By Andy Harrod, Blog Coordinator
The aim of this year’s Mid-Term Conference was to provide space for postgraduate researchers to think openly and collectively, in critical and reflexive ways, about the process and nuances of doing geographical research. In a time of ‘Zoom fatigue’, as a committee we were concerned about how a PGF tradition like the Mid-Term could be rethought and highly engaged with. We planned this year’s Mid-Term as a two-day virtual conference that proved to be lively, caring and engaging. It was a pleasure to see our postgraduate community engaging throughout the conference and staying with us up to the end asking brilliant questions! This is in no small part due to the 26 postgraduate presenters, who took the aim of the conference to heart with their thoughtful, honest, and open presentations about their research during the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic, the practise of human(e) geographies, conducting remote research, and the challenges of being in the field.
Alongside the postgraduate researchers’ presentations, we had keynote and plenary lectures provided by Early Career Researchers, and a range of workshops. The conference opened with Dr Olivia Mason’s keynote on Precarious mobilities: the moving challenges of postgraduate research. Olivia began by sharing her experience of being denied entry and the ‘violence of the encounter’, as she was left with a deep sense of (unwarranted) failure and unease. This led her to reflect on the role of fieldwork and why it matters as a means to observe and hear in-depth everyday accounts, especially those often missed. After completing her PhD, Olivia shared her experiences of navigating a neo-liberal academic job market. She recounted how it can feel like you are never enough, be it in terms of papers, willingness to move, use of social media and life/work balance. Ultimately, this effects who can do geography and the research you can do. Olivia then considered returning to the field and the difficulties in maintaining ongoing conversations with those involved in your PhD research. Asking how can the boundaries be redrawn, so research isn’t solely an extractive process, but an ongoing collaboration that is beneficial for all involved. Olivia finished with a rallying call on how we can all refuse precarious mobilities. A call that reverberated throughout the conference in the presentations and interactions over the two days.
Beyond the PhD Live: “Working Beyond Academia”
The first workshop involved a live take on our Beyond the PhD series, focusing on working beyond academia. Dr Gabrielle King (Research and Policy Officer at MND Scotland) and Dr Lewis Evans (Consultant, Urban Foresight) shared their experiences inside and outside academia. As well as responding to a range of questions including the types of skills looked for, networking—or, as Gabby redefined it, “making friends”—job security, departmental support, and the challenges they had faced. PGF Digital Officer Sidra live-tweeted the workshop, read the highlights below!
Navigating Conferences and Networking
The second day began with a workshop, where the panellists, Dr Catherine Oliver, Zara Babakordi and Caitlin Hafferty reflected on their experiences of attending conferences. It was a lively, honest, and caring discussion, with many thought provoking questions for the panel. It was lovely to hear that previous Mid-Term Conferences had been enjoyable experiences for all the panellists. Highlights included the value of looking after your own health, of taking breaks, of kindness and of being able to connect afterwards. Conferences are often packed full, and it isn’t possible to do everything, so it is ok to get a coffee instead, go for a walk, and email someone later rather than talk to them there and then. Personally, I am looking forward to the growing discussion in creating comfortable spaces at conferences for all attendees.
Following the workshop, we also released a blog post written by Catherine Oliver, Academic Conferences: What to Expect and How to Prepare (The Unfiltered Version). Mirroring the openness and reflection of the workshop, this piece touches on the value of the conference, feeling out of place, networking, friendship and more.
Academic Publishing Masterclass
The final workshop focused on publishing and was led by Prof Sarah Hall and Dr Phil Emmerson, who shared their experiences and tips on getting published. This included recognising when you are ready to write a paper, what type of paper it will be and the suitability of the journal. Papers may be based on aspects of your thesis or be ones that complement the thesis and sit alongside it. Ultimately, getting published is a long process, which involves a rollercoaster of rejection and acceptance. There was also a focus on the revision process and how to respond to reviewer comments, which typically leads you to unpick your work. So it is important to keep your belief in your work, to help maintain your motivation.
“Whose Streets? Our Streets!” Resistance and Public Space in the Past and the Present
The conference was brought to a close with a Plenary Lecture by Dr Hannah Awcock on “Whose Streets? Our Streets!” Resistance and Public Space in the Past and the Present. In a very timely lecture, Hannah shared the historical geography of protest, noting that public space matters, not only for recreation, but as a space for inclusion, mobility and as a site for expression of resistance and demands for change. These acts of resistance can be seen in the protest stickers that pop up in our cities, with Hannah sharing examples from her collection. Hannah queried what stickers count and how do their meaning shift as they deteriorate. As well, how do we consider the actions and voices involved when they are ripped down. Hannah’s focus on the right to protest, to resistance and demanding change reflects the growing voice within the postgraduate and early career researchers’ communities for changes to academic systems. For academic systems that are crafted with care, and offered with kindness and compassion embedded in them, rather than used as buzz words on wellbeing days. Days, which are quickly unmasked when applicants are requested to live apart from loved ones, move to other countries, and work on Sundays, if you really want an academic job. Being involved in the 2022 Postgraduate Forum Mid-Term Conference gives me hope that change in academia is possible, especially at the local level amongst ourselves and through how we act towards one another.
It was a pleasure to work with other members of the Postgraduate Forum Committee to create a conference that was a privilege to be part of. So, thank you to everyone who presented, participated, and made it a very enjoyable experience. Cheers! I leave the last words to Luke Green, a co-organiser of the conference and the PGF Conference Officer.
“It was a really rewarding experience to co-organise, and be part of, such a successful Mid-Term Conference. Our broad theme elicited some fascinating presentations and important insights from our postgraduate presenters, and a generative, supportive, and caring discussion amongst delegates around the challenges of doing geographical research. It was also a real pleasure to be joined by so many guest speakers, who kindly committed time to share their own insights and reflections on the challenging aspects of the PhD and post-PhD experience. We were especially keen this year to promote early career voices as part of the Mid-Term, who could speak honestly and authentically about the challenges of doing doctoral research. All our speakers embraced this challenge wholeheartedly. We’re especially grateful to Olivia and Hannah for opening and closing the conference in impressive style, delivering outstanding lectures which inspired, moved, and absorbed us in equal measure. Many thanks to all who were a part of the PGF Mid-Term 2022—we’ll see you next year!” Luke Green, PGF Conference Officer