By Fraser Raeburn |

I met a pair of newly-minted Masters students in the pub a few weeks ago. We had just attended a seminar on colonial genocide (always an icebreaker) and they were letting me regale them with my accumulated wisdom regarding postgrad life (an object lesson in the necessity of using reputable sources, if nothing else). One piece of sage advice I did give them was ‘Always come to the pub afterwards. Most of the real learning you do will take place there.’

pubIt will sometimes be just as dull, unfortunately.

Although we’ve made the case for learning in pubs in the past, my assertion was probably hyperbole. Much of what takes place in the pub after hours is actually just social interaction– while you might get the chance to ask a question you couldn’t quite manage earlier or otherwise take the discussion further, much of what happens at the academic pub session is what happens at any after-work drinks: getting to know people, gossiping and blowing off steam.

This got me thinking, however. Is the social interaction element just as important as the learning element? Can a junior postgraduate hope to succeed without making these connections? As relative strangers in a foreign land (which I will unilaterally christen the Ivory Tower Coast), information about our academic environment can be priceless. Who does what, where to go if a particular thing is needed, who can help with this or that issue – on one level it’s trivial workplace gossip, but it gives us a feel for the lay of the land and helps us navigate in the future.

For Masters students, it might also prove to be the first step in finding a supervisor, either directly or thanks to a recommendation. Even for PhD students, a social connection might be the first step towards a new reference down the line, not to mention more immediate opportunities, from research work to convening conferences. As we all know, a successful PhD is not just about the eventual thesis, it’s about the (marketable) experience gained along the way – and like it or not, many of the best opportunities aren’t going to be openly advertised. Building up as large a network as possible remains paramount, and putting in the hard yards at the pub is a big part of that.

yard glassHard yard glasses?

This poses the question of whether it is advisable or even possible for anyone to skip socialising at the pub and hope to get the most out of their time as a postgrad. If not, what about those with families or other commitments that prevent them from regular pub visits? Or simply don’t like pubs? I’ve not met anyone in this latter category, but then again, I wouldn’t, as I tend to meet people in pubs.

There are almost certainly bigger inequalities in the academic world, from sexism to ageism, that deserve far more attention. Even so, the existence of an invisible, social vs antisocial divide for postgraduates is still a bit worrying, particularly as a British pub can still be quite a gendered space in which not everyone automatically feels comfortable, to say nothing of the myriad of cultural and religious barriers to participation. Even if the socialising takes place in a more neutral setting, there are plenty of us who are introverted, shy or otherwise disinclined to group socialisation. Academia used to be one of the last refuges of the introvert and eccentric: is the need to Pub or Perish symbolic of a new age of academia, where social skills, networking and public engagement have become not just means to an end, but the very measure of success?

I’ll ask around at the pub next time and let you know.

Fraser is a contributions editor at Pubs and Publications and is relatively sure that he is now the first one of us to actually write about both of these things. You can learn more about his research on his profile, or considerably less on Twitter @FraserRaeburn.

(Cover image (c); Image 1 (c); Image 2 (c)