A group photo of the CDT cohort 2 PhD students at the retreat

After a whirlwind first year, the second cohort of the UK Food Systems Centre for Doctoral Training (UKFS-CDT) gathered for a transformative retreat at Emerson College in East Sussex from 4-6 of October 2023. Guided by facilitator, Jo Gage, the retreat was an opportunity to reflect on the past year and plan the next steps of our research. It was also a chance for us to forge lasting bonds, propelling us to be reflexive researchers and future food systems decision-makers.

The retreat commenced with reflection: sharing our backgrounds, influences, and personal interests – elements that shape the very fabric of our research. The paths that brought us to the doctoral programme were diverse, but we share a commitment to catalysing positive change within complex food systems.

The UKFS-CDT’s Theory of Change was a central topic of discussion, particularly emphasising the importance of collaboration. We delved into the notion of working together within our cohort, across different cohorts, and beyond the CDT – recognising the necessity for combined efforts and integration that transcend academia in addressing the challenges in food systems. We identified shared group values, with compassion, creativity, and curiosity emerging as the top three pillars guiding our collective journey. The conversation also explored the significance of interdisciplinarity, sparking discussions on our common definition and the need to align our knowledge acquisition and practices across different disciplines. Collaboration and shared learning were the bedrock of this concept.

Retreat Reflection2Recognising the importance of peer learning, we engaged in in-depth discussions of our individual PhD topics within smaller groups. We exchanged ideas, welcoming feedback and guidance. These discussions encouraged us to share our research interests, steering us towards the need to challenge our thinking, uncover research gaps, and question where we fit in food systems transformation. The resounding importance of aligning our values and priorities to foster cohesion, amplify our collective voice, and maximize impact couldn't be overstated.

On action points, we discussed consensus decision-making and the necessary steps towards achieving this. We agreed to continue supporting PhD action learning groups, which will enable us to continue sharing ideas and provide constructive feedback that will aid our research. We also devised a plan to establish channels to facilitate collaboration, knowledge sharing, and communication.

The retreat was thought-provoking, inspiring, and filled with moments of genuine connection. As we parted ways, our thoughts revolved around sustaining this momentum and extending our engagement across the UKFS-CDT. We left with a shared mission to ignite a movement for transformative change within food systems, inspiring others both inside and outside of academia along the way.