The importance of networking with other PhD students
In June I attended the SICSA (Scottish Informatics & Computer Science Alliance) PhD Conference, which took place at the modern (and very stylish) campus of Robert Gordon University, in Aberdeen. It’s a yearly event which brings together PhD students from Universities all over Scotland, academics and industry practitioners, for 2 days of workshops, keynote presentations and social events.
I arrived in Aberdeen after a 3-hour train journey, through breath-taking Scottish landscapes, just in time for the welcoming barbeque, which was full of other PhD students who were already engaged in discussions with each other. At first I thought it was going to be difficult to blend in, but that was not the case. After a while I realised that everyone was there for a single purpose: to meet other PhD students.
The next 2 days of the conference were filled with action. I watched interesting keynotes, and attended very useful workshops, including one about web accessibility (a field I am very interested in), and one about common statistical mistakes that researchers make. I also attended a very informative hackathon about writing research grant proposals, during which I got to work with other PhD students on writing a draft proposal, presenting it to others but also trying to assess other people’s proposals. On the second day, I participated in the poster competition, where I got to present my poster to other researchers. This was a very beneficial experience because I got the opportunity to discuss my work with others and hear listen to their feedback, but also get to know about other peoples’ projects and talk about common research interests.
But the most valuable parts of the conference were the social events. During dinner, or over a drink, I got engaged in very interesting conversations with other students; I got to hear their view on my methods and plans, and shared my experience on challenges that others might have been facing as well. It is challenging but crucial, to be able to explain one’s project in just a few sentences. After having done it so many times with all the people I was meeting, I was starting to get the hang of it. A great experience was the napkin challenge that was done over dinner, during which we had to explain our project to the person sitting next to us using only a pen and a napkin.
I left the 2018 SICSA PhD conference having learned a lot of new things, having received valuable feedback on my work and having heard about interesting projects that will influence my research. But above all, I learned that doing a PhD shouldn’t be a solitary job. A PhD student has their own project to work on, but has so much to learn from meeting and discussing with other students: receiving honest, non-judgemental feedback from people with diverse backgrounds and perspective, learning about methods and research that can improve your work, feeling part of a community, helping others, and also creating valuable connections for the future.