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Reflections on the PhD-Community Initiative Program

The PhD-Community Initiative (PhD-CI) started in 2016 as a pilot program through the Expanding Horizons workshop series. The PhD-CI brings doctoral students from different areas of study together to form an interdisciplinary team to assist a local community organization in addressing an issue or challenge that is important to them. With much success, the School of Graduate Studies decided to expand the initiative to include more community partners and mentors and offer opportunities for more doctoral students to be involved.

When I first heard of the PhD-CI program, I thought it would be an excellent opportunity to work with a community group, as I felt disconnected from the community. During my Master’s, I felt like I had a community outside of the university; however, since moving to Kingston, I felt a disconnect. Being a part of the program allowed me to work within my community, build a relationship with a community group and meet dedicated individuals from departments within the university I would have never met otherwise, and grateful I had. Additionally, each group is paired with a mentor, who is there to guide the groups along the way, ask questions, and receive feedback. The mentors are a valuable piece to this interdisciplinary puzzle. 

This year, six groups were working within the PhD-CI:  

  1. ABLE2, an organization that supports people with disabilities and their families, is located out of Ottawa. This year’s group assisted ABLE2 in their volunteer program, focusing on recruitment and retention.  
  2. Little Forest Kingston is a local grassroots group that focuses on the reforestation of urban spaces. The group made a fantastic toolkit that can be used by youth to assess the climate resilience of their neighbourhoods. 
  3. Forest School is a program at an elementary school within the Limestone District School Board that takes students outside, into the forest around the school and lessons are taught based on the nature around them. The group was particularly interested in examining the behavioural impacts the extended time outdoors in a natural setting has on children.
  4. City of Kingston: Social Enterprise Sustainability and Growth helped build a ‘social enterprise incubator’ for new groups looking to create impact in the Kingston community. 
  5. Community Partner Onboarding and Toolkit for PhD-CI Program pivoted late into the program after an unforeseeable situation occurred. This group collected data from all the key stakeholders involved in the PhD-CI program to help make the program even better for future years.
  6. Royal Kingston Curling Club is the group I had the opportunity to work with. Alongside my group members, Maame Addai, Mohammad Akbari, Desiree Bender, Liayana Jondy, and our mentor, Connie Taylor (pictured below). We consider our project Phase 1 of a broader strategy; a revitalization strategy with an emphasis on achieving sustainable growth and a year-round multi-purpose facility focusing on youth and family programming.  

If you’re looking to gain new experiences, meet new people and connect with a community group/organization, then the PhD-CI program is for you! Similarly, if you want to broaden your research skills, and gain different tools for your academic toolbox, join the PhD-CI Program. For instance, some of my team members are quantitative researchers and have never conducted interviews for focus groups before. This project allowed them to conduct qualitative research, something they might never have had the opportunity to do. Although it is a significant time commitment and additional work on top of our already busy schedules, I truly enjoyed being a part of this program. Getting out of my department and speaking with and learning from individuals from various departments was an opportunity I am grateful for. I encourage all graduate students to participate if you’re able! Keep your eyes peeled for the application to join the program near the end of August. 

Mohammad Akbari, PhD Candidate, Mathematics
Liayana Jondy, Master of Philosophy Degree Program, English
Madison Danford, PhD Candidate, Kinesiology & Health Studies
Desiree Bender, PhD Candidate, Chemistry
Maame Addai, PhD Candidate, Environmental Studies
Connie Taylor, PhD (Mentor)

By: Madison Danford

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