentrated on personal motivations, which is an engine (or even an obstacle) to get a PhD graduation.
The members of group were open and critical to others’ work, but also tolerant to others’ personality. This is important, because they must be aware of why their PhD dissertation is important for the broader society, which finances academic research and pays for heating in building of the university.
It is a general phenomenon, that students have huge amount of research questions, but even only one may contain the whole universe. Some participants were skeptical, when I asked them to speak about the thesis for me, as if I would be their grandmother. It helped students to focus not only on methodology (quantitative survey and/or qualitative interviews), but to think about every phenomena, how to measure it, and consider the question: does anybody want to measure that really?
“My presentation way is crucial: if the members of committee reject my personality, my work is going to be rejected also” – summarized one of the group members.