By Kieran Sullivan
Over the recent Mother’s Day weekend, I participated in a weekend school for postgraduate students associated with EU Centres in Australia and New Zealand. This year, it was held in Hanmer Springs, a gorgeous little spa town about 2 hours north of Christchurch in New Zealand. The weekend is a chance for the students conducting research at an honours, masters, or doctorate level to get together and talk shop, develop their skills and perhaps most importantly, get in a little bit of time away from the desk to relax and get some perspective from outside our own research bubbles.
Before meeting up with the group and driving up to Hanmer Springs, I was fortunate enough to have an afternoon to explore Christchurch. I had heard the city centre had been pretty devastated in the 2011 earthquake, but couldn’t quite get my head around the scale of it. Entire blocks were just empty, while the rest of the city centre felt like one giant construction site. While completion of the rebuilding works still seem a long way off, the resilience of the people I spoke with and the civil works completed to date make me think that the city is going to be pretty unique and worth coming back to explore in a few year’s time.
The official part of the weekend involved a number of sessions where each of the students presented their research to the rest for the group. This was quite an enlightening experience for me, as my research focusses on sustainability, innovation, and entrepreneurship, while the majority of the other students had a strong focus on international relations and geopolitics. While I struggled to grasp some of the nuances in their work, overall, I came out of these presentations with a better understanding of the EU, its purpose, structure, as well as the challenges and opportunities that it is facing. We also had a seminar where we discussed the how, where, and why it is useful to get published as a postgraduate researcher. This experience also forced me to rethink some of my own research and develop different strategies to communicate it to experts from different fields. Additionally, the importance of being able to relate our work to a wider audience than the typical leather elbow patched academic was drummed into us.
Overall the Postgraduate Weekend was a valuable experience that I learnt a lot from, and one that I recommend highly. While a large amount of the content presented came from outside the fields I am used to discussing, the experience of being exposed to theoretical positioning and ways of thinking from outside my own PhD bubble was eye opening and will be incredibly useful down the track. The change of scenery and being able to get out into nature was like a breath of fresh air and reiterated how important balance is when doing a PhD. Many thanks the EU Centre for Shared Complex Challenges at the University of Melbourne for supporting my trip, and the New Zealand European Union Centres Network and the team at the National Centre for Research on Europe for their organisation of the weekend.