The Graduate School delivers a varied community and wellbeing programme to its postgraduates throughout the year. From the initial COVID-19 lockdown in March 2020 we ensured translating these events online was at the forefront of our programme planning and promotion. Lifting our face-to-face delivery format into the virtual proved a straightforward transition due to the support of our Student Community Assistants (both PGT & PGR), with each of the programmes translating in a different way to meet the differing needs of students working in the new normal.

The Graduate School Postgraduate-led Initiative programme makes funding available to assist current postgraduate students to organise academic events and cultural interventions. These events are designed to be a creative and experimental space, bringing together and creating wider student communities.  Our Student Community Assistants have a growing role in this creative space, through driving our Community and Wellbeing programme and by converting successful initiatives into programme staples.

Student-led Community and wellbeing events at the Graduate School:

  • Postgraduate Book Club (approx.150 students April – Oct 2020)
  • Shut Up and Write (approx.100 students April – Oct 2020)
  • Mindful Meditation (approx. 130 students April – Oct 2020)
  • Rejuvenation Yoga (approx.50 students June – Oct 2020)
  • Virtual Café (approx. 81 students June – Oct 2020, 68 of those in Sept-Oct)
  • Bespoke events: Study Well, Be Well Webinar (PGR) / Sleep Workshop for Postgraduates
  • Virtual Tours of the Graduate School (Bespoke for Welcome 2020 and now running monthly for students, staff and as part of recruitment) (approx. 23 students Sept – Oct)
  • Postgraduate-led Initiatives (5 initiatives delivered April – June)
graph of GS community and wellbeing engagement
Graph of Graduate School Community & Wellbeing Engagement

Reacting to virtual delivery in April, the Graduate School set up a Virtual Reception, a space to ensure students could contact Graduate School team members and our Student Assistants in a Teams ‘face-to-face’ environment. Throughout lockdown we have encouraged students to avail of our Postgraduate-led Initiatives (PGLI) funding and to think creatively about how they could support their postgraduate community in a virtual setting. We delivered 5 initiatives in the period April – June when applications closed:

  • Improve Skills for Leaders
  • Growth Mindset: lessons from a performance psychologist
  • Grad School Summer cooking Instagram takeover
  • Dissertation, Meditation, Relaxation workshop
  • Postgraduate Book Club

Building community in the virtual has given us a chance to experiment with what works well, such as having student leads on rolling programmes to help build connection and familiarity, good communications across social channels and our Weekly Update, and ensuring conversational and sharing spaces are available. On programmes such as the Virtual Café, lifting this template into the virtual proved more challenging. Where students would have joined us weekly in person for coffee and to meet new people, without a physical anchor we found numbers dwindling throughout the summer.  Pairing back the offer to once a month and having themed and structured sessions ensured more meaningful engagement with our community.

Moving into our second semester, we plan to use student partnerships to challenge the Graduate School to innovate, generate and test new ideas in building community. Through evaluation and feedback we hope to ensure meaningful postgraduate input and genuine and helpful platforms for engagement.