Creating a sense of virtual community for grad students

First #gradchat takes place Monday, June 8

- June 2, 2020

Dalhousie PhD student Katherine Strynatka, who is helping to launch the #gradchats conversation series with Dal grad students.
Dalhousie PhD student Katherine Strynatka, who is helping to launch the #gradchats conversation series with Dal grad students.

Katherine Strynatka is nearing the end of her time at Dalhousie, but she hopes that a new initiative she is helping to lead will leave a lasting impression in the graduate student community.

Like all Dalhousie students Katherine made the transition in March to a fully remote learning environment ever since social and physical distancing measures put in place to combat the spread of COVID-19 forced the closure of classrooms and research facilities. In the final year of her PhD program in biochemistry, she says that working from home and being away from her lab has sometimes been a “struggle” and that it can be hard to stay motivated.

“I miss the atmosphere of campus, the shared experience of working alongside other scientists and being able to draw on their expertise,” Katherine says. While she has been able to remain in touch with members of her lab through Skype and virtual meetings, Katherine wanted to find a way to bring together graduate students from all departments across campus.

Launching #gradchat

After taking part in a Faculty of Graduate Studies webinar on student mental health and wellness in April, Strynatka emailed FGS curriculum developer Dr. Mabel Ho. She proposed the Faculty establish a new series of virtual chat sessions to bring students together.

In her work for FGS and the Centre for Learning & Teaching, Ho leads the creation of professional development for grad students. She notes that workshop participants have asked about having a space to share ideas and insights with their peers. After hearing from Katherine, the wheels were set in motion. And so #gradchat was established, named for the popular Twitter hashtag where students discuss all things academia.

“I’m hoping this will provide a forum for students from various departments to feel comfortable sharing their experiences and challenges, and receive support from others in similar situations,” Katherine says.

“Certain aspects of the grad student experience are universal: the ever-present imposter syndrome, finding balance in our personal and professional lives, managing finances. It can be cathartic to connect with others outside your immediate circle and bond over the fact that we all picked this path because of our passion for our individual subjects.”

Coping during COVID-19

The first one-hour #gradchat session is scheduled for Monday, June 8 at 2:30 p.m.  It will tackle the topic of coping and finding happiness during COVID-19.  Students will meet as one large group and in virtual “breakout rooms.” Future editions may feature tips for thesis writing at home, a discussion between doctoral and master’s students on considering a PhD, and advice for getting research published.

“These sessions will be driven and led by graduate students and postdoctoral fellows based on their needs and interests,” says Dr. Ho. “I hope it can build connections and create a sense of community. It is important to have this space to connect with peers, form friendships and exchange ideas.”
Sessions will continue monthly, with the goal of developing a format that fosters a community spirit where individuals can build bridges across different disciplines.

Katherine hopes the first session will strike a chord with students. “Having something like this has been a dream of mine for a while, and I’m thrilled Mabel and I are able to make it a reality, especially during this challenging time.“

Join the first #gradchat

Grad students and postdoctoral fellows are invited to register in advance for the first #gradchat session. Participants will be emailed a link to join on the day of the session.

Date: Monday, June 8
Time: 2:30 p.m.
Topic: Coping during COVID-19 and finding happiness


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