Virtual Campus Life

Jennifer Kitchen | This post was originally published 28/10/2013

virtual campus lifeThis post originated in a reflection on Thomas Bray’s excellent PhD Hub blog post on the values of getting involved in campus life. This evoked a mixed response in me, being in the second year of a fulltime PhD, yet – for a variety of reasons – living over 90 miles away from campus in North London.

I manage this 90-mile displacement with a variety of techniques and networks I refer to (in the quietness of my own mind!) as my ‘virtual campus’ – and far from being a poor compensation for the benefits of full-time Warwick life, I’ve come to think of it as a distinct advantage. So I want to introduce you to my virtual campus, and invite you to create your own, regardless of whether you live in Coventry, halls of residence or even further afield than me.

So WHERE is this virtual campus of mine? Apart from trips to Warwick for training, supervisions, and resources, I have to carve out a study space elsewhere. Mostly the libraries and buildings of other universities. Now I’d admit I’m spoilt for choice here, with the big smoke on my doorstep, but armed with nothing but a SCONUL card I’m able to regularly make use of my favourite study spots:

  • City University – The ‘everyday’ space; closest to home, accessible and friendly, with the wickedCoffeeWorks Project nearby!
  • The British Library – Feels like the academic equivalent of a spa day; check everything in your locker apart from books, papers and a pencil and indulge in some old school scholarship
  • Goldsmith’s College – Satisfyingly arty campus and close to many of my South London friends and work commitments

I get the advantage of accessing books that might not be easily available in Warwick (many universities will let SCONUL card holders you check out a small number of books) and get wind of a variety of seminars and events which have enriched my research and which I never would have come across otherwise.

Visiting these other universities allows me to also make links with academics in my field (theatre education) across London. I feel this network is vital in developing a robust career, and I know not being able to knock on my supervisor’s door each day has made me much bolder about approaching other relevant academics in London and beyond. In my experience they are usually only too happy to help.

So, apart from this motley crew of professors, WHO is my virtual campus populated with? Other students! I’ll admit that I have a stroke of luck here: one of my closest friends started a PhD in London the same time I started at Warwick. So we regularly meet for study days, and she’s put me in touch with another group of London students (at a different university again to hers) and we run reading groups and attend events together.

There are also my Warwick colleagues – several of which I’ve become firm friends with though the necessity of having to beg a sofa to crash on in times of multiple Warwick commitments. But the other fellow students in my virtual campus are also more ‘virtual’ in nature, through twitter and social media channels (recent posts on the PG Hub blog here and herecover where to find these) Yes, there’s the general chat and sharing of links you’d expect, but what’s surprised me is how ready people are to provide detailed, practical and sometimes very subject-specific advice. Via judiciously-tagged twitter requests I’ve been advised on audio and video equipment for field research, had texts recommend for everything from ethnomethodology to social theory, and attended conferences I never would have heard of if relying on Warwick networks alone.

I’m not going to lie, being a 2 hour commute from campus is tough sometimes, with a definite element of FOMO (Fear Of Missing Out – don’tcha know). But ultimately, the necessity of having to carve out this independent and inter-dependent world for myself has made me develop as a researcher. I’ve often heard academics describe the process of making a contribution to knowledge as like that of joining a conversation – and I think it’s eminently worth remembering that conversation is not just happening at Warwick.

Are you based off campus? Do you have an equivalent ‘virtual campus’? If so I’d love to hear from you!

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