Extending your inter-campus research community (Karen Strojek)

(Left to right): Emmy Frost (Archaeology), Anna Henger (History), Karen Strojek (Politics), Esther Manu-Barfo (Linguistics), Nicola Linton (Classics and Ancient History), Nicole Pavich (Media Arts & Screen Studies), Paul Northam (Visual Arts), and Justin See (Social Inquiry - Planning).
Photo by Greg Muller.
I’ve written before about broadening my research community across disciplinary boundaries, by taking part in conference organisation in the School of Humanities and Social Sciences (HUSS).

Attending and working at university conferences is a great way to meet other graduate researchers and find points of commonality, but it’s not the only way!

Many Schools, and the Departments within them, have graduate student representatives who work with their department heads and graduate research coordinators to improve communications, and the intellectual climate in general, at a local level.

In my roles as a representative for my Department (Politics, Media and Philosophy) and my School (HUSS), I attend regular meetings with other School representatives - all graduate researchers - from the Colleges of ASSC and SHE.

A lot of our discussion is about university policy, infrastructure and facilities, supervision relationships, student wellbeing, and how we might work to improve social and professional networks between graduate researchers.

We come from many disciplines but we share common concerns and practical advice and, sometimes, we discover remarkable links between separate graduate research projects. For example, Susanna Bryceson’s biological science work on fire ecology and the ancient grasses of Gondwanaland (in the College of SHE), overlaps with Jane Urquhart’s anthropological work on fire ecology and Indigenous burning practices (in the College of ASSC).

None of us doubt the value of digital communications between people separated by physical distance. Zoom video-conferencing technology connects us to our fellow representatives on other campuses.

But still…we are here and they are there. Does it matter? We’ve all heard conversations about how hard it can be to attract university students to campus and convince them to keep them coming. We’d like them here in shared time and space, to build productive, sustaining relationships with their lecturers, tutors and peers. Walking on the same ground, seeing the same sights, breathing in the same smells - sharing physical experiences leads to shared memories and (especially if the memories are good) can build stronger relationships.

Our HUSS peers in Bendigo do come here to Bundoora once in a while. To make the relationship fairer, we should go to them sometimes, to walk on their grounds and share the same air.

With the value of face-to-face interactions in mind, my fellow HUSS representatives and I negotiated some funding to take six Bundoora graduate reps to the Bendigo campus for our May monthly meeting.We currently have two representatives in Bendigo: Justin See (Social Inquiry – Planning) and Paul Northam (Visual Arts). After a very productive meeting, we enjoyed a chatty, sociable lunch together, followed by a walking-tour of the Bendigo campus, with Justin and Paul acting as our hosts and guides.

Justin, Paul, and Leonard French | Photo courtesy of Karen Strojek
The campus offers some facilities and attractions that Bundoora doesn’t have. While both have beautiful outdoor spaces, trees, abundant native bird life and the occasional hopping marsupial, our peers in Bendigo are sited on a hilltop, where the outlook is more extended and the Autumn air can be very crisp.

The library there doesn’t just have a lot of books, which HUSS students love. The library walls are crowded with Leonard French artworks. The Education building doubles up as a gallery area for the FM Courtis collection: more than 350 works by notable Australian artists, including John Olsen, Fred Williams and Sydney Nolan. There are surprises waiting around every corner...

The Outdoor Education Centre boasts a sheltered outdoor climbing wall - and our efforts there got everyone laughing (in a good way). We also had a chance to visit the Anthrozoology Research Group DogLab, where guide dogs are trained to aid PTSD sufferers and visitors are welcome.

Finally, Paul gave us a tour of the Visual Arts studios: warm, well-lit spaces for tomorrow’s artists.

None of us will forget this day. The long drive home had us all reflecting on what we’d learned. Sharing experiences with your peers at other campuses is a great way to expand your research community and strengthen your social and professional ties, across geographical locations as well as across disciplines.

If you have an opportunity to meet your peers at another campus, don’t turn it down!

Karen and Anna - on the road to Bendigo | Photo courtesy of Karen Strojek

Karen Strojek is a PhD candidate in the Department of Politics, Media and Philosophy at La Trobe University. 

Her doctoral research is on the abolition of inheritance taxes in Australia, with a particular focus on gendered patterns of property ownership, political activism, and the changing nature of Australian federalism. 

Karen completed a Bachelor of Arts, with majors in Sociology and Politics, at Griffith University in 2014 and Honours in Politics at La Trobe University in 2015. 

She has extensive experience in the clothing and textile trades and ran a bespoke clothing company from 1999 to 2013. Karen has also tutored in industrial methods in the Fashion Design school at RMIT. She tweets from @KarenStrojek.