PGR Team 681: The hidden curriculum of doctoral camaraderie

This is a guest post by Dayana Balgabekova, Rebecca Ipe, Yaxi Wang and Hyab Yohannes, Doctoral Researchers in the School of Education at the University of Glasgow.

A Zoom screenshot of 7 members of the team, smiling and making heart signs with their hands.

Let us begin by briefly introducing who we are as a ‘team’ and how we become a team. We are postgraduate researchers (PGRs) in the School of Education, and we share an office in Room 681. Most importantly, we are also colleagues, friends and co-authors of this blogpost. We are from diverse backgrounds: connected to each other not only through an ethic of collegiality, but also by a lasting friendship and enduring commitment to supporting each other. We are ‘PGR team 681’. 

Team 681 started as a small group of curious colleagues in October 2018. In the beginning, there were only a few of us working from the office because some preferred working either from the library, or from our homes. We also had some colleagues who were doing overseas fieldwork at the time. The fact that there were only a few of us working from the office made it easy for our small group to grow closer. The small group then created a Messenger group chat named Team 681 and gradually, we got to know the rest of our colleagues and invited them to the group. In short, the group was created as a natural response to a desire to work together and support each other. 

Working together as a team has been a journey of learning and unlearning from each other: eating, drinking and walking together; and nudging and supporting each other. Much more than this, Team 681 have assumed multiple guises: 

  • Editors for each other’s written work, 
  • Co-coders, 
  • Pretend audience for ‘practice’ presentations, and 
  • Counsellors for when any of us need a cry. 

As a team we support each other in our PhD journeys both academically and personally. We peer review each other’s work, offer feedback on presentation rehearsals, and discuss specific aspects of our research methodologies. We find out about various PGR courses and conferences from one another. If someone finds an interesting academic event, article, resource or anything useful, that is immediately shared on our Messenger chat. 

You can say that there will be no one like your colleagues in understanding the PhD experience. No matter how supportive your friends/family/counsellor/pets are, they probably secretly think you’re crazy. Family members can’t unravel mysterious bureaucratic forms or engage in deep discussion over your ethics applications or complain over the lack of comfortable couches in the department. You need friends who understand the fears of diving into the sea of literature, those pre-presentation jitters, the ones who will not judge the 68th cup of coffee you’ve drunk to write two words for your thesis. 

When it comes to our out-of-studies life, we go out for lunch (we even have our favourite place to eat fish and chips), spend evenings at concerts, visit each other’s flats and have cooking nights together. The beauty of our group is that we not only work, we also have fun!  We’ve made sushi together, hosted murder mystery birthday parties, lunch pizza parties, and supported each other’s posters and conference presentations. We have commandeered Zoom for hours’ long ‘check-ins’ and let each other know we’re only a text message away. 

Also, two of our colleagues have children, so we raise our PhD kids together by welcoming and playing with them in our office when their parents are busy working on their dissertations. We talk about our ups and downs, smile, laugh and cry a lot. Like everyone else, COVID-19 has dramatically changed our experience, but it did not stop us from sticking together. Rather, it brought us even closer, not physically but spiritually and emotionally. Since entering lockdown, we have been chatting regularly through messenger, emails, and zoom. 

We have chatted through Messenger very often since we became friends and communicate academic issues and events via emails a lot. Before the lockdown, we visited each other’s houses and arranged gatherings and birthday parties to bond our relationships. At this specific time, although we cannot see each other in person like we used to, we still talk about our studies, world news, and our daily lives to each other. 

Maintaining our network is never an ‘issue’ for us. Chatting is not a task, let alone a burden. It simply is a few close friends exchanging feelings, our lived experiences and our opinions of our studies. As things start to relax again post-lockdown, some of us even organised one or two face-to-face gatherings in the park, of course, with a ‘social distance’. We hope this is just the beginning of sharing our memories of the state sanctioned solitude. 

We would like to encourage other PGRs to consider forming informal groups like ours. We have simple advice: Be intentional. 

  • Daydreams are fun but they are destined to remain in your head unless you make the effort to wrangle up your peers and bribe them with potlucks.
  • Consider hosting ‘pizza and writing’ sessions in your PGR space. 
  • Offer to act as a sounding board to a colleague who needs to iron out theoretical tangles. 
  • Create online groups where you all can post questions, concerns, and compliments. 

Our experience tells us that we grow socially and intellectually when every one of us contributes to a group. Your weaknesses can be dispelled by another’s strengths. You are not alone when you see your colleagues charting the same journey as you. Remember that it’s not all on you, and that others must demonstrate social solidarity as well. There is a balance between intentionality and organic growth. It’s such a blessing that Team 681 wants to do things together and manages to find ways to be a community, despite job changes, children, travel, sickness and stress.  

Think of it as a ‘family’ over an abstract ‘network’. Make memories together because the PhD is not just your thesis, it’s the sum of the memories you’ve made while learning how to be a researcher. You can call up your fan club when you’re trembling over a presentation and force them to drive up views for your papers (only slightly kidding).

Cheers, and lots of love to everyone out there! PGR Team 681

A group photo of 6 members of team outside their shared office on campus.

4 Replies to “PGR Team 681: The hidden curriculum of doctoral camaraderie”

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