Teambuilding for new Fusion CDT first years

In weeks 4 to 6 of the autumn term, the Fusion CDT first years from all the partner universities came together for three weeks of lectures at York Plasma Institute. The first week also included a cohort building afternoon. Ethan Attwood (a first year Fusion CDT student from University of York) reported back on the teambuilding event as follows:

It’s natural to have felt increasingly disconnected from your peers ever since the calendar turned to 2020. After two years of distancing, remote working, online lectures and cancelled events, this academic year finally feels severed from the last strands of our collective isolation. The events of this autumn will represent a fitting welcome to the CDT cohort of 2022, and a recognition of the fact that once again, we can run around the woods with reckless abandon.

Local Yorkshire events venue Hazlewood castle, with its geometric 11th-century architecture and sprawling grounds, seems an auspicious site for CDT teambuilding. The tipis and shuttered outdoor bars feel more like a site for a fairytale woodland wedding than 25 physics students about to attempt to cooperate. But a fitting venue it was, with activities designed and expertly guided to perfectly toe the boundary between competitive and cooperative, to instil mutual respect for the wider team while knowing deep down that your subgroup was the best. And the reviews corroborated, with comments from the group including:

The whole day was great fun. Some people got a bit too competitive,” and “The orienteering was actually one of the most fun things I’ve done ever, but don’t put that in or it’ll seem disingenuous”.

A rotation around three activities allowed the teams to flex their competitive muscle: air rifle shooting, archery and a woodland scavenger hunt with riddles to solve. Points in each were up for grabs amongst our three rival squads: the Sausage Links, Pancake Kings and Koki’s Heroes.

It was in fact the introductory exercise that stimulated many of the strongest reactions. While simultaneously lowering a weighted metal rod to the ground with your teammates may sound trivial, it proved anything but. “Our strategy was to yell at each other in unison,” one of the group explained. “Also to identify problematic people and move them to the middle where they could do the least damage,” his teammate added. “Like me.”

Archery ended in a 3-way tie, with Koki’s Heroes marksman Max Stunt (a second year Fusion CDT student and one of our student reps) earning the title via rock-paper-scissors tiebreaker. In less controversial but just as dramatic fashion, Sim Bhaker of the Pancake Kings led the field in air rifle shooting.

The day didn’t end there though, as waiting for us back in York was a meal at ASK Italian organised by Ruth, Ella and Hillary (YPI admin team), who were the real heroes in all of this. The pizza and pasta was washed down with drinks at several stops along York’s incredible trail of pubs. In the end, a day of discovering our ungracefulness at activities mastered by explorer scouts many years our junior came second to speaking to that person you’ve so far only seen in lectures. It was in these conversations that we learned about the cool job they had before they started, or how far they’ve travelled to join the fusion community. We bantered, gossiped, and planned future socials across the home universities of the CDT. We are scientists after all; we like assessments of objectives and in this case, the afternoon at Hazlewood Castle was a resounding success, and we have a stronger cohort for it.

Ethan Attwood, Nouse Science Editor & Fusion CDT first year student