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Friday 7 March 2014 1:29pm


The word occupatus is Latin for occupied, and you can bet the members of the Occupatus group at Otago are just that.

Occupatus is a support group for staff members working more than half-time and researching their PhD or Master's degree at the same time. The group is the brainchild of Graduate Research School Manager Claire Gallop, herself a full-time staffer and PhD candidate.

Ms Gallop says she set the group up after noticing a gap in the support offered for PhD candidates: “For staff members it can be hard to come along to normal student support events, and for some, it might be uncomfortable to share their experiences in that environment.”

“I think, too, there tends to be an assumption made about staff members doing their PhD, that they will be 'all good' and not need the same support as other students.

“But my own personal experience is that I can walk away from a workshop where I've been telling people to believe in themselves and they can do it, and be freaking out that I can't do it myself.

“I assumed I was not alone.”

There could also be complications added to the PhD process for a staff member, such as having a colleague as a supervisor and the conflicts that can pose.

The group is designed to be a safe environment to “share wisdom and knowledge”, Ms Gallop says.

Faumuina Associate Professor Fa'afetai Sopoaga is one staff member who has found excellent support in the group.

She is the Associate Dean Pacific in the Health Sciences Division, and teaches in the Preventive and Social Medicine department at the Dunedin School of Medicine, as well as being a PhD candidate.

Associate Professor Sopoaga says the group is wonderful.

“I went along to see what it was about and I found it really interesting and helpful. We get together and it's not formal, and if I share a problem or concern, someone in the group always has a solution.”

The group members share their successes, encourage and help each other with support.

“We are all different. Some people are writing up and others are just starting. Some are general staff and others are academics, some have children and families to juggle too.”

Ms Gallop says the only criteria for group entry is members have to be a permanent staff member working more than half time. There are about 20 people in the group at the moment and they meet monthly over coffee.

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