AMCAP Doctoral School 2021 - Interview

Participants of the second AMCAP Doctoral Spring School

IAMCR co-sponsored the 2nd AMCAP (Association of Media and Communication Academic Professionals, Pakistan) Doctoral Spring School in February 2021 at Fatima Jinnah Women University in Pakistan. In this article, Dr Saadia Ishtiaq Nauman, coordinator of the Doctoral School, in an interview with Mazlum Kemal Dağdelen, talks about the experience of organising the event and the importance of providing an international framework for Pakistani PhD students.

What are the main goals of the AMCAP Doctoral School?

In Pakistan, the field of social sciences is very well designed. We have very strong institutions, and very good PhDs are coming from here. Things are slightly different in some fields, especially the new ones like media, which are not very much developed. So, there was a need to support students in designing their research projects in this field. We could feel as faculty members who already have PhDs that there is significant reluctance and lack of confidence in coming up with very conceptualized kind of studies. During their studies, students were trying to apply the frameworks which are already available. Still, they were not taking some risks and courage to come up with their own frameworks.

When we tried to address this issue, there were different people from different universities, especially people from Punjab University. They were already thinking that there are some gaps in the PhD in developing PhD projects. When we discussed this, I pointed out my experience with the ECREA summer school. I informed them that I had a chance to go to Germany. There was a summer school that was designed to support and encourage students in a very friendly setting: learning not only from instructors but also from their peers' work. So, I said something like this could be done to support Pakistani PhD students. 

The AMCAP is already an organization here in Pakistan, and we are all AMCAP members from different Pakistani universities. So their core team was already thinking on these lines, and when I gave this idea, they immediately accepted it. So the basic idea is to support PhD students in designing their PhD projects. When we started with PhD students in mind, we realized that people who are doing masters and MPhil are also interested in improving their work because we have fewer PhD students at the moment. 

The core idea is to give encouragement and confidence to the students that international research in media and communication studies is possible. And they can have international support for this. They can have local very prominent scholarly support for this.

What is the selection criteria of AMCAP Doctoral School?

In the doctoral school, participants were supposed to be enrolled in any PhD program, but then we started receiving emails from people saying that "We aspire to start our PhD, but we have not enrolled anywhere as yet. Can you take us?" Probably that was the point we decided to take them on as observers because they were at the initial stages of their work, and there was no proposal ready. We came up with this model to ask them to send us a CV and their area of interest, and then they can attend as observers. They won't get feedback on their work, but they can observe the process. They can have discussions during regular tea breaks and during the lunch breaks designed in a very interactive setting. The students can also talk to professors in a very interactive atmosphere. So observers were the ones who are particularly interested in designing their future research projects. They have some idea, but they were not supposed to set proposals, but the participants were the ones who are enrolled in MPhil or PhD degrees.

Can participants expect an international atmosphere in AMCAP Doctoral School?

AMCAP Doctoral School is truly an international doctoral school because we believe that this field needs diversity. The main aim is to support Pakistani PhD students. Still, when we are trying to support their PHD work, we also need diversity, which is why the call was open to everybody in the world. We had people interested in doctoral school from Germany; we had people who joined us also from South Africa. We wanted to extend it to many other countries; unfortunately, because of Covid-19, that could not happen. We do not just give our students only a Pakistani-based environment because we bring international faculty and people already associated with doctoral schools, especially the ECREA summer school. So, they are trained, and they are aware of all the procedures to guide students. I believe internationalization is very important. When students have their international peers around them, that will be more useful for them, which will definitely be an added value to their work.

Even though everybody could apply, they couldn't participate, even many instructors were not allowed to travel to Pakistan because of their countries' travel restrictions. Our first Doctoral School ended in March 2020, when Covid-19 started in the world, but we were lucky to have it again done this year because it was slightly relaxed.

How do you organise this school to be student-centred?

By student-centred, we mean that the doctoral school will facilitate students' studies, and students will have equal participation. Equal participation is that it will not be just one-sided that the lecturers teach and students not getting a chance to participate. For instance, the poster workshop with Dr Carpentier on the very first day was again an opportunity for them to deal with the group and express their research ideas in the form of an art-based activity. So that was the ability in which they had a chance to interact with fellows to see what their topics are about in a very light and relaxed environment. Participants were able to put their research idea in the form of pictures or through charts. 

Also, we try not to glue them to the seats; after every one and a half hour, they had a chance to leave their seats and go for a tea break and have a small chit chat with their peers and lecturers. 

