By Jordi Cabanas-Danés

In virtually all the Peer-to-Peer group coaching sessions we have organized, we get the following response from our PhD candidates: “It is nice to connect with others who are experiencing similar things and to feel I am not alone in this”. But, what is peer coaching exactly and why is it so powerful?

An accessible learning platform

In an academic setting, with learning and development one often means expanding the knowledge on different scientific topics. This sole focus within an often competitive environment may make us disregard the possibility to learn from and teach one another. What if I tell you that there is a way in which we can learn new approaches and perspectives without having to hire an expert in a certain field? I am talking about peer coaching: setting a confidential environment with peers to reflect on current situations and setting specific goals for improvement. Peer coaching provides a platform to give and receive feedback, learn new skills, and generate new ideas and solutions together with people who understand your work, environment, situation and potential conflicts as no other. That all sounds very positive, right? Then why can it appear daunting to reflect on certain topics with direct peers?

Getting rid of stigmas

The image of sitting in a room with people you have never met before and opening up about the issues and vulnerabilities you’re experiencing, may seem intimidating. But let’s take a look at some of the most common stigmas around peer coaching: What if they will judge me? No one will understand my situation. My problem is really complex/strange/unique. They will not be able to help. I have nothing to share. What if they discover that I’m an imposter? (read our Blog 1: Imposter Syndrome – Who do you think you are?). All of these thoughts may be on your mind when deciding to confide in your peers. However, just like you, your peers are looking for a sparring partner or listening ear to talk about different topics in a safe environment. So you can expect a room full with empathy, constructive feedback, and support, rather than judgement. Also, do not underestimate your contribution in a peer group. Even though you may not have any specific cases to bring up, your presence and experience can mean a lot to others. The same goes for sharing your situation or idea: It may feel difficult at first, but you having the courage to share your problems could mean a whole lot to someone going through the same situation.

Does the structure matter?

Is it then as simple as getting together with your peers and talking to each other about different topics? Well, in essence yes. Nevertheless, to get the most out of these interactions it is good to pay attention to setting a set of basic rules. For example, agree on the confidentiality of the sessions beforehand, try asking non-suggestive open questions to get to the bottom of each situation, and see if you can help someone find their own answers instead of just giving advice. Be open, respectful, empathic, show you care, and above all, enjoy the sessions!

Do you recognize yourself in this article and would like to join a peer coaching group? Have a look at the peer-to-peer group coaching sessions and register here. Do you prefer to discuss anything in a 1-to-1 basis. The PhD advisors are here for you. Get in touch with us for a consultation (