RECOMS fellow, Zhanna is reflecting on the meaning of a training event in a winding life path of an ITN early stage researcher.
As an ITN early stage researcher, every once and again you are asked a question: “So what do you do during your training events?” Training events, happening every half-year, get me giddy from excitement about a month in advance, and as it goes, I like telling people about that. So being confronted with this question rather regularly, I must have an answer, right? Well, not exactly.
Training events are there for us to hone and develop our skills: from video editing to writing workshops to creative engagement methods to learning about intricacies of producing a cement block—they all chip in to either enrich our academic life or to call for reflection of their overall applicability. Often you walk into a room not really knowing whether the next session would be helpful for you personally. And sometimes it is—you leave feeling like what you just learned would add to what you have been dealing with in your most recent writing. At times the effects are less pronounced, and it takes time to fully appreciate something you covered several months prior.
But apart from the official part, there is also something else that makes my heart flutter—the RECOMS community itself. Scattered around Europe, most of us get to see one another only on these rare occasions of training events. Sure, there’s communication and exchange when we are all seated across the room, listening to a presenter sharing their professional experience. But for me personally what counts if not more, but then certainly on par with the TE itself is the unstructured time when all of us can come together—in groups and as a whole—and talk.
Talk the TE session, talk plans afterward, talk life, fieldwork struggles, writing block, incomprehensiveness of foreign bureaucracy. Talk our research or the hottest meme featuring Bill Gates. Talk about what's been happening in our lives since the last time we met and talk about ideas for what we can do before the next official call pulls us to a new geographical location (or online). This kind of talking happens during the breaks, when we move from one place to another, when we meet for breakfast, or when we part for dinner, hungry for nourishment and more company.
When I think about it, some of my most profound conversations with other fellows happened over food—the “eat” part of the title of this post. We come together and we share, we wind down and we reflect. The “write” part is basically what we do in our lives in and outside of a training event: we write to learn, connect, describe, and, hopefully, empower. Writing is a way of assessing one's expertise—do I have a story to tell or am I writing because I have to? And "love" is why we are all here. We might have mixed feelings about doing a PhD, but loving it, however tersely, is necessary to keep on. Maybe it's not the process. Certainly it's not the waiting for a journal reviewer to come back with feedback. Possibly, it's not the subject itself because, let's be honest, sometimes we get disillusioned about things. But this something that at times keeps you awake at night, keeps you reaching out further, keeps you trying more despite hurdles is the love you develop toward what you do.
I am realizing that with many things that could and do go wrong, it’s important to take a pause every now and then and ask myself why I am doing this all. Training events often leave me drained, but by the end of the day I am happy they happen—even when it’s not all of us coming together.
After all, RECOMS is about people. And, if I may add my absolutely impartial opinion, Munich is not just a place but a state of mind. Come visit.