Screenshot from gaming event

Grad students stay connected while social distancing via online gaming platform


Kirsten Kraklio

Creating a community for graduate students to come together and support one another was already a focus in the School of Life Sciences. And then social distancing became a mandate, leaving students like Romain Dahan and Kimberly Olney to rethink how that support is facilitated.

“Before, when campus was open, we'd get together and work on a puzzle together or something along those lines, just as a space for graduate students to unwind and talk about life and do something creative,” said Olney, a fourth-year evolutionary biology PhD student and president of the School of Life Sciences’ graduate student executive board. “Now that we're all having to practice social distancing, we still recognize how important it is for us to stay connected and to talk about life and to do something that isn't just always work- or research-focused or reading the news.”

Enter a Discord server called "The Fellowship of Glitch."

“The basic idea was really to try and create this online community where we could feel a sense of belonging and still get together and be grad students,” said Dahan, a sixth-year evolutionary biology PhD student and vice president of the executive board.

Since its launch, the Fellowship of Glitch has been a place for students to talk and share recommendations — like using a zombie running app to stay motivated to jog — with one another, play games and even meet new connections.

“I'm chatting with people I've actually never even met within (the School of Life Sciences) before because (it) is huge,” Olney said. “This is something that I see going on even when campus does open back up again; it’s a great way to just stay connected and virtually meet new people.”

While created for School of Life Sciences graduate students initially, Olney and Dahan welcome any graduate students from The College or Arizona State University who are seeking a community to join. In addition to the server, the executive board is also facilitating online gaming opportunities, including Jackbox, Geoguesser and the Tabletop Simulator.

“It is great to see the (School of Life Sciences) graduate students rising to the challenge of connecting during this physical distancing period, through online gaming communities,” said Kenro Kusumi, director of the School of Life Sciences. “The teams that they have created through online communities reflect the spirit of innovation that also drives their scientific research.”