Posted by Nishal Patel, on 11 November 2010
I’m Nish, a 3rd year PhD student in Kate Storey’s lab at the University of Dundee. Over the past year, I’ve been involved in running PiCLS, the PhD association here at the College of Life Sciences in Dundee. Unfortunate acronyms aside, it has the most interesting year of my PhD so far. I thought I’d write a bit about my experiences with PiCLS, hopefully to encourage other students to be part of something similar and maybe even getting other academics thinking about supporting students taking part as well.
To give you a bit of background about PiCLS, it was started in late 2008 by a group of students who had been organising various student events like retreats and decided to form an official organisation for students with support from the college. The aim of this organisation was to help students from different fields network. Dundee may be a small place, but with students working in the lab late hours and sometimes in unsociable labs, it can be difficult to meet other students and socialise with them.
Also, more importantly, it gave students a voice in important decisions made by the College. As PhD students aren’t contracted employees but are often treated as such, it is important that we are heard.
I joined the PiCLS board in its 2nd year. The previous board had established PiCLS in the College of Life Sciences quite well, organising workshops, seminars, a ceilidh (a Scottish dance – some of you may remember the one at this year’s BSDB/BSCB meeting in Warwick) and retreats and we wanted to take this further. As well as academic seminars, we organised career seminars, more social events like pub nights and sports competitions between departments. We even put together a symposium where we invited students from across the country and some big names from different fields to give talks like Matthias Mann, Susan Gasser and Seth Grant.
I learnt a lot in my year on the PiCLS board. I found out a lot about how institutes like the College of Life Sciences are run; especially the logic behind some of the decisions made that at first don’t seem right. I also appreciate how hard it is to organise a symposium/conference. We were very lucky in that we had the expertise of many people who had organised conferences in Dundee at our disposal.
Above all, I had a great lot of fun being part of this society. I got to do some really interesting things that most PhDs haven’t done and I got to know a lot of new people in the process, not just students and academics. It also helped build contacts that may be useful later in my career. These contacts are also useful if you want to consider forging a career outside of science, something that a lot of us students should consider, especially in these testing time. If anyone gets the chance to start up or join a PhD society, I would strongly recommend they take it.
I may have some bias in this statement, being part of PiCLS, but when I think about the things we achieved and the feedback we’ve been given, I hope that every institute thinks about supporting a PhD student society.
In the spirit of social networking, here is a link to our Facebook page with photos and details of events – http://tinyurl.com/38uj5ko.