It’s well-acknowledged that in life, things always don’t go to plan and things change that are outside of a person’s control, having potentially a detrimental effect on motivation, mental and physical health. In these stressful, confusing or upsetting times, nothing can really understate how essential the presence of a support network. These networks can be tacit – existing in place without being explicitly stated (it would be a strange thing for someone to announce ‘I am part of your support network after all), or they can be formalised through assigning a particular person a role in the workplace whose duty it is to provide support and care to those who need it.
As a PhD student, even acknowledging that you might need support can be a bit of a minefield for reasons such as being laden with fears of being discovered as a fraud through the effects of imposter syndrome (something sadly super common within academia L), the social stigma of admitting that a break is needed and difficulty in negotiating time off due to engagements + deadlines. On times where the workload is ranked up to eleven and it’s nearly impossible to take the time off to improve your mental state, it’s essential to have someone to talk through things with within the workplace itself. In Open Lab, as I’ve become accustomed to the great support network that is fempower.tech within the lab I’ve realised I might be taking it for granted when others could benefit from something similar. This is why commencing from the next academic year (Sept 2017), a formal network of ‘transition officers’ are to be implemented for both existing and new students that enter the lab. These will be existing students who have already been through the previous process they’re being assigned to;
- – 1st year PhD students to the new upcoming group of MRes’s
- – 2nd year PhD students to 1st year PhDs
- – 3rd + Final year PhD students to 2nd year PhDs
Although most support is done ‘unofficially’ through chats with existing friends, sometimes it can be beneficial to gain perspective on a situation from someone who is external but not necessarily someone in authority who, for some people, can be disregarded as an option. Like a councillor, all chats will be strictly confidential and as casual or as formal as the person coming for advice would prefer.
I was fortunate in knowing people already from the lab, having worked here the previous summer so my ‘Introduction’ or ‘Enrolment’ felt very strange. Yet most of my cohort didn’t, sometimes asking questions about work that only someone who had been through that process before could really answer or put in perspective. Entering the field of HCI can seem really daunting as it’s nothing quite like any of us expect, but that’s not to say it’s not a rewarding task to be tasked with taking on advanced work and engagement when you feel supported and have the ability to talk to someone confidentially about what’s on your mind, after all – who doesn’t love an agony aunt?