Whether you are doing a PhD onsite or by distance you are surrounded by a brilliant, if often under exploited tool: the postgraduate community. Either in your department, faculty, university or regional network there are people in the same situation as you and they are a fantastic resource on multiple levels.
Firstly, throughout the PhD there are lots of questions. In the postgraduate community you often have people at the same stage as you or who have been through the stage you are currently at. As such, it is a good place to ask questions and discuss the processes you are going through, such as the literature review, the upgrade, all the way to the viva and post PhD life.
The postgraduate community is also fertile ground for ideas. Even though every PhD is original, lots of people with different research topics have similarities in their research and this can be a very useful forum to debate them. Talking your research over with you peers also means that you have to convey your research to someone outside of your immediate area and this process of condensation and clarification is a good way of learning how to present your research and to relate it to larger research questions.
Planning events is a way on capitalising on the postgraduate community. For example, if you feel there is something you would all like to learn about or how to use but cannot find a training session for it already provided by the university, you could organise a workshop and either present your specific knowledge of the topic to the others who in turn would share their experience, or invite a speaker. Another example of community events is reading groups. This can unite doctoral students from multiple departments to go through a certain body of theory for example, or literature surrounding a particular historical moment. Bringing together multiple fields is additionally a great way of expanding the topic and experiencing how it is used in other fields or traditions. Later on in the PhD the postgraduate community can offer a space for informal of subject-specific thesis writing groups and a source of encouragement in the final months.
Another increasingly common event is the postgraduate conference. For those participating, the postgraduate setting can be less intimidating to launch ideas and it is a key way to gain experience at giving a paper, not to mention an opportunity to meet others working on a similar topic or area. Postgraduate conferences are often organised by members of that community and it is a way of gaining understanding of planning an event, from applying for funding to ordering the catering, to running the session on the day. These events can be departmental or at faculty level, based in one university or at regional level between multiple departments. It is a fantastic chance to exchange ideas and can lead to future collaborations.