Reflections on being a Hive Scholar – Rachel Wood

The is the second of a short series of posts in which the 2012-13 scholars will reflect on the year as we prepare to finish our time with the Hive. In this post, Rachel Wood reflects on her experiences.

I decided to apply to become a Hive Scholar after seeing a flyer advertising the post at the 2012 Doctoral School barbeque. Having used the Hive regularly since it opened at the start of my part time PhD, I was interested in the new opportunities that I thought being a scholar could provide. I had already become very involved with the research community and organised research events in the school of Media, Film and Music and the centres for Gender Studies and Cultural Studies, but was interested in meeting a wider community of doctoral students whose research extends beyond my fields. And I wasn’t adverse to the idea of getting some financial benefit in exchange for my efforts either!

The researcher support staff from the library and doctoral school have been a major part of what has made this such a rewarding year for me. From the interview onwards they have been friendly, encouraging and enthusiastic. Perhaps other budding academics will recognise what I mean when I say it is refreshing to work in such a positive and cynicism-free environment! The Hive Scholar team first got together in our ‘induction’ week in September, when we attended a series of meetings and came away slightly dazed from all the information. We sat down armed with post-it notes and wrote down all our ideas for the events and initiatives we wanted to put on during our year, and slowly began to organise them and stick them down into a timeline. This helped us to harness our sense of momentum and creativity into a workable programme on paper – I would certainly recommend this technique for other organising teams.
I’m really proud of what we’ve done this year with the Hive. We couldn’t have achieved so much if we hadn’t worked well together as a team; we complement one another well and we have all been able to use our skills and pursue our interests. Much as I think we would love to, we can’t carry on as scholars next year, and there are good reasons for assigning a new team annually. Not only does it mean that we can all get on with finally completing our theses, but also a fresh new team of scholars will bring their own priorities and experiences to the role. I had a number of things I really wanted to bring to the Hive this year, and which have proved to be real highlights for me.
I had read about ‘Shut Up and Write’ on the Thesis Whisperer blog and thought it sounded like a great idea. It seemed to me that there are some who don’t want to attend workshops or events, either because they are nearing the end of their doctorate, or perhaps because they prefer to get on with doing work instead of talking about it (how I wish that was the case with me!). Shut Up and Write seemed like the perfect opportunity to be sociable and productive at the same time. The first session attracted 16 researchers, far over-spilling the table we had booked in the Library Cafe, and the subsequent monthly events saw equally impressive numbers with a mix of regulars and newcomers. The combination of chatting and focused bursts of writing worked amazingly well for me, and I wrote 1,700 words in the first session alone. I hope not only that next year’s scholars will continue to run Shut Up and Write, but that researchers will be inspired to set up their own groups (all you need is a timer, some fellow researchers, and somewhere to buy coffee!).
Another thing I’ve been pleased to be able to make an impact on this year has been the Hive Twitter account @sussexreshive. I’ve found my personal Twitter account (@RacWood) to be surprisingly useful as a way of raising awareness of my research, starting and taking part in discussions, and feeling part of academic and non-academic communities related to my research, and was keen to increase the scope and role of the Hive account. I have taken part in discussion with an international community of scholars under the hash tag #phdchat, and co-led two live chats in collaboration with the school of education and social work (#eswphd), not to mention sharing numerous tips and pictures. I know from my own experience that Twitter can seem more than a little daunting and confusing when you start but it really is a surprisingly useful tool for researchers. I hope the Hive Twitter continues to try out new things and increase its impact next year.

The unique thing about the Research Hive is that it’s peer led, and we have focused on providing lots of opportunities for fellow researchers to share their knowledge and experiences with one another this year. That can be on a small scale, such as writing on the Hive wall at the welcome event and decorating the Wellbeing Tree at the Festive Fayre, where some great tips were shared. Or it can be more formal, such as the recent very well attended workshops ‘How to Organise an Academic Conference’and ‘Viva Survivors’, where academic conference organisers and recent viva takers have reflected on what they learnt and answered questions. I see our role as being one of providing a platform for researchers to talk about and learn from one another’s experiences, helping each other develop our skills and profiles.
As I had hoped, being a Research Hive Scholar has given me the chance to socialise with a huge range of researchers beyond my own fields from across the sciences and humanities. Whilst socialising and getting to know new people has been great fun, it has also been very important to me that we take action when more serious concerns are shared with us. Often we hear about issues that researchers are having that can’t be solved by peer support and advice alone, and deserve addressing at a structural or management level. I have really appreciated the help of the postgraduate reps in assisting us in taking such issues further, and I hope next year’s scholars continue to develop the relationship with the reps in order to make sure researcher’s concerns are heard.
Whether the issues are serious or trivial, talking to other researchers is so important for making you realise you are not alone. We’ve had so many great socialising opportunities this year, and even though I’ve talked to many researchers whose topics and methods are so different to my own, it’s nice to see how much we all also have in common. So thanks to all the people who’ve attended our events and participated in the Hive community this year. It’s great to know that, during my upcoming year of ‘serious writing up mode’, wherever I am on campus I will always see a familiar friendly face.
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