The first time I heard of the GRADschool was when I received am email informing me that there were places left on the March programme in Windermere. The email was from an organisation named Vitae which professes to champion the “personal, professional and career development of doctoral researchers and research staff in higher education institutions and research institutes”.
I’ve just arrived back after four nights staying in a hotel in Windermere. It was very different to the ECREA summer school. For a start the doctoral students came from wide disciplines of research such as engineering, biology and physics. This made for a diverse amount of opinion and experience.
On the first night I was in a shared room and was introduced to my room mate who promptly informed me that he was “a snorer”. And he wasn’t wrong. He nearly lifted the roof on the room! Realising that this situation could not continue I asked to be moved and was put into my own room with a balcony. I was later complemented by one of the group leaders for my assertive behaviour. It was then I realised it was going to be one of those courses.
On the Tuesday morning we were put into groups of around eight people and given our own tutor. The majority of the first day was taken up with introductory exercises and interview techniques. There was also a lot of emphasis on personal development and goals. This seemed very effective for the younger members of the group but a bit hackney to an older and, maybe, more cynical person like myself.
Wednesday morning we travelled on a coach to an outward bound course in Kendal. Vertical Air was a quite exhilarating experience. We all had to put on crash helmets and attach ourselves to harrnesses. The first of our group’s exercises was the Climbing Abseiling & Zip Wire Tower (left) which is about 12 metres high. I managed to climb to the top after a false start and with a little encouragement from my team. Some people even managed to get to the top using a blindfold.
The most taxing challenge of the day was by far the High Y which as the website explains “involves two participants climbing independently up to a high wire and traversing to meet at a central point seven metres above the ground. The participants then have to use combined tactics to reach the finish point, there are ropes to help the pair balance but they are too far apart for one person to move on their own! Various styles of counterbalancing each others weight or using each other for support can work when moving toward the finish rope.“
This was a difficult tightrope style balancing act. My tightrope partner fell off early on and and decided not to carry on so the group tutor took her place and we met at the central point, but only after I’d fallen off and managed to get back on again. It was touch and go but we both made it to the end with a bit of team work. I felt as though I’d achieved something that I’d not normally get the chance to try in an urban setting like London.
Wednesday afternoon was another altogether different task where acted as consultants to a media company. This was a bit of an emotional roller-coaster for many of the younger members of the team.
On the last day, Thursday, we were given the task of raising funds for a fictitious university through the various faculty’s research data. This was a very frantic, but surprisingly enlightening, activity where university research commodities were traded with commercial companies.
And so to the final activity…. An event like this would not be complete without a big alcohol ingesting party at the end with a DJ and dancing. This final event confirmed one thing, that most PhD students dance very badly!