On April 7, 2021 the group in the photo celebrated one year of on-line doctoral networking and support. The idea for the group emerged in March 2020, just days before the very first COVID-19 lock-down in Ontario. Julie Petrin - then in her 5th year of her PhD in Rehabilitation Science - and Marcia Finlayson, her advisor, came up with the idea during one of their regular check-in meetings. Anticipating the isolation that was about to come, Julie expressed concern about staying focused and moving forward in the very last stages of her dissertation work. Together, they brainstormed some possible ideas, and decided to invite Marcia’s other doctoral students to an on-line meeting to explore options. Marcia sent the following invitation to six students: “Most of you don’t know each other, but all of you are doctoral students working with me – as a supervisor or co-supervisor – in RHBS (Julie, Ansha), AGHE (Jodi, Stacey) or RHL (Rhona, Candi). This is a challenging time to keep tasks moving forward. Julie and I were talking this morning, and wondered about starting a weekly group to get together on Zoom or other platform (maybe Microsoft Teams) to share work, talk through things, get feedback, set goals, and help everyone keep going – regardless of where you are at in your programs. Let me know if you are interested, and we’ll go from there.”
The response was unanimous: Yes - I would love to do this! The group met for the first time on April 7, 2020. Members introduced themselves, their research interests, and expressed concerns about research suspensions, childcare demands, and the general unknowns of the pandemic. Together, we agreed to meet every two weeks for an hour, and to set goals about work to be accomplished by the next meeting.
Now, in 2021, we have held 25 meetings, welcomed two new members (Karen - RHL; Olivia - RHBS) and celebrated the achievement of several critical milestones - Ansha’s comprehensive exams, Julie’s dissertation defense and new post-doc position, and Candi’s dissertation submission. We have supported Jodi, Rhona and Ansha as they juggled dissertation work and home schooling, and we have shared flyers to help Stacey recruit the final participants for the on-line meditation intervention she is piloting for her research. Members have shared resources, taught each other how to use different software programs, and become research collaborators for new initiatives. Members have also launched the “Write Club”, during which they get together on-line and spend focused time writing and moving projects forward. We have also set, progressed and achieved more goals than we can count.
The importance and value of the group spurred us to co-author a manuscript about our experiences. Through our analysis, we uncovered the commonalities of the doctoral experience, despite the differences in the programs, and the congruity of the COVID experience. We also were able to document the value of mentorship, peer learning, safe accountability, and the importance of having a sense of community. Our manuscript is now under consideration in a journal focused on higher education.
The doctoral networking group has grounded and stabilized all of us over the past year. It has also illustrated that cohort learning is not bound by programs, year of entry, or topic of study. Cohorts and communities of learning are created by commitment to each other’s success, genuine caring about the well-being of others, a willingness to create a safe space to share and grow, and a recognition that all achievements, no matter how small, are worth celebrating!