Successful second edition of the IMISCOE PhD workshop

The IMISCOE PhD Network forms a network of actively engaged PhD students within the IMISCOE network. This blog is one of the projects of the PhD Network, furthermore the network organizes an annual workshop at the IMISCOE conference. This year the second edition was organized, focused on skills particularly relevant to the PhD trajectory, varying from sessions for PhD’s in their initial and more advanced stages, and session on publishing and teaching. Read more about the PhD workshop and the teaching session below.

Successful second edition of the IMISCOE PhD workshop

By Floris Peters

The idea for skills-based workshop originated from the very notion upon which the PhD network is based: to bring PhD’s studying in the fields of international migration, integration and social cohesion together to see how we can help each other. We as workshop organizers took this idea to the next level. If the network exists to help PhD’s with their ambitions, problems and concerns, why not let the workshop address those issues explicitly? And moreover, since the network is very much an organization by PhD’s for PhD’s, why not give the workshop an interactive character, providing a platform for the participants to share their thoughts and experiences with their fellows? These were the tenets upon which we organized the workshop. Although most sessions were coordinated by the guest-speakers, a great deal of room was reserved for the participants themselves to actively reflect on the given topic. Indeed, the title of speaker does not truly reflect their role and contribution, which was to channel the discussion rather than dictate it. As such, the PhD’s themselves formed the main body of each session, an approach that was highly successful and very well received.

In the session for PhD’s in the advanced stages of their project, coordinated by Valentina Mazzucato, for example four main topics were jointly formulated. Each topic was assigned a chair, and all other participants were divided into four groups. Although each group highlighted unique points, it quickly became apparent that most PhD’s faced similar obstacles and concerns throughout their project. For instance, many participants highlighted feelings of uncertainty regarding their professional career after the PhD, or the ‘correct’ ways of applying for and receiving funding. The fact that most topics resonated strongly with the entire group meant that all the participants had already given them some thought, providing fuel for heated discussion.

The session functioned as a platform for the circulation of ideas amongst the PhD’s, occasionally complemented by the particular experience of the speaker. Although many interesting insights came to the fore, part of the value of the session definitely lay in the simple realization among participants that they were not alone in their worries and uncertainties. The PhD trajectory is an inherently individualistic exercise in doing research and as such, we are at a constant risk of feeling isolated. The IMISCOE PhD network exists partly to tackle that isolation, and it was heartening to see this ambition taking form during this particular session, and the workshop as a whole.

The enthusiasm underlying the workshop sessions was echoed in the PhD assembly, which took place after the workshop. In spite of the limited time available to discuss the organizational aspect of the PhD network, a lot of important and helpful suggestions were raised to reinforce the existing structures, and develop new ones. Furthermore, many PhD’s present expressed their willingness to actively contribute to these goals. Certainly, the pro-active and passionate disposition of the PhD’s in the network is crucial to support the continued growth of the network, its ability to use the facilities and resources of IMISCOE, and actively represent the needs and ambitions of its members.

How to teach migration?

By Sophie Hinger & Mark van Ostaijen

The idea behind organizing a PhD workshop on teaching at the IMISCOE Conference 2016 in Prague was twofold: First, we wanted to create a platform for PhD students, who are based at different universities in different countries, to exchange on and motivate each other to do (better) teaching on migration issues. Second, we wanted to highlight an aspect of our academic lives, which is central to us both as learners and teachers, but which seems to take a backseat, as success is mostly defined in terms of research progress and publications. This bias is also reflected in the programme of international networks and conferences, including IMISCOE events, which leave little or no time for a reflection on teaching.

Ten colleagues from different institutes in Germany, Austria, Italy, Hungary, Belgium, South Africa and the Netherlands followed our call for participation to discuss questions like: What have been our experiences as PhD students regarding teaching? How to manage our time between teaching and other obligations? And how to teach courses on emotionally charged and highly politicized topics like international migration and integration?

We started by ‘mapping’ our teaching experience on a chart: While some of us had two or more years of teaching experience, some had none at all. Those of us who had the most teaching experience were financing their PhDs through positions as lecturers, which is quite common for example at German universities. In Germany unlike in other countries it is also not unusual that PhD candidates design their own courses as opposed to tutoring a course, which is designed by a professor, as it is usually the case in the UK for instance. We found that designing and teaching a course meant a greater workload and responsibility than tutoring an already existing course. However, it also offers the opportunity to work on issues closely related to one’s own research and fields of interest.

Despite the great variety in terms of ‘teaching cultures’ at the different institutes, we identified the missing support in teaching as a common challenge. Most of us felt that we were not prepared to do teaching and/or lacked guidance when involved in teaching. This was at least partly due to the way teaching was overall seen in many of our institutes – namely, as a subordinate task. Some of us had found individual solutions to the problem, such as approaching colleagues with their questions, but we felt that there should be a more institutionalized way of supporting ‘newcomers’ to Higher Education teaching. This could be done for example through co-teaching schemes with more experienced colleagues, free Higher Education teaching courses (like the ones offered to postgraduates in the UK), and peer-learning groups.

In the second part of the workshop, we worked in sub-groups on four practice-oriented problems, such as how to deal with racist statements by students (or professors) and how to integrate current political events and debates into a class. Every group brainstormed about various ideas and presented their solutions afterwards to the whole group.

Together we found (sometimes various) solutions to the practical dilemmas. For example, we agreed that a racist remark should never be left unanswered, but differed in our opinions on what an answer should look like. While some proposed that the teacher should take a stand and make clear that racist remarks are not welcome in the classroom, others argued that stereotypes were often reproduced unintentionally and that a better solution would be to ask other students to comment on it. An open discussion moderated through the teacher would be a better solution, they thought, as it encouraged students to express themselves, but also to critically reflect on what they and others were saying.

Regarding the question how to deal with the political and emotional nature of the topics we are teaching, we started to explore different formats of and materials for teaching. One participant stated that to him, that academia often failed to grasp the emotions attached to migration issues. He suggested integrating cultural production both as a means and as an outcome to teaching migration. For example, music, drama, movies and novels could be used in teaching to make migration issues understandable and to also render the classes more fun for students. Other participants recounted how photography could be used or excursions to bring topics to life. One example on how teaching on migration can lead to a cultural product was the exhibition “Movements of Migration” in the city of Göttingen. The exhibition and an online archive (accessible at http://www.movements-of-migration.org/cms/) was the outcome of a 3-semester seminar at the University of Göttingen. Creating a toolbox and gathering experiences with different (and amongst other things arts-based) approaches to teaching migration could be one of the aims of the future work of the teaching committee within the IMISCOE PhD network.

The Teaching workshop clearly confirmed the need for PhD candidates to exchange about their teaching experiences. At the end of the workshop, we came up with several ideas on how to continue the exchange within the IMISCOE PhD committee and beyond. These included an extra section on the IMISCOE PhD network blog on teaching issues. In this section, we could post literature on teaching, as well as sample course outlines for different topics within the field of migration studies, and exchange on practical issues related to teaching in the sense of an international peer-learning group. Another idea was to collect information on on-going courses on teaching taking place at the IMISCOE member institutes, which are open to PhD candidates from other institutes.

All in all, the second edition of the PhD workshop was a great success, leaving us highly anticipated for the third installment at the IMISCOE conference 2017 in Rotterdam!

 

 

 

 

 

 

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