Leaving the Natural Habitat (Better Known as the Postgraduate Office)

Look around your postgraduate office, and you will find many species of postgraduate mates – workaholic bees, hyperactive squirrels, nervous and easily frightened ostriches, social butterflies, patient turtles, overconfident ducks, talkative parrots. It is the differences that make this journey so enriching, isn’t it?

But there are also a few things that we all share: we prefer to stay in our natural habitats and only leave our little self-built empires if we have to – for instance for our frightening PGR9 presentation. And even if we are perfectly fluent in English, and we read and write almost 24/7, once we are asked to share our research ideas, we seem to be from a different planet and start to stutter. If you are reading this and you are not thinking “been there, done that,” you might be one of the few lucky cats among us. Getting out of our little snail shell often seems scary and there are a lot of what ifs stopping us from getting exposure.

Shouldn’t it be fun to talk about the topic that is occupying our minds 24/7, 365 days for years? The answer is simple: “Yes! But how to get out of my natural habitat without harm?” Maybe we should start thinking about our closest circle of trust first, reduce the size of the audience to our postgraduate mates to feel more confident and comfortable to talk about our research, and then enter the bigger stages? Sounds good! Maybe we should be brave enough to extend our circle of trust just one tiny layer – let’s say postgraduate students that share the same passion, yet are enrolled at a different university? Sounds even better!

Let’s make it a plan! So we decided to extend our monthly Doctoral Tea Parties in the School of Hospitality and Tourism to a Postgraduate Research Workshop for tourism, hospitality and event students across New Zealand!

First things first, we needed a date! Luckily that was easier than we thought – how about we extend the official conference programme of the Critical Hospitality Studies Symposium held in our school from 2-4 July and run the Postgraduate Workshop in the afternoon of the last conference day? A few emails later, not only the date was fixed, but also the venue and the guest speaker! One of the international scholars and conference attendees, Professor Paul Lynch from Edinburgh Napier University (Scotland), was willing to provide a speech on 10 things to ensure a successful postgraduate journey – fantastic!

Next, we thought about a workshop topic that would be appealing and relatable to anyone who is on this journey – no matter which city they reside in. Let’s talk about Passion, Motivation, Success: How to survive a postgraduate journey and think about strategies to motivate ourselves, barriers of distraction, managing time and mental well-being – should be something for everyone! The burning question came at the very end: how do we reach postgraduate students in different universities across the country? If only there was a database for this… but that is a different story. The answer to this question is easier than some might think: ask your supervisors and colleagues for contacts at other universities. We are lucky enough that New Zealand is a small country and everybody seems to know everybody. No sooner said than done and the email invitation (with the preliminary programme, call for presentations and registration) was circulating across New Zealand. The most exciting time was yet to come – would anyone sign up for our mini-conference?

Eight weeks later, we welcomed 25 postgraduate students from four universities – the University of Waikato, University of Otago, Edinburgh Napier University and AUT – and had a day packed with 12 presentations, a workshop, and an inspiring guest speech! Thanks to the generosity of our school, we didn’t need to starve and had a fantastic late afternoon snack provided by Piko restaurant. There is no conference that doesn’t finish with a little bang! 15 of us were brave enough to sign up for a surprise event and I doubt anyone regretted it. Our icing on the cake was rather an ice-cream in a cone, as we had a delicious ice-cream degustation at Giapo! The perfect end to a day full of research ideas, social exchange and leaving the natural habitat – it isn’t as daring as it sounds once your little toe is out the door!

So whether you are workaholic bees or nervous and easily frightened ostriches – always remember, you are not alone on this journey and talking to other like-minded postgrads is so much fun!

Written by Sabrina Seeler, a hyperactive squirrel.

About Sabrina Seeler

Sabrina Seeler is a PhD student at AUT's School of Hospitality and Tourism. She is the co-leader of the School's Doctoral Tea Party group, and organiser of the Write-Away retreat.

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