The Qatar National Library informal Postgraduate Peer Support Network offers current and aspiring postgraduates, mostly PhD students in need of intellectual and emotional support, a relaxed environment to meet and support each other.
The group meets once a month at the Library to exchange ideas and share research, thoughts, tips, experiences and personal milestones and achievements. The network is one of the key services that the Library provides to these members of the academic community.
Sayeed Mohammed, Information Services Librarian at the Library and a PhD student at the Queensland University of Technology, who runs the network sessions while managing his own doctoral studies, explains the motivation for establishing the network: “There are many PhD students who are struggling alone. They’re either enrolling in online courses, or are registered with universities in some other part of the world. They are all managing different struggles - access to information, access to people, struck with their research methods and lack of specific set of skills required to complete their PhD tasks. And they have nobody to ask or cannot travel very often to their universities to get help from their supervisors.”
Creating a network is one way of “bringing together stranded and desolated PhD students to encourage and motivate one another and also to give emotional support to each other,” Sayeed adds.
The monthly sessions of the network are practical, focussing on research methodology such as how to build an argument in a thesis; what makes an effective argument; and how you corroborate your argument with evidence and statistics. There have also been sessions on writing a PhD research proposal, critical reading techniques, survey analysis, and software skills this year.
“The network is not an academic, technical, or scientific forum, but a platform that creates a supportive environment for postgraduate students and even researchers to network and support one another, whether its support at the intellectual or business or even emotional level.”
It’s clear that students in the network are highly capable of running their own knowledge building program. At PhD-level, many have advanced skills and experience in software, and specialized research and survey techniques and methods.
“We don’t lecture those who gather with us. We use more interactive techniques. I bring in some of my previously published or rejected papers, for instance, to work together and identify ways to improve the paper or polish the argument. It’s a useful exercise for the group.”
The Library has vast resources including access to databases. These are not skills, which are formally taught at universities at graduate level, notes Sayeed. “The Library is using its resources and its place in the community to facilitate skills development in areas such as writing, critical reading, research methodology and other skills, which many of the PhDs can offer.”
The network is succeeding in having its intended effect. “PhD students meet each other through the network are finding ways to collaborate, where they are from similar fields, and some have worked on publications together.”
In the meantime, students in the network are benefitting from having this forum to share knowledge, information and expertise.
Maya Röder, a regular participant in the network, who is currently finalizing her PhD application, said: “I have been living in the Gulf region for more than ten years and have been thinking about doing a PhD for some time. Due to a lack of academic literature, it was very difficult to even prepare a proper proposal to apply. Access to relevant books was always an issue for me, and academic journals were not available to someone who was not affiliated to an academic institution. The Library is changing this completely.”
“To read, write and research is quite a lonely thing to do, especially when you are right at the beginning of your research project, and to have a support network makes a big difference. In our regular meetings, we talk about the very basic problems that we are facing such as finding enough time to read and write academically as well as the use of quotation software and other helpful tools,” added Maya.
The network recently organized, “Researcher’s Dialogue”, a focus group and workshop where researchers shared their stories, including the challenges they face and how to solve them. Sayeed thinks that such seminars will link researchers and their work with Qatar’s stakeholders and bring these stakeholders more to the fore in their research.
“The Library is ideally positioned to bridge the gap between graduate students and stakeholders, and get them to co-create solutions. In this way, we use dialogue on a wider scale to enhance research quality, while also addressing the other challenge of how we retain the talent of these researchers after graduation.”
Maya encourages other students to join the network and use the opportunity to enhance their chances of getting into their desired PhD programs: “The atmosphere is very constructive and open so that everyone feels welcomed to share their thoughts. If you are planning to do research or start working on masters or PhD thesis, I highly recommend joining one of the Postgraduate Peer Support Group meetings at the Library.”
Sayeed believes that “Getting your PhD is not an easy journey, it’s a tough ride from beginning to the end. And so, we encourage all postgraduates to attend one of the network sessions at the Library to achieve their goals together with us.”