Midweek Musing: GradSchool Learning Part Three

This May, I participated in a GradSchool professional and personal development course, run by the University of Edinburgh's Institute for Academic Development. In a series of four midweek musings, I reflect on some of the things I learned those three days.

Part Three: Play. 

I was reminded – though did not really need to be so – of the importance of play when it comes to learning and building relationships.

The GradSchool was characterised by play, from the activities described in the first two of this series, to the case study scenarios of interviews, brand redesign and conflict resolution, we were constantly at play. We were experimenting, exploring, imagining and acting various fictitious roles.

I was astounded and delighted at the commitment of us all to these role play scenarios, especially the passionate residents protesting to be heard in the wake of an environmental disaster, and the ruthlessness of the representatives of the company whose materials had spilled.

The creativity and courage involved in all those drama presentations, a willingness to show emotion, be silly in front of peers.

Would we have learnt so much if we had been less committed to this process of play? I doubt it. It was in the diving into the characters and feeling their emotions that we learnt more about the processes of negotiation and influence; as we explored the brand make-overs we learnt to see ourselves for our unique selling points, our message, audience and image; as we experimented with solutions to those playful challenges, we saw again our own strengths and limitations, and especially our capacity to solve problems with limited time and information.

To reflect on these three playful days, we more explicitly engaged in creativity and play with poster making and creative reflection. I will never forget how my team laughed and finally gently played with ideas, drawing each other in, building on ideas, celebrating each person's contribution as we compiled a poster of drawings, cut out words and pictures, that told the story of our experiences those three days.

I appreciated the invitation to be still and silent and reflect individually, too. I like to draw and colour as a meditative wordless act, so was glad to have the chance to see what I had been learning and feeling through the course in the images that came from my pen.

To embark on a PhD is to be creative, to experiment is to play. Sometimes we forget, when it seems like it is all work, and hard work at that; when we are required to logically and rationally describe our methods and proposals and conclusions; when we are measured and critiqued and adjudicated all the time – that imagination, that having fun, that play is just as important to our 'success'. Not to mention our wellbeing.

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