How do you build, nurture and engage a brand new community if everyone in it is busy and not always in the same place at the same time? It’s a knotty problem that all of us have to unravel in our modern digital society but even more so for the PhD students enrolled in the UA Doctoral Training Alliance (DTA).
Last year, Alliance universities joined forces to launch a new kind of doctoral training programme in response to industry needs and promote the UK’s economic growth and productivity. The largest multi-partner and only nationwide doctoral training initiative of its kind, the DTA builds on the research strengths and industry-focused ethos of Alliance universities.
Each participating university has between two and four fully funded postgraduate students on the programme in the first subject area – Applied biosciences for health.
Key to its success is developing an inclusive and vibrant network where students can connect, share resources and knowledge, and collaborate – not just now and with each other but in the future and with future cohorts of DTA students as they progress through the programme and move on to further academic and other destinations post-PhD.
Creating and sustaining this new community has been incorporated into the DTA itself in the form of cross-university project groups. The students have started work on four group projects to help build their cohort – and provide tools for them to congregate and grow, often at a distance: a blog to share experiences and advice; an online journal club; a series of videos featuring student profiles and research projects; and a student forum. At the DTA’s Summer School in Nottingham Trent University in July, they will present the results of their first year of cohort-building.
It’s not always simple to foster an environment that encourages a new community to bond, especially if you are, like our DTA students, also undertaking PhD research. Yet we shouldn’t see the two as mutually exclusive. Team and remote working will remain a key characteristic of their research careers, whether these evolve in academia or industry, or both. So developing both of these skills together works naturally.
Which is why this week, 16 DTA students travelled to UA HQ for a communications workshop to progress their projects and identify how to maximise value by ensuring that they complement each other rather than compete. They also took the opportunity to tour the House of Parliament nearby, learning more about science in policy.
We all thrive from connection – and as our DTA student pioneers are finding, working together to create a tighter knit tribe hopefully gives them the feeling that they are part of something bigger than themselves.