A group of Grantham Scholars posing outside a university building

Being a Grantham Scholar is all about community and communication by James Thackery

What’s it like being a Grantham Scholar? Here, one of the first ever Grantham Scholars James Thackery explains what he’s learned about community and communication by joining the Grantham Centre’s multidisciplinary team. 

Community and communication

Grantham Scholar James Thackery.
Grantham Scholar James Thackery.

There’s a lot to say about starting a PhD.

There’s the project itself and the people you’re working with. Also, there’s office politics. Plus the inordinate amount of reading required.

But I want to focus on 2 things that have been specific to my PhD and to being a Grantham Scholar: community and communication.

Community and communication can be found in any PhD. Community can be your lab group or department. And communication is promoted as an important skill when speaking to your peers. However, the Grantham Centre puts a much larger emphasis on these 2 values, and the result is fantastic.

Being a Grantham Scholar

The first cohort of Grantham Scholars have become a community of students and academics. But importantly, they share a common goal: sustainability.

Departmental communities can share an academic rigour, or aim to help the University succeed through individual successes. But sharing a goal is a different experience. We are constantly pushing each other to learn more about our topics and how they might affect the world. And we learn to look outward as well as down at our research. We are trained to look at big problems and start to understand their complexity, and ask, “How can we help fix them?”. Not only that, our training programme is a bespoke one, created by a dedicated Centre Manager just for the Grantham Scholars.

A multidisciplinary community

Being surrounded by people passionate about the same thing as you is an incredible driving force. It emboldens us to get involved wherever possible. And it encourages us to look at new things, because we have companions to do it with.

Our community is also made of people from many disciplines. So we begin to understand how our research can link with the work of others, and we begin to understand things from foreign points of view.

A caveat of being a multidisciplinary community is that we must learn to communicate with each other.

Talking to the world

All PhDs will teach you to communicate with your academic peers. But today this is often not enough, and researchers must be able to tell the public how their work can help.

Grantham Scholars are trained in communication with both the public and with each other, as each discipline has its own language. In a sense we are learning several dialects, and it forces you to reconsider what you think is “basic knowledge”. To train us up in this, we are encouraged to take part in courses on academia’s role in media and policy. And we have a dedicated Communications Officer to support us in this.

For me, these 2 values – community and communication – make the Grantham PhDs very unique. They recognise the flaws in academia today and try to rectify them. The world is becoming more connected and interdisciplinary, and so academia should meet those demands.

It feels exhilarating to be at the beginning of a programme that aims so high, and as a community we feel on the cusp of something brilliant. I look forward to welcoming the next cohort of Grantham Scholars into our community, learning their language and seeing their passions flourish.

The main image shows the first cohort of Grantham Scholars.

Edited by Claire Moran.