Postgraduate Recommendation: Summer Schools

Have you ever considered attending a summer (or winter) school? You should! Read about Devon’s experiences in Japan and Switzerland…

During your PhD, I highly recommend taking part in a summer school. You may not know much about postgraduate summer schools unless you know someone who has been to one, or you have looked into them yourself. Summer schools are short courses based around particular types of research organised by a host institution or association. You get the chance to travel to the venue the summer school is held at, and learn from researchers and specialists in the field.

Summer schools are typically amazing experiences, where you can learn lots of interesting knowledge and useful techniques. You have the opportunity to travel, possibly in a new country. You can also potentially make some new friends that could last a lifetime, as well as contacts for your career. You may even get to meet some of the big names in your research area.

The gorgeous Chataeu we stayed at for the Swiss summer school

This previous summer I was lucky enough to take part in two separate summer schools, both of which were incredible experiences in new countries. As such, I fully recommend taking the opportunity if you find a summer school relevant to your interests.

Even if the summer school is not entirely based around your current work, if it is on a topic you would be interested in pursuing later in your research, I would recommend thinking about applying.

Both summer schools I discovered from emails sent around our department, but you can be proactive to find summer schools as well. If there is a specific association, society or programme you are interested in, have a look on their website to see if they offer summer schools. If you want to take part a summer school on a specific topic, have a search online, or ask around your department to see if anyone knows about a relevant course.

Hiking through Nagano in Japan


If possible, tie this in to taking part in a conference as well. My own trip to Japan was for a summer school followed by a conference for the International Association of Cross Cultural Psychology. Transport was arranged as transfer to the location of the conference after the summer school ended, as most individuals were moving on to present at the conference.

Many summer schools will include accommodation and food, so all you have to arrange is transport. Often, they’ll recommend specific ways to get from local airports and train stations to the venue, so all you have to do is follow the instructions and make any bookings you need to. If the summer school is overseas (many are, as they are open to students from all over the world) then take into account flight costs when looking at the cost of the summer school overall.

A typical Japanese bento box for lunch

Attending summer schools doesn’t have to break the bank. Sometimes, the aforementioned flights are the majority of the cost, depending on the location. Some summer schools will also offer fee assistance, so keep an eye out in any email correspondence or on their webpages to see if it possible to apply for subsidised fees.

If you’re heading particularly far afield, or to an especially interesting location, and you have the time and money, you may also want to combine your trip with some travelling or holiday whilst there. Getting to experience a country either before or after the summer school and/or conference is a great way to make the most of your trip. I recommend travelling after the summer school so you can fully relax, knowing all the hard work has been done already!

The famous L’horloge fleurie (flower clock) in Geneva

Often summer schools will also organise social or cultural events to enjoy as part of the experience. For example, in Japan we took a group hike at the end of the trip, and had the chance to try local Japanese food and drinks. In Switzerland we had the opportunity to go kayaking and spend a day in Geneva.

Of course, this isn’t to say you should go to a summer school that’s entirely unrelated to your research just for the sake of it. You should apply for summer school that you think you will learn from or will benefit you in some way. You will have to work during a summer school, and you should apply yourself to make the most of it, so make sure you are interested in the topic area. You can learn a lot in a short amount of time at these groups, and it can be very beneficial to your PhD/Masters and your future research.

These summer schools are usually only available specifically to postgraduate students, so be sure to make the most of the availability whilst you can. If any of you have had any experiences with summer schools, please share them below!

Text and image credits: Devon Allcoat

Devon is currently undertaking a research PhD in Psychology. She is researching the effects and applications of video games and virtual environments, a topic which she finds fascinating and wishes to pursue further. You can follow her PhD journey on her Twitter and blog.

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