Studying alone, in any field can be an incredibly isolating experience. Often the work you are interested in can be rather too niche, and therefore you can seldom find others who are working in the same area. Everyone knows that sometimes the best ideas come from bouncing thoughts around with colleagues and friends, so how can you achieve this whilst maintaining your focus on your specific subject area.
One way to help encourage the collegiate atmosphere of your undergraduate days is to form a book club or reading group. These kind of groups have become increasingly popular in recent years amongst ‘civilians’ but can also be a worthwhile learning tool for those of us involved in Academic pursuits.
Book clubs and reading groups can be formulated on almost any basis. At my university there are several varieties open to all students: Queer Theory, Jane Austen, Poetry, The Middle Ages, Theoria ( a lit crit and philosophy reading group) to name but a few that are currently running.
All it takes is a person with an interest to get a few others with a similar interest (broad spectrum) to coordinate the event on a monthly or bi-monthly basis. The setting can be in a pub or a cafe and be largely social, but because you will all have read a set piece or book the conversation will be conducive to expanding your knowledge and encouraging ideas. You can explained the group by making it interdisciplinary or allowing members to bring along friends from other areas of their life. It’s not only academics who have good ideas: often those completely unconnected with academic life can be insightful and full of good ideas, coming at a situation from a completely different perspective.
Make the rule simple. Allow each member to nominate one or two books, then vote on which texts you want to tackle first. Whoever has nominated the book should then take on the responsibility of formulating possibly discussion points or questions. The discussions should be free flowing and not hampered by too much ‘chairing’. Sending out the discussion points in advance can also help generate conversation as it gives the reading purpose. Always choose short, engaging texts that are rich in material worthy of discussion. Intersperse normal sessions with quiz nights, movie nights or pot luck suppers to give a social vibe to proceedings. Simply meeting with other researchers/students will help you feel as though you are not in this alone. It is very simple to set up, cost effective to run and can add a whole new dimension to your research life.
It’s well worth giving it a shot!