A Retreat in the Black Forest and a Tryst with DoKUS

DoKUS is the formal representative body for all PhD students of the University of Stuttgart and represents the interests of PhD students. An experience report about a retreat in the Black Forest with DoKUS.

It all started with an obscure email in the PhD students’ mailing list late in August. “DoKUS retreat is finally happening”, it said. “Who can participate? Every PhD student at the university!”. However, what really caught my attention was the venue. The retreat was going to happen in Feldberg, the highest peak of the Black Forest! The very mention of the word Schwarzwald brings to mind cuckoo clocks, health spas, and the dark fairy-tales of the Brothers Grimm, but Feldberg is in fact one of the most popular skiing destinations in the Schwarzwald, with cosy log cabins and picturesque hiking trails criss-crossing over the area.

I had heard passing mentions of DoKUS in various presentations and orientation sessions of the international office at the university, but I only had a vague idea about what the organisation exactly was and what they did. I thought this retreat would be a good opportunity to get to know the organisation and the people involved a little better, so I signed up for it immediately. I was in for a very pleasant surprise. As the day arrived, we set out from the Campus Vaihingen in vans that the organisers had hired for the weekend. We were a group of close to twenty people, most of us strangers to each other. But I was happy to be able to meet other PhD students of the university, as we usually have a very isolated existence, meeting only the same few colleagues every day.

PhD students of the University of Stuttgart at the DoKUS retreat

The route from Stuttgart to Feldberg is scenic and picturesque. We passed Thyssenkrupp’s famed elevator testing tower, the glacier lake of Titisee, and after navigating the beautiful meandering curves on the hills of the black forest, we reached the Opelhaus in Feldberg. Built in 1930, the place is the clubhouse of the local Ski Guild with cosy wooden interiors, saunas, and bunk beds. The large number of ski guild shields and trophies decorating the common hall stand testament to the decades-long history of competitive skiing which is typical of Feldberg. As it was still autumn, however, we could not get a taste of the sport itself, although we could see the slopes and ski lifts just outside the building.

DoKUS represents the interests of PhD students

After a round of radler for everyone prepared from the huge tank of beer that the organisers had brought along, we got a formal introduction to DoKUS. The members of the “Vorstand”, the administrative board, gave us a presentation about the organisation and what it does. DoKUS is essentially the formal representative body for all PhD students of the University of Stuttgart. Every student, once enrolled formally, becomes a member of DoKUS. Just as STUVUS represents the interests of bachelors and masters students, DoKUS represents the interests of PhD students in various fora, acting as the link between PhD students and administrative or decision-making authorities of the university.

This involves participating in senate committee and faculty council meetings where doctoral degree regulations are discussed, and regular interactions with GRADUS to improve their offerings for PhD students. DoKUS also advises and guides students who wish to take up a doctoral position at the university or current PhD students who wish to understand the system better. DoKUS also promotes interdisciplinary interactions between PhD students from various fields by organising informal meetups open to all PhD students. These meetings are great opportunities to meet people from various fields and exchange ideas. The day ended with a planned barbecue which didn’t go the way we wanted it to because of the treacherous weather of the Schwarzwald suddenly turning into heavy rains. But it was fun to work together to prepare meals, clean up, and have some good conversations.

Beautiful landscape
Hiking in Black Forest

The next morning we got down straight to business with a brainstorming session. We all came up with issues of importance to PhD students which we thought DoKUS should include in their agenda for the next year. And then we split up into groups to work on an action plan to tackle each of these issues. We worked on ideas to improve DoKUS’s outreach, streamlining the registration and enrollment procedures for a PhD at the university, better international outreach, language courses for international students, organising social meetups, and many others. The satisfaction of having done something to solve our collective problems made it a very interesting and productive morning.

The plan for the afternoon, in true German spirit, was a hike in the surrounding black forest. We went up to the Feldberg peak at 1493 m and then down to the glacier lake of Feldsee with great views of the forest, meadows and lake all along the trail. Through rain and shine along strenuous hiking trails all in a span of a few hours, we had a fine glimpse of the vagaries of German weather and the beautiful natural scenes of the Schwarzwald.

The retreat came to an end the next day after another session of work, consolidating our ideas and putting together a concrete agenda for DoKUS to work with. After all that I had learnt about DoKUS over the weekend, I was excited to be an active part of it. I attended some more meetings later and worked on some of the issues in the agenda. To cut a long story short, I’m now a member of the Vorstand.

Feel free to contact DoKUS

If you are an aspiring PhD student of the University of Stuttgart, or newly enrolled, or even an existing student who just got to know about DoKUS, we would love to hear from you. Feel free to contact us with any queries you may have, ideas or issues to work on, or even if you just want to get in touch with the PhD student community of the University. Remember, you are already a part of DoKUS from the time you enrol, and we would love to get to know you! Visit our website or write to us at vorstand@dokus.uni-stuttgart.de. You can also register yourselves in our mailing list and get the schedule and links to attend our regular meetings here. Unfortunately the site is currently in German, but an English version will be online soon. You can also follow us or write to us on Instagram. Our DoKUS group on the Signal app is open for all PhD students of Uni Stuttgart. We look forward to hearing from you!


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