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!

Reflections on Double Dabble

Last weekend Double Dabble: A Feminist Day of Making finally came around. Janis and I had been planning, organising, sending e-mails, and attempting to figure out what was going to happen for the last few months, and on Saturday the day finally came.

members of fempower.tech that were at Double Dabble
[me, Helen, Ko-Le, Janis, Rosie, Vidya and her little one] Thanks for the photo, Vidya!
As fempower.tech, we won the Feminist and Women’s Studies Association‘s small grant scheme this year, and were able to obtain match-funding from the Digital Economy Network to make Double Dabble happen!

The idea was simple: create a space where feminists can come together to discuss theory and making; to delve into a world of support, comfortable discussion, and creativity. Our way of doing this was to essentially create what we are starting to call an anti-hackathon.

Astrid crafting a muscle activity sensor

We took the things we liked about hackathons (making, creating, exchange of ideas) and got rid of all the things we don’t like about them (competition, judges, stress, teams, segregating of ‘techies’ and ‘non-techies’). Taking these things into consideration, we hosted 5 stalls and a ‘zine machine’ to reflect on the day as the day was happening. The stalls were designed by groups of two (except for one stall that was run by one person only) – what was particularly beautiful about these teams was that they always came from different academic disciplines (or one was non-academic) and had very different backgrounds, approaches, and research topics. I don’t think any of them had known each other before they were put in contact with each other by Janis and me, and I’m pretty sure most hadn’t seen each other before Saturday.

Let’s just say, it was an experiment.
And I was nervous about how it would turn out.

To my surprise it all went alright in the end though! Running up to the event, I was worried about not being worried enough – it’s a weird thing I do when I know I should be stressed, but for some reason am not. I fully understand the ridiculousness of this, but I can’t help it. Whenever I organise an event there is usually a moment of panic; a point (usually one or two weeks before the event is to take place) where it feels like it is all going to fall apart, where something goes horribly wrong, or where we receive some horrible news about a major participant in the event. Not at Double Dabble! Until the morning of the day, we had been working for a few minutes or hours each day for a few months to make the day happen. Janis and I had (many) informal exchanges about an e-mail we had just received or about something we had to figure out, and as such never had the pressure to deal with something on our own, but rather knew that we always had back-up. Thank you so much, Janis for all the support you gave me in organising this event. It truly was a team effort, and I really appreciate all the hard work you put in!

The day was relaxed, informative, and delicious. We had some fantastic feedback from participants and stall holders. We made cool things, we made new friends, and we made a great day!

Learning more about pre-technological Fanfiction written by Emily Brontë: Gondal stories and poetry

We’ll be sharing more reflections and information on how we organised Double Dabble over on the fempower.tech website soon (hopefully, we’re all a bunch of PhD students though, so this might take a while! haha), so if you want to keep in touch or learn more about Double Dabble and other events we’re organising subscribe to our blog, or follow us on twitter!

Happy Crafting!

Women’s Work stall where we learnt how to knit, crochet, and quilt while discussing hte invisibility of women’s work

Homelessness in Montpelier, France

I found out from a Facebook Forum, that Babeth is doing a great project for people experiencing homelessness in Montpelier, France this christmas. I got in contact with her about her project, and this is what she had to say:

Ever since I arrived in Montpellier, I noticed the amount of homeless people in the streets. Every single time I pass them, I feel bad, especially with Christmas coming up. When I see them sitting on the floor, with a paper cup in front of them, begging for money, I can’t help but wonder what they will do with Christmas. Will they be on the streets, begging for food and money? Or will there be a person who provides them with food. So I thought, why not be that person. Why not make this into a project and give those people a Christmas they will never forget.
My goal is to raise at least 500 euro’s, to be able to buy all the nessecary supplies to make great dishes with a few amazing volunteers on the 1st or 2nd day of Christmas in Montpellier center. I’m going to try to convince my boyfriend to let me use his restaurant to be able to prepare for everything with the volunteers.

Why should you help?
With your help, we will be able to give the less fortunate an amazing Christmas with some wonderful food. To provide a light in their already dark days. The more money we raise, the more we will be able to buy and make for them.
Don’t you think that everyone deserves to have a wonderful Christmas? A Christmas that is about peace and sharing? This will be your opportunity to help and make this happen for them.

On my blog I will keep everyone updated, about the entire progress, the funds and ofcourse the day itself will be documented as well. To share to the world that we need to be there for eachother.

Anyone can help, from anywhere in the world. Even 1 euro can already make a difference, if 500 people are willing to give just 1 euro, this project will be able to come to life and bring happiness to the people in need.

I think this is a brilliant way of giving back to the community. Sadly, I am not in Montpelier, so I can’t really help out physically. I did however want to get involved, so I wanted to spread the word. I urge you to help out if you are in the area!