Zeenat Sabur, Politics, University of Manchester (2020 Cohort)
Earlier this summer I attended Gregynog Ideas Lab, a summer school in the idyllic Powys, Wales. The summer school offers PhD candidates and academics in the field of international politics a chance to take part in a week of invigorating workshops led by scholars from a wide range of critical schools of thought – from feminist, to postcolonial and poststructural.
The summer school is based at Gregynog Hall, a short drive from the train station in Powys. The Hall is surrounded by greenery – fields and gardens, 750 acres of them. Being in the midst of such vastness was entirely appropriate for the workshops we took part in, which inspired and challenged. I find that when my mind is stretched in ways it previously has not been – something which happened frequently amongst this group of teachers and peers – being in nature and walking helps me to absorb what I have learnt. And so I made use of the breaks between sessions to walk and sit in the grounds, either alone or with new friends.
The programme for the week was impeccably designed. Each workshop was part of a series of 2 or 3 workshops, there were 6 or 7 series in total. The schedule and information pertaining to each series was provided well ahead of the week and so I could really think about which ones I wanted to prioritise. There were 2 series that I especially benefitted from. These were a poetry writing workshop and another which I can only describe as an ideas building workshop. In the first we were encouraged to undertake periods of ‘free writing’ and we wrote structured poetry. Although I currently do not use poetry in my thesis, this was such a stimulating and highly useful workshop. I think a challenge that I face is that I want to write concisely but also in a way that is interesting and fun for the reader. This workshop really helped me to understand how to construct sentences that evoke emotions, how the spaces between words create meanings. This is something that will help me with perfecting my writing style throughout my thesis and beyond.
The second workshop I found especially valuable was entitled ‘collaging possibilities’. Participants sat in a circle and each participant was invited to share a problem with the group. We were asked to speak freely for up to 7 minutes and thereafter other participants would share their thoughts. One person would be appointed ‘note-taker’ and would note down the various comments, suggestions, and questions. The initial participant would receive these notes at the end. This led to some really fruitful and valuable insights, with there being a myriad of ways of thinking about the original ‘problem’ that one may not have initially considered.
The greatest strength of the summer school for me was the cohort. Staying in the same house for the duration of the school, and having breakfasts, lunches, and dinners together allowed us to really get to know one another. This made it more comfortable being open in workshops. For instance, I read some of my poetry to my peers, and I would not have been comfortable enough to do this had I not formed relationships with them outside of the classrooms. Working in international politics can often feel a little hopeless and lonely, and lead one to question whether our research actually matters and can make a difference. But being at Gregynog with peers and academics who were so supportive and generous, created a real sense that none of us is ever alone in our endeavours. There is always someone to reach out to, share ideas with, and seek support from. This is something I that I have carried with me beyond the summer school.