I'm a (biology) PhD student working in industry rather than on campus. There are a bunch of us post-grad students doing research out here so we've decided to form a support group. But we're fast running out of ideas of what to do at meetings and attendance is falling. What are some great ideas for things we can do, topics to discuss, speakers we could invite, anything really to make the most of this opportunity? I'm particularly looking for suggestions of things which have worked for you, what kind of student support group activities have you found really worthwhile?
Our group is potentially about 20 students but usually closer to 10. We're all post-grad or international students so most of us aren't taking classes (PhDs in NZ are thesis only) and our sole reason for being based where we are is to do research. We work at a CRI
rather than straight industry so our projects range from very commercial through to totally blue-sky. We also cover a surprisingly wide range of types of biology, both in organisms studied and techniques used, represent a range of ages and all have different funding and financial situations. There is just generally more variety than your standard University research group.
However we do all face the same issues. We're physically removed from the University and scattered over a range of physical locations within our organisation. So there's a lot of support and information that an on-campus student would be exposed to in their day-to-day life that we're missing. Our research is very well supported but we miss things like how to find funding, teaching opportunities, writing tips, conference and post-doc ideas, and just general moral support from other students.
So far we've tried a couple of things. Firstly is students who have a external presentation to make practise in front of us first. This is really good and something we will continue. However, we don't always have someone with a presentation to prepare. Second is the standard hanging out and drinking. Worked great the first time, not so much the second. My organisation has a lot of social opportunities already so I think we need something a bit more relevant to bring the students out.
One other standard idea that a lot of places do is journal club. I'm not so convinced this will work for us. The range of stuff we study is very wide and while I'm interested in the other students, I'm not in their fields of study. I know I'd skip reading journal articles about that stuff just like I skip the department lectures (structural biology - so
boring). Also we get a different subset of people turn up each time so anything that needs regular commitment probably isn't going to work. But I can see a few one-off journal days working if we had more general or widely-relevant papers to present. I can't quite figure out the details though so ideas in this area would be welcomed.
There must be other things we can do too. We have both management support and a good (student) organiser so asking outsiders to come talk is certainly feasible. We're just not sure who to ask? We're all friendly and talkative so general discussion meetings are also feasible assuming we have topics to discuss.
We currently meet fortnightly for an hour although this is up for debate. I'm looking for a list of ideas and activities to get us through the next few months at least. Tried and tested ideas would be great, I think our group is going to die if we don't get things going in the next few meetings.