Creating community



Jamie Shenk

DPhil Student | Clarendon Scholar
Department of Sociology
University of Oxford

Jamie Shenk

Creating Community


I love reading acknowledgements sections. Like the academic version of a BAFTA acceptance speech, I love learning about the communities—professional and personal—that support a scholar’s journey to publication. Acknowledgements sections also give me anxiety: How are they so friendly with others in the field? Should I be applying to more workshops? Did their partner really copyedit their index? All of these questions really boil down to one that has dogged my entire academic journey: How do a build a community that supports me and my work? 

This task felt daunting when I arrived in Oxford to start my DPhil. Joining a new department and without classes as a natural environment to get to know my peers, I wasn’t sure where to start building a close personal support network. I travelled to Boston to attend the biggest conference in my field, but without my own original research to share, I wasn’t sure how I fit in. As I watched more senior scholars greet each other with hugs and catch up over coffees, I wandered through different panels trying to look busy. I felt unmoored.

oxford winter skyline

What I failed to recognize in this first year is that finding one’s community is a process, and I was participating in my own process without even realizing it. The interactions I had with my peers and mentors, while awkward or superficial in my mind at the time, had actually begun to create the foundation of my community. 

Last minute drinks with colleagues in my department became group chats that have spawned conference panels. An email sent to a scholar I admire after an event resulted in an offer to provide detailed feedback on an early article draft.  Even that conference in Boston—while etched in my mind as an uncomfortable memory—allowed me to make a new friend. That friend, in turn, connected to another scholar who would become my closest companion during my fieldwork in Colombia. These friends, scholars, and mentors—once strangers—are now part of my community. I am grateful to each of them. 

Who is in your community? What has your process of community building looked like? Has COVID-19 made forming a community harder? Has shifting online made some aspects of community building easier? I invite you to share your experience and help us build an online community here.