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The power of belonging to a cohort

April 26, 2022
By Geneviève Grégoire-Labrecque

Belonging to a cohort. Credit: Geneviève Grégoire-Labrecque with Free Word Cloud Generator.

“You’re not alone in this!”

That is what I came to realize after meeting with the Public Scholar cohort even just a few times remotely.

Earlier this year, I addressed what helped me thrive in my PhD so far. I must admit that an unexpected benefit of the Public Scholar Program was that I found a cohort to belong to.  And this opportunity arrived just at the right time for me.

Between the unique trajectory the individualized program allowed me to create, the isolation induced by the PhD process on top of the pandemic, the Public Scholar cohort allowed me to access a whole new side of being a PhD candidate.

Having a group to share academic and professional experiences with, that motivated me to advance my work and to break the isolation, made quite a difference in my personal and work.

I had the pleasure of discussing with two fellow scholars, Felicity Hamer and Louis Lazure, our common experience in the Public Scholar cohort.  Below, I offer a brief overview of the benefits of having an academic/professional group to belong to during one’s studies and some ways to connect with other graduate students.

Supporting each other and sharing experiences

Connecting with peers on Zoom. Photo by Chris Montgomery on Unsplash.

The cohort helped me find a support group where I could share experiences that others could relate to academically and professionally.

Louis Lazure explains his journey in similar ways: “One indirect benefit of the Public Scholar program is to connect with other PhD candidates. I am sure there are clear and proven psychological benefits of having peers to connect with, but from my point of view, it simply felt good. Even if we are from different programs and backgrounds, we do share a common reality and face similar challenges”.

Indeed, via a group chat, Zoom meetings and distanced in-person gatherings, I was able to vent about difficulties (publishing, motivation to write, pressure to perform), to reflect on hurdles and ways to move forward, and celebrate small and big successes with people who’d understand the context in which they were expressed.

It seems to resonate with Felicity Hamer as she recalls: “My public scholar cohort provided a sense of community at a time when I felt most disconnected from my academic life and responsibilities”.

As for me, it was the Public Scholar program that generated the biggest momentum in bonding with other PhD candidates, that created formal spaces to discuss and allowed for informal moments to sprout, but there are other ways to connect amongst graduate students. Concordia's Grad Chat is a good example as it is organized by and for graduate students in drop-in sessions to chat on selected topics in a friendly atmosphere.

Advancing studies and work

Advancing one's thesis amongst peers. Credit: Photo by CoWomen on Unsplash.

The support I received from my cohort also helped me (re)connect with my studies and work. Having an academic and professional group to rely on had a clear impact on my motivation and organization. Sometimes, I reached out to my peers for inspiration, other times, it was more circumscribed and technical, for example, for proofreading or to verify a translation. Bouncing ideas and participating in writing sessions were equally part of moving forward with daily tasks and long-term goals with them.

As Felicity Hamer recounts: “They encouraged me to meet goals and made me feel that my efforts were noted and worthwhile”. Having a cohort or an academic/professional group to belong to can indeed bring accountability through shared commitment and support.

In addition, Louis Lazure highlights the benefits of the multi-disciplinary of such groups: “It is a huge advantage, as it brings a different perspective compared to my research-lab peers and my colleagues at work. And because the other scholars are so exceptional and good in their field, it inspired me and helped me to be more focused and productive in the last year!”

In fact, Concordia offers Meet and Write online sessions to connect with other graduate students across disciplines to advance our work in a casual but stimulating atmosphere.  Thèsez-vous? is another well-known option for online and in-person writing sessions and support that is extramuros and super welcoming.

Breaking the isolation

Checking-in with peers. Credit: Photo by Beth Macdonald on Unsplash.

I’m sure it is no surprise to any graduate student that graduate studies are very time- and energy-consuming. We often don’t have colleagues per say and it can be quite an isolating process.

Having a group to check-in with during the day between tasks (or whenever!) is welcomed and refreshing. Being heard and seen by peers who understand you can really make a difference in one’s own PhD journey, even more so if the connections develop into camaraderie and friendship.

Here, Felicity Hamer's words echo with mine: “Most of all, I am grateful to count nine such ambitious and creative individuals as peers – connections that will endure well beyond our tenure and hopefully into a time when we can convene in a non-virtual setting!”

My hope is that graduate students find a group to walk the walk with them, to both ease and stimulate their PhD trajectory.

And as my 2021-2022 Public Scholar tenure comes to an end, I would like to say an immense thank you to my cohort and... “until next time”!

About the author

Photo of Geneviève Grégoire-Labrecque

Geneviève Grégoire-Labrecque is a PhD candidate in the Individualized Program (INDI). Her research examines the ways youth participation is understood, practiced, and experienced by youth and school staff in a youth-led and an adult-led school initiative on environment and climate change in two high schools in Montreal.

Recipient of a Nelson Mandela Award, her research is also supported by the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada (SSHRC) and Concordia University. Prior to her PhD, she has worked on diversity, inclusion and on knowledge mobilization in education and in health care and social services and holds both a BSc (2010) and a MSc (2013) in Anthropology from Université de Montréal.

Geneviève is a member of the Child Rights Academic Network, the Canadian Coalition for the Rights of Children, a student member of the Centre de recherche en éducation et formation relatives à l’environnement et à l’écocitoyenneté, and an academic member for the North American Regional Children’s Environmental Rights Consultations for the UN Special Rapporteur on Human Rights and the Environment

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