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July 26, 2017
As part of the MIBTP doctoral training programme we are fortunate to have access to the University of Birmingham’s activity centre in the Lake District; the Raymond Priestly Centre. It is perfectly located on the western shore of Coniston Water surrounded by stunning views of the lake and mountains which look beautiful, even in the rain!
For many people, the idea of “team building activities” during a PhD may seem a waste of time. I have to admit that the thought of taking 5 days out of my research schedule to play in a canoe or climb some ropes did not fill me with joy as we set off up the M6 in the middle of June. However, I could not have enjoyed my time at the Raymond Priestly Centre more!
Everyone in my group seemed a little sceptical at first, being instructed to build a bridge over a marshy pit or canoeing across a lake weren’t tasks we thought we would need to do while completing a PhD! However, we dived into the tasks in good spirits laying planks of wood, shuffling across platforms, lifting each other through small space between strings, building rafts. Little did we know that so much learning could be obtained from such fun activities. We started each task with little planning initially and consequently little success! However, with guidance from the delightful team leaders from the Centre, we realised the importance of collaborating our ideas and deciding upon the best way to complete the activity.
Throughout the week at the centre there were reflective discussion about how we had completed the tasks (if indeed we had managed to!) and on the groups teamwork each day. Again, if I’m honest, I was sighing at the words “reflective activity” written into the timetable for each day at the centre, however it is a lot more beneficial than you would first expect. Looking back at how you tackled each task at the end of an activity, with the leaders instigating a thought process on what could be improved and what went well, provided useful feedback to enhance our team-working skills each day. Eventually we established roles for each of our group members based upon each other’s strengths. It was clear to see how we all developed over the week when you compare our epic failures of plunging into marsh pits and capsizing canoes initially, due to rushing into activities without proper planning at the start of the week, to our team navigating across the lake and mountains of Coniston on the last day successfully collecting many points for Project X. The way our group transitioned from many individuals, each with good ideas and skills to offer, into a prosperous team was as a result of our group reflection and feedback session.
Teamwork, feedback and reflection are all skills that are important in the lab setting and throughout a PhD. With each experiment conducted, a plan needs to be established from start to finish and often made in collaboration with supervisors or other lab members. Utilising people’s skills and strengths and working together with your lab group is important to help you learn and develop into a successful researcher. Being able to work well in a team during your PhD is incredibly beneficial, although, if your experimental results don’t turn out exactly as planned at least you don’t end up in a cold lake or covered in mud!
My time at Coniston gave me the opportunity to get to know my MIBTP colleagues more and have a great time in the Lake District. But more than simply this, it offered me the chance to reflect on my PhD and myself as a researcher. I had never really stopped to consider what I was doing well or what I needed to work on and plan how to tackle any issues I identified. While at the Raymond Priestly Centre I learnt a lot about myself, but also had an incredible time in an amazing setting. I was completely converted from a cynic of teambuilding events to wishing I could go again next year! I hope you can enjoy your time in Coniston as much as I did!
Sophie Martucci - 2015 cohort