Brittany Jack has been using Slack, the electronic communication, and collaboration tool since she joined Prachee Avasthi’s lab. Jack, who has just completed the first year of her Ph.D. at the University of Kansas Medical Center in Kansas City, uses Slack an online community tool, to keep Avasthi up to date on her results and ask for advice. She uses Slack for communicating with her labmates, research assistant, postdoctoral fellow and other researchers for that matter. The benefits of this tool was clearly visible for the team and that is why they got motivated to launch a Grad Student Slack. It joins a growing list of Slack groups for scientists, including New PI Slack (which Avasthi founded in 2016), Future PI Slack, and Mid-Career PI Slack. “I just wanted to have a community and … camaraderie with graduate students across the world,” Jack says. “We are all going through the same thing, and we can give each other advice.” Very nice initiative indeed.
To join Grad Student Slack you must be a master’s or Ph.D. student. The group has around 300 members, although it is still at its beginning phase. Most of the interest is coming from the United States, Canada, Europe, and India, but there is also some from Asia and Australia. There exist various discussion channels within the app. Some are dedicated to research topics as diverse as cell and molecular biology, ecology, computer science, and the humanities. Other discussion groups focus on topics such as how to prepare for qualifying exams, writing a paper or thesis, mentor undergraduate students, participation in journal clubs and engagement in science communication. There are channels dedicated to the professional and personal growth, covering the relationship with your principal investigator (PI), career development, job hunting, and being a scientist parent. A few channels promote networking within specific geographical regions. Very useful and practical exchange of information happening in these groups.
“It is a space for open and honest discussions about graduate school, both the personal and the professional aspects of it,” says Ankita Patil, who has just finished the first year of her neuroscience Ph.D. program at Drexel University in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Patil is very satisfied with the tips that she has been receiving on attending conferances, managing workload and so forth. She believes that having plenty of students active in the group allows one to voice his/her opinions or ideas without feeling like they may be singled out or dismissed.
“Grad Student Slack is able to provide that broader sense of community that I haven’t yet found on campus,” says Joshua Landman, who completed a master’s degree in computer science at Washington University in St. Louis in Missouri and will begin a Ph.D. in data science there in August. “I’ve met other students both within my discipline and from other branches of science, not to mention students at my university that I wouldn’t have otherwise interacted with,” he says. That is particularly important, because “grad school can, in some ways, be isolating.”
As Bryn Sachdeo, a final-year Ph.D. candidate in nutritional biochemistry and physiology at Rutgers University in New Brunswick, New Jersey, puts it, “I see Grad Student Slack as a peer-support dream team.” Connecting with others this way can help fill the gaps that many students experience—even those with supportive PIs, thesis committees, and broader communities. So far, Sachdeo has exchanged postdoc hunting tips with an astrophysicist and a neuropharmacologist and given feedback on a thesis abstract about Drosophila genetics.
All members have to register with their full names and state their year in graduate school to be verified as graduate students. Being open about the experiences is a key success factor for Slack. It’s all about respect and courtesy. The founder of this tool invite students who feel too uncomfortable to participate to get in touch with them so that they can consider granting anonymity on a case-by-case basis.
Slack an online community tool, is building a space where knowledge sharing, discussions on interesting research topics, idea generation and a sense of belonging happen. Hope to see its continuous future developments.