There were proper feedback sessions, one-on-one sessions in which we were constantly interacting with them. We also had a very comprehensive one and a half hour feedback session in which they gave us feedback on the quality of the program lectures. This year everything was planned according to the suggestions provided last year. So students are in the centre, they are the most important people. We are doing everything to facilitate their work because they are not just the ambassadors of the school. The confidence we instil in them will come back in the form of future colleagues; they will be doing actual projects. Then we will be having some good debates to move on. This is going to be beneficial for not only the subject but also for our scholarly growth. 

Are you going to share the work in the doctoral school with the public?

So far, we are publishing the proceedings; maybe in the coming few years, we can publish student chapters as well. As I said, most participants were at the MPhil level, PhD Work was also there. So far, we have not published anything as such. I remember that SuSo (ECREA's summer school) publishes a book. So, this is also one of the ideas in the pipeline, but you need lots of scholarly help - people to read it, edit it, and improve it. So, we have started with slide publications, but that is the aim, and we will be doing that in future.

Which universities contributed to the organization of AMCAP Doctoral School?

The first university was the University of Punjab, and we had the first doctoral school organised there. This year, we were very fortunate that when we discussed this Doctoral School, the vice-chancellor of Fatima Jinnah Women University, Dr Saima Hamid, said yes, I want this doctoral school for our students. This university is exclusively a female university. The female staff runs it. It was an excellent experience for us to host people from across Pakistan and around the world. Seven people joined us online internationally from different countries; we had people from Sweden, the UK, Canada, Qatar, Egypt, Czech Republic. There were also three people, Dr Nico Carpentier and Dr Vaia Doudaki from Prague, Dr Fatma Elzahraa Elsayed from Cairo, who joined us there on campus. I believe it was beautiful collegiality of scholars around the world. Fatima Jinnah Women University hosted them, the funding was secured by our vice-chancellor herself.

How important do you think is the collaboration between IAMCR and AMCAP?

We believe that internationalisation is not just only important for us, it is also important for international collaborators. I think IAMCR always wanted better participation from this part of the world, so they initiated grants. When we collaborated with IAMCR, it was an equal mutual benefit for both of the organizations. People became aware of IAMCR, and we had more chances of contributing to society in terms of projects and research. So it was an important contribution, which is going to benefit both sides. 

I believe we all need to network for the better development of this field. As a result of the collaboration between IAMCR and AMCAP in Pakistan, we were able to find very interesting facts. I believe we benefit from each other because IAMCR has tremendous experience, and AMCAP is relatively new, but we have excellent insight from Pakistan. So, I think this is beneficial from both the Pakistani and IAMCR sides. So I believe there is a huge opportunity to learn from each other, especially from experience. And I think both these organizations have contributed a lot in our learning of facilitating PhD students.

How important do you think these doctoral schools are for the development of academia?

When I started my PhD, I was doing tasks, attending conferences, and slowly moving on. And when I completed my first year of PhD studies, I went to this doctoral school and stayed there for 10 days. The way it transformed my PhD was so helpful that I was not stuck at any point for a significant time. It was like a smooth sail. Then, I realized that it was not just because I was there, and I was given feedback about each and every aspect of my PhD. This is a very special segment of doctoral schools. But it was also my connection with my peers. We were meeting at conferences, and we were learning from each other. So I believe these doctoral schools are not just schools in which you will go, and you will get some techniques to do things; of course, that's a very significant part, but you will get a lot more out of it. You get friends for life, you learn about all the activities.

I think it is not just academic support for your PhD; it is a lot more support for your career development and realizing your research better. So I believe they are doing a very important academic service. We cannot do a PhD in isolation; we can sit in our offices and read things and do things, but interactivity, multiple reflections, and strong critique are what we all need, and these are there in doctoral schools. This is what we are trying to bring into Pakistan.

Closing Remarks

We are very thankful to the people who contributed to the second AMCAP Doctoral School, it needs dedication in this process, and it is totally volunteer work. All we want to do is to have a very good academic debate in future for Pakistani academia. I am speaking on behalf of many people. I am speaking on behalf of the AMCAP core team, on behalf of Fatma Jinnah Women University and on behalf of all the participants and observers. And I am not sure that I have justified or fully represented them, but if you go through the videos and photographs, which were all there on the internet, you will see there was lots of energy, excitement. It was a good experience. And I would like to thank IAMCR, and especially Dr Nico Carpentier, for the sponsorship for our doctoral school and for future collaborations.