Researching Our Futures

Yesterday was the culmination of a lot of work on a little side project I’ve been a part of for the last few months: along with six other Humanities Arts and Social Science (HASS) PhD students and some members of staff from the HASS office and careers service, we organised a conference called Researching Our Futures. It was a day of listening to speakers from a really diverse set of workplaces about how they got where they are, why they did (or are working towards) a PhD and how it helps them in their current job. After a keynote speech from Prof. Pauline Dixon, we had two sets of parallel sessions in the morning covering loads of different fields. In each of these we had three or four people who recently obtained their PhDs or are working towards their PhDs while working in these sectors tell us about their stories; about how they got to where they are now and how they use their PhD in their everyday life.

Aren’t these conference bags pretty?!

The first set of parallel sessions:

  • Working in Non Academic Research & Consultancy
  • Working in Public and Voluntary sectors
  • Working in the Cultural & Heritage Sector
  • Creative Practice & the Freelancer

The second set of parallel sessions:

  • Working in Academia and Education – research and teaching roles
  • Working in Academia – professional support roles
  • Working with Words – Creative Writing, Translation, Writing for the Media
  • Working in Education sector

After lunch, we had two more speakers: Charlotte Mathieson talked about the importance of the digital, and Chris Humphrey tried to help us write cover letters for non-academic jobs.

It was a nice mix of things, and the verbal feedback I got from attendants just before they were leaving was usually positive. Perhaps one of the nicest things I heard (a few times, actually) was that the conference was what they were expecting – it was what we advertised, and they’re really glad that it was what they were expecting. So that’s good!

Working in the Public and Voluntary Sector Panel with Natalie Day, Alex Feis-Bryce, and Nikki Spalding

In the morning, I attended the Working in Public and Voluntary sectors panel, which was really interesting! It was amazing to hear such personal accounts of people; to hear a very different side to the story you usually hear at conferences. After his talk, I had a brief chat with Alex from National Ugly Mugs (who, I am working with as one of my PhD case studies) about a project we are currently planning, but I also told him how nice it was that he was there. I had known bits and pieces of his story from having talked to him about his PhD and work previously, but it was nice to see it shared in one piece, in front of an audience that seemed to be genuinely interested.

Similarly, I thought it was really nice to see Pauline as the Keynote. I was her student during my MA, and have been in contact with her every now and again since then in relation to teaching on some modules, as well as trying to organise some events as part of the International Development Society. So I’ve known her for some years and have read and heard about a lot of her work; I’ve heard her talk at the International Development Conference, have been in her classes, and have seen her TEDx talk. Again, I’d heard bits and pieces of her story from her and her colleagues through my continued engagement with the EG West Centre (pretty much only for teaching), but I never heard the story from start to finish.

Another thing that was great about the conference was the audience involvement. There were questions after every session. And the questions were interesting. They were thoughtful, thought provoking, and reflexive. Being in a room with this many PhD students was a strangely comforting experience. Throughout the day, we had a whiteboard and sticky-notes for delegates to answer three questions (at different points in the day): (1) I came here today, because… (2) Today, I have learned… and (3) What action will I take after today’s conference?

Whiteboard with sticky-note responses

I really like some of these responses, and see if you can spot my own (hint: I really like free coffee at conferences, which is why every event I organise has free tea and coffee. It’s a necessity), but one that stuck with me is the one in the image below. It reads: Do what you want to be. Do it among other doers. Present it to multiple audiences in multiple languages. I’m not sure which panel session or speaker this advice came from for the person who wrote the note, but I feel like this is a nice way of summing up the practical advice we got throughout the day! Yes, we talked a lot about skilllike resilience, project planning, or people management that we learn while doing our PhD, but I really like the simplicity of this advice. I like how true it rings to what I’m doing, and how I’ve started doing this kind of thing with my feminism.

Sticky-note response to ‘what did you learn today’

Yesterday was a fun day. It was tiring, but it was more fun, informative, and interesting than I thought it would be (and I helped organise the thing!) So, here’s to us for organising such a lovely event. Go team, and keep pushing the door, even if it’s just a little.

Part of the organising committee of Researching Our Futures

And an extra special thank you to Michael for designing the awesome t-shirt and bag design, as well as the overall branding for the conference (I also really like this picture of myself, which is rare, so here’s for some body positivity!)

We’ve done a good job, time for wine!

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