I’ll give a bit of background for readers who are unfamiliar with the concept of a summer school. Many psychological associations hold these events for postgraduate students every few years. They can last anywhere from a few days to a few weeks and are designed to bring postgraduate students together to explore a particular research topic and collaborate with likeminded researchers.
The typical format is of three to five topic “streams” with an internationally renowned expert (or two) acting as workshop coordinator. Students work on a broad research theme (e.g., intergroup emotions) in workshops and often break into smaller workgroups within the workshop to develop research projects. Many students go on to run and publish the studies they design at summer schools.
I really enjoyed my recent summer school experience. Not only did I get to explore a new research area with top-notch experts to guide me, I also have a research project ready to run with international collaborators. Summer schools give people the intellectual freedom to move beyond the narrow research project that makes up a PhD. We tend to get so bogged down in our own little research topic that it will be a breath of fresh air to work on a completely unrelated project for a while.
In addition to more practical outcomes, I have developed professional relationships and collaborations that will continue throughout my career. It was also bloody good fun and is probably the only time in my career that I will attend a research meeting in my swimsuit.
I think that experiences at international summer schools are particularly important for Australian PhD students. We are so isolated from the rest of the world, it is important for us to develop reputations and professional relationships overseas. I would urge all postgraduate students, particularly those who have just started their PhDs, to attend a summer school in your research field. I can’t guarantee it will be held on a Greek island, but at least you will get the chance to travel!
For interested parties, UQ will be hosting the Australasian Summer School in Social Psychology in 2012.