The following is a guest post by Mieke Berghmans, former ISTR PhD Seminar participant.
I am one of those PhD students who had the chance to attend two ISTR PhD seminars: a first one in 2012 in Muenster and a second one, two years later, in Stockholm. Needless to say, I am very enthusiastic about the whole program. I have been encouraging fellow PhD students to apply too.
The ISTR PhD seminar meant a lot of different things to me. Let me share a few with you.
The ISTR PhD seminar was a great chance for me to meet other academics who are passionate about the same things that I am passionate about. At my home university, my colleagues have a shared interest in education, society and culture. They are all great people with interesting subjects of study. But unfortunately, not one of my colleagues is working on international NGOs, the topic that I love. This made me feel quite ‘lonely’ in the beginning of my research. Attending the ISTR PhD seminar and meeting folks who can talk endlessly about the difference between social movements and NGOs and other ‘sector related’ issues was really a bit like coming home for me.
What I also loved about the ISTR PhD seminar is the ‘formula’ of the small group sessions. In these sessions, students quickly – in five minutes or so – present their work to the group members. After that, the members of the group ask them questions. I hadn’t come across this way of working until I participated in the ISTR PhD seminar. Before that, I had always participated in debates where one person presents his or her work extensively and then a shorter time period is reserved for critical comments, questions and suggestions of the public. The formula used in the ISTR PhD seminar turned this upside down. It reserved more time for the discussion than for the presentation and it allowed the presenter to ask questions to the group. I must say I found this a very fruitful approach. In this formula, students were not pushed in to a defensive mode. Rather, we could openly present the issues that had us stuck and that we were struggling with, and our fellow group members would spend 45 minutes constructively working with us to look for alternative perspectives and solutions, helping us to get ‘unstuck’ again.
Most importantly, both ISTR PhD seminars were a lot of fun. I had a great time and laughed a lot during the sessions, in the pub, and in the park. Through the seminar I met some great people who became good friends. I look forward to meeting them again in July. See you in Amsterdam!
Writing a PhD on ‘accountability in international NGOs’ at KU Leuven, Belgium