An international research community in action
Published: August 6, 2012 by Dr. Cheryl Stenstrom
Last week I had the pleasure of attending my third San Jose/QUT Gateway PhD program summer residency (and final one as a candidate). Many attendees, both faculty and student, noted the week is a highlight for them each year as it allows them to connect with others interested in their research through scholarly discussion and a social setting.
The Gateway PhD program is a collaboration between SLIS and Australia’s Queensland University of Technology with students coming from across North America. The current model includes two annual residency components in addition to monthly gatherings held virtually on Blackboard Collaborate. The annual week-long residency in early August gives students the opportunity to engage with each other and faculty from San Jose and Queensland. The formal schedule of research activity is underscored by an air of collegiality and relationship building (since my own research is concerned with relationship building, I would argue this is key!). The second residency of the year will take place in Baltimore, Maryland in October during the ASIS&T conference.
Of particular note this past week was the observable evolution of the program as the student participants ranged from those entering the program through to the very first graduate (and soon-to-be graduates); the inaugural cycle of the program is complete. As Mary Ann Harlen remarked, we’ve been able to follow the growth of many community members from their earliest days in the program to seeing themselves in the role of researcher as they prepare to embark on the next phases of their lives as newly minted ‘PhDs’. My own experience reflects this well – I’ve often joked with my program colleagues about the feeling of being dropped in the ocean without a raft in those early days of orientation to the sense of confidence I feel in my completed dissertation and the pleasure I can take in sharing the results with different audiences.
The residency/virtual meeting model and the resulting development of the community is not an insignificant part of the research process for those in the program. All meetings serve as checkpoints designed to challenge students to question their assumptions, to build their generic research skills, to help them note areas of strength and weakness in their own and others’ work, and to constantly integrate each of these experiences and tools into their work as they move toward the completed dissertation. This process is unique to each student: right now for those entering the program, rigorous feedback will soon be given on their draft research proposals; those approaching mid-point are required to share early work on their explorations of the literature in their field and chosen methodologies; and candidates looking toward completion participate in a cumulative pattern of presentation and revision of their work with their supervisors and the wider Gateway community. The model has enough latitude that the formal plan of presentations is combined with exercises that enhance and reinforce the discussion of various issues that inevitably arise. For example, a senior student member of the program might suggest the entire group read an article to guide and extend our thinking; in other cases a faculty member might encourage a student to examine an aspect of their work more extensively.
Reflecting upon my own involvement in the process, I know now some residencies and monthly meetings left me with the feeling that I needed to stay the course – others pushed me in new and unexpected directions and a sense of jumping into the deep end of the pool. On more than one occasion, other students and faculty were able to throw me a life jacket just when I thought I was going under. As I look toward our next virtual meeting in September and the subsequent residency in October, I invite our newest cohort of Gateway students to come on in, the water’s fine!