Reflections on Postgraduate Conference Planning

This is a guest post by Victoria Shropshire, a second-year PhD student in Creative Writing at the University of Glasgow.

 

On 7 and 8 June, the College of Arts of the University of Glasgow successfully ran its 6th annual international postgraduate interdisciplinary conference. The great thing about this conference is that it’s run BY postgrads FOR postgrads, so while there’s still the usual fare of panels, papers, and presentations, there’s always a bit more creativity and fun when early career researchers get together. I’ve been to more than my fair share of conferences (academic and otherwise) in my 20-year teaching career, but this one was unique to me not only because I approached it as a student (I’m in the second year of my PhD Creative Writing) but also as an organizer. While stressful at times, the experience was rewarding because of that combination.

The conference theme was “Intersections” as we (the postgraduate designers of the conference) wanted the focus to be on the infusion spaces where different ideas, cultures and academic disciplines converge and enrich one another, and allow early career researchers to engage with the Arts and Humanities in fresh ways. The theme itself was something that we (the planning committee) put a good deal of effort into, to encourage the greatest variety of postgrad submissions and participation. In this blog, I will share our tops tips and reflections.

 

Our fabulous LOGO was the result of a wee contest!
Winner: Leontios Toumpouris (Glasgow School of Art).

 

TIP #1 Talk it Out

We started work early (last November!) and kept a consistent schedule; maintaining healthy communication is paramount. If one of us had a heavy work load, a stressful revision, or had to miss meetings due to travel schedules, we made sure to let everyone know. We built a strong team on the intersection of time management and professional courtesy. (See how I worked in our conference theme there? Nice one.)

This image describes how we all felt, keeping all the elements of our student lives as well as personal lives in balance with this professional endeavor! Source: Wikimedia Commons.

TIP #2 Own Your Time
As postgrads, we all knew that this conference was not our only spinning plate. We were honest about what we did and did not have time to do, and this was a critical part of our collaboration. For some (I’m raising my hand here) it can often be difficult to say “no” but this honesty set a good tone for our committee to bounce new ideas, and we truly enjoyed getting to know one another. We even translated this idea into the conference, giving ample time for breaks and lunch, and having some flexible start times. We felt it was important to give attendees the time to relax, connect, and chat about our work and the curious intersections we see between it and the research of others. This had an incredible impact, and while some might call it inappropriate, I was genuinely touched when several attendees hugged me along with their thanks for our effort in this conference. (I’m learning to be a hugger.)

 

Snap from a session on the biography of the 1967 Abortion Act. Picture by Jessica Habib.

 

TIP #3 Flex It
Embrace flexibility and thinking on your feet, especially during the actual conference. In addition to the normal in-the-moment decisions, like combining panels or converting a planned Q&A into a conversation, we also had to contend with an entire venue shift! Two days before the conference, the ceiling of the venue foyer collapsed, making our space unavailable, to say the least. Flexibility and creativity were central to making the conference roll along smoothly (not to mention a healthy sense of humor!)

OK so it was only part of a foyer ceiling that fell – but this is how the news felt when we first heard.
(video of imploding dorm courtesy of the University of Kansas).

 

TIP #4 Be Creative and Be GLAM!
Who doesn’t like doing research with crayons? Or getting some glitter and glam tossed into an academic endeavor? Often those in postgrad processes tend to forget that academic work can and should be fun. We decided to include at least one “unconventional” event in own program, as keynotes and panels (while important) can be exhausting. After all, our goals were to inspire possible creative approaches to and intersections of their research and to have fun doing it!

The Glasgow Glam Rock Dialogues is a collaboration between David Archibald and Carl Lavery (University of Glasgow) and various artists, including a rock harpist and the Angel of History. Images from left to right: The GRD artists (used with permission) and Glam Rock Dialogues at “Intersections” Photo by Jessica Habib.

 

So we added a Glam Rock performance and the Creative Writing workshop to help attendees relax and network, and got incredibly positive feedback about these events. The Glasgow Glam Rock Dialogues is a collaboration between David Archibald and Carl Lavery from the School of Culture and Creative Arts. It is an attempt to ‘perform thinking’ in front of a live audience, and mixes Brechtian techniques with a glam rock aesthetic. The aim is not to teach but to provoke debate, whilst sporting spandex trousers and feather boas. And all of this was followed by a delicious meal by The Hug & Pint.

Planning this two-day event was a monstrous task and came with its fair share of obstacles, but this is life, isn’t it? One of your event days will fall on the day of a general election, buildings will crumble, the sky will pour, and the caterers will have a vastly different view from yours as to what constitutes a single serving… But if you are honest, open, flexible, and creative (in our humble opinion) you will succeed!

Plus, a bit of glitter doesn’t hurt either.

 

Glitter makes everything better! Image via Wikimedia Commons.

 

More info:
If you are a postgrad interested in participating in this amazing journey, watch your email this fall for announcements from the College of Arts about planning the 2018 postgraduate conference, hosted by the University of Glasgow.

The 2017 conference was designed, planned, and facilitated by Jessica J Habib (1st Year PhD, English Literature), Finn Daniels-Yeomans (1st Year PhD, Film and Television Studies), Hannah Yoken (1st Year PhD, Gender History), Ana Markovic (2nd Year PhD, English Literature), and Victoria Shropshire (2nd year PhD, Creative Writing).

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