Research culture and the graduate centres

Graduate centres are a relatively new concept in higher degree research. They appear to have formally emerged as governments placed fiscal pressure on universities to ensure a quota of graduations, although they have informally existed where ever there have been collections of research students.
Across the three research degrees I have undertaken I have experienced three different models of graduate centres.
The first was an informal meeting of research students, all trying to fathom what it meant to do action research and agreeing to meet and discuss this. This evolved out of the student driven agendas associated with my undertaking a masters by research in my first degree. In a sense it was a genuine community of practice well before these forms of group meetings were identified and seen as beneficial for practitioners, and before universities began to see the benefit of such communities for their research students. Such was the incentive to be part of this community of practice I drove for almost one hour to move from my suburban residence to the university campus on the outskirts of Sydney only to discover some days that the energy behind the meetings, a group of very focussed women researchers had decided to do something else. This also preceded the days of email contact so it was not always possible to let me know beforehand that the plans had changed. Although this was not always successful for me it prompted my flying half way around the world to attend the four day community of practice hosted by Peter Reason for the Bath University Centre for Change Management and being rewarded by living action research.
The second experience was when I enrolled for my doctoral degree and it was the early days of creating spaces for the students. A group of research students undertaking a range of different topics and different methodologies were all placed in a large communal room the most important feature of which was a large central table. In educational speak this can be described as provisioning the environment and from a research culture perspective having this table encouraged us to meet and share meals, and in doing so share ideas and support for each other as research students. However successful this idea was, later in my candidature the wisdom of the faculty moved us all from this lovely communal area to two per office, and although there was a lunch room at the end of the corridor, I was aware that we no longer met and discussed as much as we had.
In the degree which I am currently undertaking there are several graduate centres dotted around the university. I have the fortune to be in one which is not explicitly my discipline so I benefit from conversations with others about their research, and surprisingly this advances my own agendas. It is equipped with a lunch room and photocopy facilities as well as a communal discussion room, all of which, intentionally or totally by accident, provision the environment for discussions and the development of communities of practice. One of the graduate centres is devoted to those students in the final stages of candidature and this offers an additional incentive to get the dissertation completed. Such an initiative recognises the large number of students who almost reach the completion state but fail to move to that final moment of submission or corrections following submission.
Resourcing these graduate rooms is often a major part of a budget and faculty to faculty the budgets vary. I can see that having a dedicated space has enhanced my feeling of being part of a research engine and having the opportunity to chat with others nourishes my learning style of learning through conversations.
The graduate centres are an important factor in generating the research culture. Just allocating resources to research students and providing a dedicated space emphasises the importance of the research student in the overall research agenda in the university.
It is understandable that an individual research supervisor is unlikely to hold the political clout to influence a decision such as whether or not to have graduate centres. If they did hold such power then encouraging the allocation of resources to this sort of research venture is an important way to add to the research culture in a faculty and advance the prospects of students completing their research degrees. Where there is no provision of a graduate centre, then an individual supervisor can begin to establish a community of practice with their own students and encourage them coming together to discuss their common agendas. I have elaborated on this pedagogical model of group supervision is a different blog.
Where research graduate centres are provided an individual research supervisor can help their students to understand the processes by which students move into research centres encouraging them to have their name on waiting lists and if need be add their advocacy to this particular agenda. A supervisor can also enhance this atmosphere of graduate centres by encouraging their own students to create networks by encouraging them to meet other students and perhaps meet some of the other students you supervise.


About the (research) supervisor's friend

I work at a university helping university academics who are supervising research students. I am a research supervisor myself and also work as a research coach for people undertaking their research I was originally in a Management Faculty and when I completed my doctoral studies on 'doing a doctorate' I started working with research supervisors to help them improve their practice.
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