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Launch of the first-generation student initiative at the EUI

Posted on 25 January 2021

Researchers and students arrive at the EUI from around the world, bringing with them a diverse range of life and educational experiences. Among this diversity are people who are the first in their family to pursue a post-graduate degree.

As part of the EUI diversity strategy, the Academic Service has launched an initiative to support first-generation PhD researchers and masters students. The goal is to connect them with faculty and fellows who have travelled a similar path, and/or are available to mentor early-stage researchers now in the same position.

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Terra incognita

Pursuing a doctorate or other post-graduate degree, especially in a foreign country, takes courage and confidence. Unlike people who know or have seen other family members navigate their way through academia, first-generation students may find themselves in unfamiliar territory, with feelings of uncertainty and self-doubt complicated by the pressure to succeed.

Aware of this difficulty, the Academic Service, Directed by Dr. Mathias Neukirchen, recently launched a call for interest across the EUI, inviting academic members to come forward if they identify as first-generation and to offer feedback on what could be helpful in terms of support.

In just one day, the Service received over 30 responses from PhD researchers, masters students, fellows and faculty.

One respondent expressed “Thank you for organising this initiative. It is actually the first time that an institution is interested in this characteristic of my social background.” Another researcher replied “I want to congratulate you on this project. This is something that has come up in many conversations with other colleagues and often has more weight than it seems.”

Building a first-generation network

Dr Neukirchen, who took up his role in October of 2020, explained “With regard to diversity and social inclusiveness, the EUI should keep improving. This new initiative will help identify first-generation academics within our community and the special needs that they may have.”

Based on the enthusiastic feedback from the January call, the Academic Service will organise an introductory workshop where first-generation masters students and PhD researchers will meet with a faculty member and post-doctoral fellow who also identify as first-generation. The purpose of that encounter is to get acquainted and exchange ideas on what kinds of support would be most helpful. Follow-up workshops, also run by faculty and fellows identifying as first-generation, will also take place.

The Academic Service hopes that their institutional support will facilitate the creation of an eventual self-run peer-coaching and mentoring group, focused on sharing resources and providing support. The group could even work to inform the EUI community on first-generation topics, through efforts such as radio interviews and presentations with faculty on first-generation topics broadcasted by the EUI’s very own Radio Cavolo.

If you are an EUI academic, EUI PhD researcher, Master student, fellow, or faculty identifying as first-generation and would like to join the initiative, please get in touch with Judith Przyrowski in the Academic Service.