The recent study of postgraduate communities claims that postgraduates are not socialising with each other and that they lack the support networks put in place for undergraduates. The report highlights some worrying trends in postgrad life at York, most significantly the lack of cultural mixing in Wentworth. This is something that needs to be tackled and offering home students University accommodation could go some way to achieving this, but I think the issues of socialisation may be rooted in the inherent nature of postgraduate study.
The review also draws attention to the absence of integration between individual departments and, on a larger scale, the humanities and sciences. This is undoubtedly true and while it would be great to have a thorough mix of friends from all departments, as a postgrad student, I just don’t have time.
Given the nature of a higher degree, we have to work harder and so have less time to socialise. Also, all postgrad home students and many others live in private accommodation and so lack the naturally larger social circle that comes from living in halls.
As the study rightly points out, this all leads to a reliance on socialising with those in your department because it’s easier – you see these people all the time, you have things in common with them and you can discuss and debate over coffee or down the pub (work and play at the same time? A postgrad’s dream!) So yes, more science-based friends might enrich my university experience and intellect but, with the amount of time I would have to spend on consolidating these friendships, I’d never get any work done and, let’s be honest, once you get to postgrad level the degree really is the main aim, fun and friendship is just a lovely added bonus.
I agree with many of the issues raised in the report, although perhaps not on their significance, however, I have to disagree with Karin Diaconu, GSA President, on the calls for postgrad support networks.
Of course they should be there (and in fact they are). But postgrads have all been through the university system before and so, I would suggest, mostly have less need for the support networks that may be so important for undergrads living away from home and having the university experience for the first time.
The review highlights areas for improvement in the postgrad experience and we should certainly strive for a more integrated postgrad community, both culturally and between departments. But, for the hard-working postgrad, socialising seems to take the route of least resistance, which at the moment is through making friends mostly within departments. And I’m doubtful that any measures can be put in place to change this.