Thursday 19 November 2009

A spoonful of Gradschool makes the medicine go down...

So having been back from GRADschool ( for about a week now and the buzz still keeping me going at 100mph. I figured I should take the time to share the experience with you all.

As a third year PhD student I often find myself wondering about life outside the research, why people don't seem to care so much about the minutiae of 18th century urban colonies, and, how knowing the exchange rate of pounds to rupees in 1727 will ever net me my dream job. So following recommendations from several tutors and the hearty recommendation of my research council I signed up and took the short trip to Scalford Hall (reputedly the location and inspiration behind Cleudo - a house owned by a Colonel Coleman of English Mustard fame).

The next three days went by in a blur, but, I do remember several key events that made the experience a useful and enjoyable event.

Overthe course of the school we participated in several case study/role play exercises whereby we had to explore the way that real world events often unfold. So, one minute, being a chemical company that was looking to protect its profits, to next acting as a group looking to solve the problems of teenage pregnancy. Over the course of three days were pushed far outside our comfort zones. A pessimist might argue that these random examples might not hold any relevance but as an eternal optimist I'd like to take the opposite approach. These types of activities are great ways to gain confidence and to display those o' so important transferable skills that we are taught throughout our studies. Additionally, they are great in helping you understand how you might deal with situations when confronted with them personally, rather than separated from them via historical distance.

One of the major activities that came from the 4 days was the introduction to Myers-Brigg's Type Indicators (MBti for short) which we were introduced to as a form of understanding that different ways of working do not necessarily mean wrong ways of working. Though, being told that as a unique individual you are possibly similar in character to somebody else can be a bit disturbing, it did seem to have some practical uses.

Your personality type could be one of sixteen combinations and no one type is wrong or superior to another. The use of these tests and talks about MBti was that it really made me feel like I should stop worrying about whether I was working to please my superiors but whether I was working to get the job done. It gave me great comfort to know that though I may not be the consummate planner, that it is not criminal to be a little more flexible with your time than someone else (politeness and common courtesy permitting of course). As an example of this, one of my favourite activities is to just turn up in a place and explore, not have each step of the journey planned out in particular detail, but to really enjoy the freedom of letting your feet take you somewhere new. Equally, I now appreciate that some of you reading this will be shuddering over your tea and cake proclaiming me as a blasphemer against organised culture or even efficiency. But if going away to GRADschool has taught me one thing, its that that's ok.

So if your just starting a PhD or thinking that you could do with some perspective on what you'd lived, breathed and slept for a year or two. Maybe have a look at GRADschool and leave that comfort zone, even for a few hours. It'll make the remaining task ahead of you easier to swallow.

p.s my discussion of MBti is deliberately brief, its far to complex for a blog post - check it out at Wikipedia or even go to the Leicester Career people that by all accounts offer some information regarding the use of MBti.