PGF-ACTS 2014 – Review of the day
by Mary Greene NUI Galway and Natalie Tebbett, Loughborough University
Opening and Plenary Session
Around 80 postgraduate students and early career researchers gathered in London to kick-off the Royal Geographical Society (with the Institute of British Geographers) Annual International Conference in Kensington, London. The Postgraduate Forum Annual Conference Training Symposium (PGF-ACTS), jointly organised each year by the Society’s Postgraduate Forum and the RGS-IBG, provide postgraduates a supportive environment to network, attend workshops, develop transferable skills, and participate in highly stimulating and wide-ranging conversations with friends and colleagues old and new. For many delegates, this was their first RGS-IBG annual conference.
Wendy Larner (Conference Chair) opened the symposium followed by Rita Gardiner, Director of the RGS-IBG. The plenary ice-breaker session led by Nicola Thomas (Exeter) focused on developing strategies and actions for being at ease with, optimising, and getting the most out of, academic events and conferences. This was a fun, fast-paced, speed-dating like workshop that energised delegates and removed conference nerves.
In the afternoon two breakout sessions were scheduled. The first, led by Alison Hess (Science Museum) and Lucy Vale (Nottingham), focused on the use of co-production to disseminate your research; the second, delivered by Gavin Bridge (Durham), explored writing, reading and self-editing strategies.
Using co-production to disseminate your research
This workshop built upon the overall conference theme – geographies of co-production. An appropriate theme at a time when universities, academics and researchers face new challenges and encounters in communicating and disseminating research across a variety of audiences and media platforms. The aim of this workshop was to reflect on the meanings of co-production and dissemination; the inevitable tensions involved in collaborative working; to encourage novel forms of knowledge transfer and exchange; and pitching ideas to non-academic persons. We began the session with ice breaker academic bingo.
It proved a useful exercise getting to know each other’s research, develop verbal communication skills and practice that firm handshake. This practical activity allowed experiences to be shared, expertise to be offered and networks to be developed – could our next collaborative partner be in this workshop? Followed was a discussion on what constitutes co-production and dissemination. This was illustrated by a non-hierarchical participation spectrum, an assistive scale designed to classify the level of individual and group contribution, collaboration and co-creation engagement. Alison and Lucy identified potential collaborators who might be of interest to our own research (for example, artists, community groups, archives and libraries, and museums and galleries). They also drew on their own experiences of co-production with the National Trust, Landscape and Environment, the BBC, and the Museum of English Rural Life. In particular, the use of creative and novel dissemination tools such as podcasts, art installations, mobile phone apps, and multi-sensory approaches were at the heart of their work. Could scratch and sniff (mentioned during the workshop) be the next innovative tool to disseminate geographical research and encourage children and adults to interact with the natural and built environment?
Critical Reading and Self-Editing Interactive Workshop
The critical reading and self-editing interactive workshop was led by Prof. Gavin Bridge (Durham University). Through a combination of individual work, small group tasks and general discussion the workshop helped postgraduates to (re)engage with the ways they both read and write in their research, while reinforcing the links between the two activities. Using a sample of different introductions to journal articles, Prof. Bridge had the participants analyse the different styles and approaches used to established the pieces. The characteristics, benefits and drawbacks of the different examples were discussed in small groups and collectively. A short writing exercise involved participants composing introductions or summaries of research or hypothetical papers which was reviewed by others. The importance of brevity and precision was emphasised.
Panel Discussion and Q & A session
Finally, the day closed with a panel discussion and Q&A session. The panel included the four workshop leaders, Dr Nicola Thompson, Prof. Gavin Bridge, Dr Lucy Veale and Dr Alison Hess, with the addition of Prof. Peter Kraftl of the University of Leicester. This session provided an opportunity for postgraduates to draw together the threads of the workshops they’ve attended in discussion with each other and the panel speakers. The overall theme of the panel discussion was transitioning to life post-PhD and a lively and stimulating discussion ensued with speakers offering invaluable insights and tips for students moving into life beyond their postgraduate degree.
Overall the skills developed during this year’s symposium will prove valuable throughout the course of postgraduate study – and indeed more broadly careers. Huge thanks to all the speakers and delegates involved.