Tuesday, 12 March 2013

Playing in the sand: the joys of peer pressure

Posted by Peter van der Graaf

Have you ever wondered what would happen if you put 28 stressed-out early career researchers in a country hotel and gave them the option to either enjoy the available swimming pool, spa, snooker room, and pub with sun soaked terraces, or to write a full research proposal of up to 5,000 words with five unknown people in less than four hours and submit their work for scrutiny to a hard-nosed review panel of senior academics and professionals? Remarkably, when Fuse tried this out last week in the Sandpit event at Linden Hall, the result was five serious proposals, steeped in blood, sweat and tears, that somehow managed to persuade the review board to part with £2,500 of prize money.

The distractions were plentiful: giant Jenga, Connect4, indoor cricket, extensive breakfast and lunch buffets, (attempts at) nouveau cuisine diners, tough pub quizzes presided over by quiz-wizard communications officer Mark, log fires with arm chairs, and more coffee, tea and cakes than was healthy to consume, while hero professors bared all (at least their life stories) under large glass chandeliers. In spite of all these temptations, the researchers locked themselves up in their rooms, questioned the wisdom of their mentors, cross-examined policy and practice experts on their chosen subjects, argued and quarrelled at length with each other, and somehow managed to produce something that could pass for a research proposal.

Nerd peer pressure

The secret, you might wonder, is a classic tale of peer pressure, which early careers researchers are especially prone to. What the event allowed them to do was to learn this lesson (and many others in the course of it) and, even better, to enjoy it: a relaxing swim or pint in the pub is much more enjoyable after a chaotic session with five strong minded colleagues who are trying to reach a decision on what topic to choose for their proposal (only to find out later that they were allocated their third choice). A quiz or game of Jenga seems all the more exciting after struggling for three hours to put anything on paper, only to realise you have an hour left to write the remaining 5,000 words.

Therefore, a big thank you is in order for the organisers of the event, particularly to Avril, who had to miss out on many of the temptations due to a sudden bout of flu, and to quizmaster Mark, who clearly has too much free time on his hand to come up with the questions he did.

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