We’ve both had experience leading the ‘Students of Neuropsychiatry Research’ graduate group, based in the Melbourne Neuropsychiatry Centre in the University of Melbourne. We are an ever-growing bunch of enthusiastic students who come from a range of geographical, social, academic and cultural backgrounds. Being a part of this group has been a highlight of our PhD journey, so we want to share with you, a future leader, some of our tips to get the most out of your group.
1. Talk, talk, talk… but not too much. We all get a thousand emails a day, and we want our communications to stand out! So how about a concise weekly or fortnightly wrap up of the important events, notices, and upcoming social plans?! You could consider adding something fun to make your email stand out; bright colours, memes, gifs or even emojis! This will make sure everyone, regardless of where they study from (home, another campus etc.) are all in the loop and know what’s going on!
2. Speaking of social plans, the activities you organise dictate the vibe of your group. Is it all pub crawls? That probably won’t suit everyone, so have variety. There’s a time and a place for everything so all events should have a purpose. Remember everyone’s time is valuable so make sure your events are engaging and targeted so members will want to come along! We like to mix up our events with student presentations (topics can be science-y, sharing a hobby, journal club – all help to develop presentation skills), guest speakers, documentaries, trivia nights, hands on workshops, celebratory picnics, board games evenings and some good old pub drinks.
3. You can’t please everyone, but you can try to promote inclusivity. Graduate groups are often a very diverse group, which is great! It’s a perfect opportunity to learn from each other you can even centre your activities around this, such as learning dances from each culture! Ultimately, make sure that when communicating and planning events, you keep all of your members in mind and make sure there’s at least something for everyone.
4. Money makes the world go around, but if you’re not in the lucky position to have access to funding don’t let that stop you! Lots of guest speakers will happily present to young scientists if asked politely. We’ve had some leading experts take time from their busy schedule to come for an informal chat – if they’re told they don’t need to prepare anything, then it’s one less barrier to them coming. You just have to be brave enough to ask! Similarly, there are so many great resources online that are free and readily accessible. BYO drinks/food is never a bad suggestion, but keep in mind that sometimes students aren’t cashed up. If you’re setting up something new, then there’s no harm in asking your centre/university, or graduate student associate if there are any available funds they would like to donate – they’re often surprisingly keen to support student initiatives.
5. All of the fun stuff doesn’t happen without some boring stuff too. As the leader of these groups it’s important firstly, to keep notes and minutes of any meetings where you plan events. Secondly, store them in an accessible place for any other members to reach when necessary. Finally, if this is all in order, then when you hand over to new leaders, it’s all together in one handy place – they can see how and why you made your decisions to better inform their choices with their planning!
We hope these tips help you get started with building or contributing to your own student groups. If you any questions or want to share your ideas, tweet us at @MsHannahSavage or @georgiacaruana , we would love to hear them!