PGRs are doing it for themselves: Peer2Peer training in the College of Social Sciences

By Dickon Copsey. Employability Officer within the College of Social Sciences where his role includes the coordination of the College Employability Programme.

As Employability Officer in the College of Social Sciences, I have one of the best jobs in the University. My job is to find creative ways to support the prof dev of our approximately 11k students. We do this through skills courses and workshops, working with academic colleagues to develop new credit-bearing courses, and trying to highlight the myriad of development opportunities offered up by an institution the size and diversity of Glasgow. Delivering relevant training courses is key to this mix.

Training is for trainers, right?

For our 500 postgraduate researchers, this job has been made easy by the fantastic Researcher Development Team who have developed a sector-leading training programme tailored to the needs of our students. Their Researcher Development programmes have been developed by expert, professional trainers and supports all keys stages of the postgraduate researcher journey. Close partnership between the Colleges and the central Researcher Development team is key to ensuring this Programme remains relevant and tailored to the needs of our PGRs. None of us claim to have all the answers as to what our PGRs need and how best to supply it, but together we can make a much better attempt.

The feedback we get from the Researcher Development Programme is excellent and the numbers participating from the College are high, and getting higher! So, you could be forgiven saying that everything is rosy and there is no problem, right?

But what about training in…?

Well, this would be the case, and yet every year I am contacted by PGRs asking for specialised training that we don’t, in fact, provide. Sometimes, it turns out to be quite a niche area relevant to a smaller group of people, and often it ties in more closely to the individual research project. Over the years, I have been asked about training around the Sustainable Development Goals; the Global Standards for Sustainability Reporting; Policy work in the 3rd sector; and a whole array of other specialised development needs.

This has caused me a real dilemma (not least because I am pathologically incapable of saying ‘no’ to anyone!) On the one hand, we want to support our researchers and we do recognise that each person’s training needs are unique; on the other hand, we simply can’t cater to everyone’s individual training needs, even if we could find the trainers to deliver it!

PGRs taking the lead

And this led me to my second gradual realisation. Postgraduate researchers don’t arrive for their research studies as blank slates. The majority have significant previous professional experience, many have advanced research skills, and all have a wealth of life experience before starting their PhDs. So why, I started asking myself, don’t we harness this knowledge and professional experience, and feed it back to their fellow students? Researchers are always looking for teaching experience, right, so why couldn’t we pay and support them to develop their own training workshops to deliver back to their fellow PGRs?

The Peer2Peer model

As usual when I have an idea, I immediately set off to discuss it with colleagues and to see if I could steal their ideas to make it even better (and share the blame if it went wrong). Together with Joanna Royle, the Researcher Development Adviser for PGRs, and Gesa Helms, one of our long-standing external researcher development trainers, we hammered out a new scheme whereby we would pay students to develop and deliver training to their fellow postgraduate researchers – training that drew on their previous professional experience and skillsets. Our Peer2Peer workshop participants will work in pairs, with the support of an external professional trainer,  to plan, develop and deliver training workshops to researchers across the College of Social Sciences.  

And here we are today…

And we have, at long last, our first Peer2Peer training initiative! And not only that, it’s a big one! Our first two PGRs have successfully applied to the scheme and are now developing and delivering a postgraduate research symposium and hackathon to students across the College. In many ways this first application encapsulates all of the main principles of the Peer2Peer workshop scheme. The idea is entirely PGR-led, it responds to a real need to come together and practice ‘conferencing’ in a safe space, it has the support of academic staff, and offers some excellent professional experience to its student originators and its participants.

Our hope is that the Peer2Peer workshops will be a win-win for both participants and PGR trainers. Our participants, we hope, will gain knowledge and a greater diversity of training experiences, whilst also seeing their peers taking active ownership of their professional development journeys. Our PGR trainers will develop teaching skills and experience and feel empowered about their own knowledge and expertise and, more broadly, their pivotal role in the College.   

This scheme is in its very early stages but, hopefully, it will meet a real need in our PGR population to practice and share their professional skills and experience. If it does, we would see a lot more Peer2Peer workshop applications flooding in.

You can find out more about our Peer2Peer workshop initiative on the College of Social Sciences PGR Opportunities Hub.

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