The new academic year is starting in some parts of the world. In others, it is well under way. Regardless, Mimi Petrakis is here to remind us that PhD students are never alone: there’s always another cohort to lean on…
When I asked the lovely Masters students sitting either side of me in the office how they felt mixing with PhD students their immediate response was: “We don’t know any PhD students. Oh, except that one … and that one …”
And the list goes on. I should add that we don’t usually refer to our colleagues as ‘that one’, however for their privacy that’ll have to do. Either way, we’re lucky enough that our institution makes no real distinction between those doing a PhD or a Master’s degree. We fall under the all-encompassing ‘post-graduate’ label and often get invited to all the same events, workshops and seminars as well as being crammed into the same offices, teaching roles, and reading groups. More often than not, nobody really knows who is doing what type of degree. While this could be interpreted as the university being unwilling to bother with the complex process of separating us, it has the benefit of helping us forget the distinction that exists between us and blend seamlessly into one cohort.
Now this may be an issue for some PhD students who desire some kind of special room/program/chair for their efforts, they do, after all, get a much better hat to wear at graduation. However, with student isolation amongst graduate students being a significant issue for researchers, engagement with fellow scholars in the field or outside of it seems much more important than a post-graduate hierarchy. I tracked down one of my PhD colleagues, cornered him in the office, and asked him why he thought blending with Masters students was a positive thing. Between glancing at the nearest exit, he managed to condense his thoughts into three helpful dot points for me:
- Socialising: Mental health within academia is often fraught as many of us know. You are essentially running a one-horse race–particularly within the Humanities–and it’s possible to become lost quite easily within the university, with your only human contact being a supervisor meeting. As lovely as your supervisor may be, being able to talk through issues and anxieties with your peers is an invaluable experience, which makes you feel much less like you’re alone on a desert island made up of texts you were meant to read this weekend. Combining degrees naturally provides a larger pool of people allowing you to gain ideas and insight from those with different experiences.
- Perspective: As someone undertaking a Master’s degree I can’t speak to the experience of doing a PhD, however I think we can all agree that it is long. Sometimes, it’s easy to lose perspective when working for years on a project and wonder why you decided to torture yourself. Meshing with people who are just starting their research journeys, or their foray into academia, is a great way to inspire yourself to remember why you started this in the first place and re-discover the passion you once had for your work.
- Resources: As brilliant as I’m sure you are; it is impossible for someone to be completely across every facet of their field at all times. I cannot tell you the amount of times I have stumbled on a journal call for entries or conference whose closing date was the week before. Some of the greatest and most beneficial opportunities I’ve encountered in my short academic career have been because those in my network have told me about them and encouraged me to apply.
It seems that in regards to the intermingling of PhD and Masters students, meeting the greatest number of scholars in your field regardless of the stage of their research can only be a good thing. After all, what’s a few thousand words between friends?
Do you ever think of yourself as a Postgraduate Student and not just a PhD Student? Does your department facilitate interaction between Masters and PhD Students? Today, we challenge you to get to know the Masters students in your Faculty/Department! Tweet us about your experience at @ResearchEx, email us at firstname.lastname@example.org or leave a comment below.
Mimi Petrakis is a researcher undertaking her Master’s Degree in Arts at Monash University. Her research focuses on politics and gender in Medieval and Early Modern Art History. At present she is working on the Black Madonna of Le Puy in twelfth and thirteenth century political discourse. Feel free to get in contact at: email@example.com