By Sophie Allen |
Partaking in postgraduate study can be – and in my experience – is very daunting. Moving to a new institution for my Masters encouraged me to get involved and make the effort to attend organised events such as seminars, reading clubs, and just general social gatherings. Because of this, I left my Masters institution feeling very grateful for the amazing friends I had made during my year of postgraduate study; however, at the same time, I found returning to my undergraduate institution to begin my PhD even more challenging. All of my friends and people I knew during my BA had graduated, I no longer had the daily support from my MA cohort and despite being familiar with the surroundings of Newman somehow everything felt alien to me.
Newman University is a relatively small institution in its early stages of developing a graduate school, and it was because of this that myself and fellow PhD student Zoe Chadwick (you can find her on twitter @chadwick_zoe) decided to set up Newmarts – Newman Universities Arts and Humanities Postgraduate Research blog and twitter. We wanted to have an online space that we could use to connect postgraduates internally at Newman and also with postgraduate students further afield. We use the space primarily to share information about upcoming events, seminars, opportunities, to promote Newman’s Graduate School and the wonderful PG courses that are available. As well as this, we made sure to create a platform for students to blog and talk about their research, pass on advice, discuss mental health issues, explore the problems with PG study, explore the benefits of PG study etc. – posts very much along a similar vein to the ones you will find here on Pubs and Publications.
From this, we tried to encourage engagement with postgraduates at all levels and since creating Newmarts we have hosted graduate school tea/coffee socials on campus and drinks socials in Birmingham city centre. We now work closely with the Graduate School to use it as a platform not just to encourage applicants, but also to ensure that part-time students, distance learning students and alumni feel like they are still connected with the institution to make sure they don’t miss out on anything happening. It was important to us to develop a sense of community at Newman at a postgraduate level that catered as much for full time and home students as it did for part time and distance students.
As Newmarts began to grow, and staff began to share and interact with it more, we were able to approach senior staff about publishing a range of student work. From this we are now in the process of putting together a special edition issue of Newman Universities Critical Commentary journal made up of submissions by MA, MRes and PhD students. We have got a multi-disciplinary issue due to be published in the early summer to celebrate the work being undertaken at Newman.
One aspect of research conducted by postgraduates at Newman that we are pursuing further as a development from Newmarts is Victorian Fears; a PGR colloquium myself and Zoe Chadwick (alongside Dr. Ian Cawood and Dr. Helen Davies) are organising. It will be hosted by Newmarts, the School of History and the School of English, and we have had a wonderful range of submissions from institutions near and far. Whilst we have primarily used our personal twitter accounts to promote the colloquium, Newmarts has proved an invaluable additional platform to advertise and circulate information regarding the colloquium. It has enabled us to connect with heritage and museum organisations such as Coffin Works, Birmingham who are hosting a pre-colloquium event for us, enabling Newmarts to bring students, academics and heritage organisations into conversation with one another.
So, you may be wondering what the purpose of this blog post is? Mainly I just wanted to discuss the importance of community, whether that be online or in person, at postgraduate level. I am aware of the many flaws social media can have, and the difficulties of conducting and coping with postgraduate study, so for us it has been crucial in creating an internal and external support network. For me personally, I have used twitter in various ways to engage with debates, connect with researchers within my field, meet amazing people that are now dear friends and also as a space to vent about the troubles I am and/or have had during my PhD so far, and Newmarts is a platform for a similar purpose. Running the Newmarts account and blog has been a wonderful experience so far and it is something which I am incredibly proud of founding. What started out as just an easy accessible online blog to bring students together and offer mutual support has now given us the opportunity to host social events, publish a special edition journal and organise a colloquium, all within 12 months of creation. Don’t get me wrong, it definitely takes a lot of commitment to run a postgraduate society, it’s easy to get distracted with this and ignore my thesis but the pro’s definitely outweigh the con’s and I would encourage anyone to set up something similar or engage with those already established at their institution.
Sophie Allen is a second year PhD candidate at Newman University. Her doctoral thesis focuses on the development of Spiritualism in Birmingham and the experience of women and their participation in the active side of spiritualism, for example conducting séances. Her thesis will analyse the role of the female mind in engaging with the spiritual world as it was both encouraged by those who followed the non-conformist faith and questioned by the psychiatric profession.
As well as her thesis, Sophie co-created Newmarts (Newman Universities Arts and Humanities Research blog), in which she co-edits, blogs and curates the tweets for, is an editor for Newman Universities Critical Commentary Journal and is co-organising the Victorian Fears Colloquium to be held in June 2018. You can find her on twitter @SophieAllen_ and also contact her via email firstname.lastname@example.org.