From ESA – Strategies & Activities
PhD Summer School Athens 2017
Airi-Alina Allaste, ESA PhD Summer School Director 2017
PhD Summer School in Athens, August 2017
‘I really enjoyed the rich discussions!’: Reflections on the ESA PhD Summer School 2017
ESA now has a long tradition of PhD summer schools, which are organised annually and have always been popular among PhD students. The 2017 summer school was held in Athens immediately before the ESA conference. A total of 106 PhD students applied to attend and 25 were selected through a review process undertaken by the ESA Executive PhD committee.
These Summer Schools have varied in their format over time and recent summer schools have been organised mainly around the preparation of papers for publication. The main purpose of the Athens School was to work with draft articles and thus the two days consisted mostly of group work. This group work was complemented by two lectures: ‘Publishing and Career Planning’ by Lena Näre and ’In Simple Words About Your Complicated Research’ by Katrin Tiidenberg.
The students were organised into two parallel group work streams which each contained three sessions. Each group had teachers involved as both as chair and discussant. During the group work in Athens an innovation was introduced: Instead of oral presentations by PhD students and detailed feedback on their papers by the teachers there were workshops without presentations. The students had prepared written papers, which were pre-circulated to teachers and other students. According to the feedback sheets, this method was really appreciated by the participants: ‘This was really well done. Instead of long presentations of papers, more time was devoted to discussion which is good’. ‘The programme was very good. It was a good idea to ask everybody to read all the papers in the session they attend’. In this Summer School for the first time, all PhD students were assigned as discussants, they were provided with instructions for reviewing and their feedback played a central role in the workshops. The students really appreciated the opportunity to being more involved: ‘I liked the idea of both a PhD student and a session chair providing comments on the paper’. The students’ comments on their peers’ research were a good starting point for discussions in a relaxed environment as was pointed out by this participant: ‘I really enjoyed the rich discussions and I appreciate you were able to motivate people in that. The idea of having discussants worked really well and the other participants have joined the discussion as well. I really appreciate the feedback I received’.
Another new aspect of the programme was the media session on ‘public facing scholarship and media literacy’ which was organised with the purpose of improving the preparation of these career young scholars for public discussions and communication via media platforms.
The students were expected to present their scholarly work in a short and engaging form suitable for public consumption. Students decided for themselves which of the four proposed assignments to choose – whether to:
1. work on their self-presentation on social media
2. make a video abstract
3. prepare and film an elevator pitch for research
4. write a press release.
The session started with a lecture on the techniques scholars successfully use, as well as examples of failures in public facing scholarship, and was very welcome: ‘Katrin Tiidenberg during the media sessions was absolutely fantastic and she knows a lot in her field and how to explain and communicate the necessary material to her audience. I think that everyone learned a lot during the session and the mini-preparation before that was really helpful and constructive and engaging’.
The session continued in groups where assignments were discussed. Although this was found to be useful, some students regretted that they could not listen to the presentations in all of the groups, but only in their own: ‘Amazing! I would have spent even more time to watch, read and comment more PhD students work. Working by groups was efficient, it would be enjoyable to go further with more content and examples, especially to explore how we could adapt the discourse regarding to the country in which we aim to publish’. It seems that a media session fits well with the expectations of PhD students today who found it useful for their studies: ‘I felt myself lucky to participate in the media session. This part of summer school seemed very beneficial for our academical works’.
Last, but by no means least, besides learning about academic writing and rehearsing popular research presentations, the Summer School was also about socialising, networking and belonging. As was emphasised by this PhD student: ‘Although everything was great, this was the best part! Having the opportunity to read about each participant’s research in advance, having to discuss another participant’s paper, group work, joint dinners etc. These all created a feeling of belonging to this group of PhD students and teachers’. The students were happy to spend time together and get to know each other: ‘Excellent. We really got to know each other and develop bounds both personally and professionally. Having lunch and dinners together really helped in this regard’.
PhD Summer School 2017 dinner – on the left, debating, Airi-Alina Allaste
The feedback from the students was good: ‘I really liked the way you managed to fit all our papers in two days. The number of papers was just enough, not too much. Great schedule.’ So the summer school could be considered a success, both by teachers and PhD students, but there were also several suggestions about how to make these events even better in the future: ‘The practical organization of the SM was great. Maybe, for the next time, you can include a walk around the city’.