Happy Hours, Games Nights, Crafternoons: Planning Virtual Events

Photo Credit: Robert Coelho on Unsplash

Now that BC is beginning to “Open With Care,” many of us are enjoying more flexibility to see friends, family, and other humans in general – especially if we meet outside and stay 2m apart (I liked this flowchart from the BC government re: social gatherings). But with UBC on-site research activities suspended for the time being, and only highest-priority activities beginning to resume, most trainees remain physically separated from their labmates and peers.

Here are some ways that student groups/associations across the FoM have been staying connected and enjoying each other’s company:

  • Weekly online social or Happy Hour; Virtual Dinner Party (Zoom, Discord, Google Hangouts)
  • Movie Night (Netflix Party)
  • Cloth face mask crafting session (Zoom)
  • Paint Night; Art/Craft Night (Zoom)
    • Can be structured, with a leader guiding everyone through the steps of creating a similar painting, or unstructured, with everyone bringing their own art/craft project to work on and show off
  • Workout Wednesdays (instructions for at-home workout/exercises circulated in advance, then meet on Zoom)
  • Virtual Co-Writing/Co-Working Session (Zoom)
  • Games Night (Zoom, Discord, Google Hangouts)
    • Pictionary, Catan, Carcassone, 7 Wonders, Codenames – see this post for links to different game platforms
    • Jackbox Games – my personal favourite is Drawful, which is basically a high-tech, high-comedy variation on Pictionary. This post gives a good primer on how Jackbox works.
  • Online Student Seminar Series
  • Individual peer chats & check-ins


  • If you want to run a similar activity but aren’t sure how to set it up, contact me and I can either answer your questions or link you with a fellow trainee who organized one of the events above.
  • PhD students should be able to sign up for a UBC Zoom account (which doesn’t have the limitations of a free account) using this link. If you have any problems, let me know.
  • Need someone to walk you through options for hosting a virtual game night? Here’s a useful post from Wirecutter/NY Times, and another from Sarah Cassidy. 
  • What’s Netflix Party? It’s an extension for Google Chrome that allows everyone to watch the same movie/show at once, in sync, and with an added group chat feature. Everyone does need to have a Netflix account to participate. Here’s an explainer.

Please, if you’ve used these platforms and have tips or advice to share, email me. I want to update and beef up this post!

If you wish something like this was happening in your program but don’t have the bandwidth to organize it yourself, or if you need help doing so, reach out to me and/or to your grad students’ association/society/group (if you have one).

Other ideas?

  • Zoom Bake Off: At my alma mater, a student from the grad students’ association circulated her chocolate chip cookie recipe in advance and everyone joined a Zoom meeting at a set time to bake and chat together. (I’ve been watching a lot of Great British Bake Off and the occasional episode of Nailed It, so I had the slightly more competitive idea of circulating a somewhat challenging/technical/novel recipe and meeting on Zoom to show off the results and – in good fun – assess whose attempt wins top honours). 
  • “Show & Tell: Trainee Edition”: This idea came from the BC Children’s Hospital Research Institute, invoking that amazing kindergarten feeling of showing off a prized possession and sharing a story, hobby, or side of yourself that might be new to your colleagues. This could be a standalone activity or be incorporated into a longer Happy Hour or Virtual Dinner Party.
  • Movie/Book Clubs: I’ve unexpectedly found myself in an ad hoc Weird Movie Club. A few weeks ago, one friend convinced the rest of us to watch a (frankly pretty terrible) low-budget 70s flick, which inspired plenty of banter at our next socially distanced gathering in the park. Another friend suggested that we all watch The Lighthouse next, and a tradition was born. Instead of “weird” movies, you could rotate through obscure favourites from childhood, movies from different countries, movies that nominally involve your research area …  theme possibilities are endless.

Across UBC

If you’re not up for organizing something yourself, why not see if one or more peers/colleagues want to attend an event “with” you and meet up afterwards for a chat/discussion?

  • As of June 5th I didn’t see any upcoming Graduate Student Society (GSS) events, but they recently hosted a neat-sounding Virtual Paint Night (led by a proper art instructor, with supplies delivered in advance). You can follow the GSS on Twitter or Facebook to keep up-to-date.
  • I’ve been pretty impressed with the mix of online events and workshops offered by Graduate & Postdoctoral Studies. Some are quite niche and academic, but scan the list and you’ll find intriguing and useful-sounding webinars like “Designing Your Life,” “Working from Home Full-Time,” and “Feeling Stuck or Unsure.”
  • UBC Recreation offers a whole bunch of options to get active at home, including various online fitness classes.

There’s probably more to say, but I’ll pause there. Like I mentioned above, I would love to update this post with trainees’ own tips and ideas for staying connected, apart. Getting together online doesn’t need to be complicated or daunting; if it feels that way, I can help!