PhD Community and GP2R: Who are they? What are they doing?

vlnr: Anne-Mare de Vries, Tim Van Den Bossche, Dries Bostyn, Camille Meeussen, Xavier Walthoff-Borm en Jasper Juchem

The launch event of the PhD Community takes place on 23 May. With the support of Ghent University and the Ghent Pre and Postdoc Board (GP2R), it focuses on the togetherness among PhD students.

The PhD Community and the Ghent Pre and Postdoc Board (GP2R): these are two new concepts within our university. At first sight with an overlapping target audience. Or is not it?

For extra clarification, we had a talk with Xavier Walthoff-Borm and Camille Meeussen - two members of the core board of the PhD Community, and Rob De Staelen and Lieve Balcaen - chairman and vice-chairman of the GP2R.

Why is the establishment of a PhD Community at Ghent University important?

(Xavier) In the first place, the objective is to bring PhD students closer together, across the boundaries of programs, departments and faculties. We are convinced that this increases the well-being of this personnel group, but can also be an incubator for new collaborations. After all, there are certainly opportunities in the research field through the exchange of knowledge and experience, which can lead to new research insights, methodologies and / or a more efficient and stronger communication. We therefore see not only added value for PhD students, but also for the entire university community.

(Rob) The GP2R brings together PhD students, postdocs and academic staff on policy, but also gladly supports the PhD Community that wants to focus on informal social contacts. The ideas about both initiatives have been around for some time and come ’bottom up’ - something that typifies Ghent University members: the desire to roll up their sleeves themselves.

The GP2R was launched a while ago and now it is the PhD Community’s turn to organize its big kick-off in the Ufo on 23 May.

To whom does the PhD Community focus?

(Camille) It sounds obvious, but we really want to reach all PhD students and hope to welcome them to our events, starting with the launch event on 23 May.

The international PhD students are certainly important to us too.(Xavier) To express the latter very clearly, the language of the PhD Community is also English.

This is also important for the personal development of the PhD student. Sharing knowledge, experience and skills ensures that the PhD students can learn from each other and can grow in their personal trajectory.

(Rob) It also facilitates multidisciplinary research from the bottom up by making social contacts and thus binding expertise in a natural way. Research is daring to ask, also to each other, but then you must (be able to) know the other person; the PhD Community is an ideal forum.

(Xavier) A second objective is certainly to put the PhD students more in the picture, both inside and outside the university.

The PhD Community wants to offer them a platform to motivate and support them to come out with their research.

What are the goals for the PhD Community in 2018?

(Camille) Our focus is currently entirely on the launch event on 23 May. It will be an big opening reception where everyone can get acquainted with the concept, and where the first steps towards networking are made. Interaction between PhD students from the various faculties will be maximally facilitated and stimulated.

In autumn we will focus more specifically on the exact needs of each PhD student as an individual, in which we want to bring people together based on needs, skills and profile.

How will the PhD students be involved in the community?

(Xavier) A PhD student should ideally be aware of the existence of the community on the first day that he or she starts working, so they can take part. We already want to include everyone in the community right from the start and also propagate that objective.

(Camille) In collaboration with the Department of Personnel and Organization and the Doctoral Schools, we aspire to reach everyone. We have found each other to write a joint story in co-creation and are grateful to them for that. We also want to radiate the group feeling permanently by interacting with the members via the social media.

What does the organisation of the PhD Community look like?

(Xavier) There is a core group that prepares and organises the social events and its content, but our ambassadors on the various Ghent University campuses are also a very important part of the organisation. They form our network, our contact with and within the faculties, and they know how to reach best the members at their faculty.

There are working committees that organise the events. This ensures that engagement can be spread out, and adapted to the reality that every PhD student experiences: peak periods in which it is difficult to include extra engagement, alternating with slightly more restful periods, in which one can fully engage.

What exactly is the difference with the Ghent Pre and Postdoc Board?

(Lieve) The GP2R is aimed at policy preparation and support and fits perfectly within the co-governance model of Ghent University. The objective is to bring the AAP/WP representatives within the different faculties together to share common concerns, to learn from each other and to work together at policy level.

(Rob) We focus on both problem-solving (reactive) and proactive position-making in order to achieve the best possible policy for all AAP/WP members.

Together stronger and especially better together!

(Xavier) The building blocks of the representation are located in the faculties. The GP2R wants to be the cement between them and can weigh on the policy forcefully.

(Rob) To emphasize the link with the PhD and Postdoc Community, the GP2R also has two liaison officers in the Daily Board. We see this interaction as a real enrichment. Ideas that arise ’between two beers’ can find their way to our policy documents and ultimately become reality.

How does the GP2R want to strengthen the representation?

(Rob) The GP2R not only connects the faculty representatives with each other but also with the representatives in the central councils and committees. In order to ensure greater continuity in the AAP/WP group that exceeds the mandate of individual representatives, the embedding of these consultations in a fixed structure is a good thing.

For example, the GP2R can play a role as an incubator of ideas and initiatives from the section, which can serve as food for thought for the central government.

In addition, the GP2R can also serve as a memory for the AAP/WP delegation; something that is certainly useful for a staff group in which many people (have to) look for other places after 5 to 10 years. The retention of knowledge is crucial in order to achieve a good and strong functioning and representation in the long term.

(Lieve) The GP2R finds its origin in the central AAP/WP representation. Due to the lack of a formal anchored structure, the point of contact for representatives, but also AAP/WP members who are not themselves involved in policy, was not always clear. The GP2R wants to meet this by acting as a clear point of contact and supporting the voluntary commitments that our representatives include. It was time to put that passionate engagement within the various faculties into a structure that can strengthen all. And it offers the opportunity to further develop the representation within faculties where this is less present.

Can the PhD Community and the GP2R complement or reinforce each other?

(Lieve) Absolutely! The PhD Community and the GP2R complement each other nicely: together they offer PhD students the opportunity to engage themselves - on social or policy level.

In this way we can fully utilize the great potential that exists within our staff group and we are also convinced that providing opportunities for engagement and networking only has positive effects on the welfare of our young researchers and on expansion throughout the university.

(Rob) Not everyone is prepared or able to immediately express his opinion publicly. The networking events of the PhD Community can also be a very enriching way for the GP2R to discover on the one hand which themes live within the community, and on the other hand to find new motivated persons who also want to engage in policy.