Travels in Textiles


Friday, 25 November 2011

The struggles of a post-graduate researcher

I have been feeling the pinch and bearing the brunt of the University cuts (in money, staff and more) over last few weeks as I start to pay off my Career Development Loan. This is even though I've not even finished the MA and am yet to await my oral exam which should have taken place this month. After the examiners have only just been appointed I'm not holding out for it taking place before Christmas.

In my last post I mentioned that I would be presenting at the Textiles Research in Practice (TRIP) symposium at Loughborough University which I did successfully, even though this too, while less significant than the loan, left me with more than just a little hole burnt in my cash pocket. I was required to pay for the conference and for my train ticket, as well as book off a day at work to present at this conference. While a little begrudged, I understood that this is how young researchers and academics are required to get themselves known and meet like-minded people in their field and this often comes at a financial cost. It was a not only something I saw as being interesting and inspiring hearing some very inspiring people speak, but good for me to present my own work, share my findings, ideas and interests with others in hope that potential working relationships may be formed, or even just people to keep in touch with should we find common ground in the future.

Unfortunately for me, because a train had derailed on the line between Manchester and Sheffield (where I had to change trains for Loughborough) I had to get a replacement bus to Sheffield which took almost 3 times as long as the train journey should have taken. So of course I missed about two connections and was waiting over half an hour for my connection in Sheffield. This meant what should have been a two and half hour journey from my house to Loughborough University actually ended up a five and a half hour journey! So you can imagine after already feeling a little begrudged at the financial expense, the fact that I had bore the stress of a long and tiring journey (as well as only a few hours sleep following a various technical faults with printers and computers the night before) only for half the day (a quarter of the whole conference - which my finances would not allow me to attend) left me feeling rather frustrated. Luckily I didn't miss my own presentation. However, by the time it was actually my turn to present, the whole schedule had gone over time, so we were under pressure to finish our presentations quickly so as not to take over the following presenter's slot. Further, many people had left by this time, as they had places to be, trains to catch, as it was almost five pm.

There was a drinks reception at the end, but my train was at 7pm, and I did not want to go through the same stress as the morning. I arrived late at the station getting lost through a midst of roadworks on the way while kindly being driven by a fellow MMU presenter. An unusual turn of luck for the day and the train was a couple of minutes late. I just made it and got to Sheffield just in time for the connection. By 10pm when I arrived home I was exhausted. I regretted not staying longer to chat with people at the conference. But there was no way my body and mind would have let me, especially knowing I had to be up for a 12 hour shift at work the following day.

I hold no reservations against the TRIP organisers and thought the schedule of speakers and interesting discussions this stimulated was organised well. I understand the Key-note speakers need to be paid, and that the University research group are a not-for-profit organisation. Like other conferences I have attended though, they try and pack as much as possible in. While this is good for giving as many people the opportunity to present as possible, it does cause the difficulties I mentioned above. It is not only this conference I have attended in which the student and less well-known speakers are left until later in the day, a time particularly at this conference when many need to leave.

I hasten to add that the schedule for the conference was only distributed two weeks prior to the conference date, leaving not much time to book the travel and a day off work as I had not previously known on which day I would be presenting.

While I have no experience organising conferences which I'm sure is a mammoth task, some advice I have gathered from my experience that I can offer to students, researchers or anyone that may be presenting at a conference for the first time is as follows:

* Add up all the costs that will be incurred to you by presenting at a conference, and apply for funding. I was lucky to receive a small grant from the Pasold Research Fund, who support research in Textiles history but this was before my paper for TRIP had been accepted. I did not plan time to make another funding bid, as the final conference was not long after my final thesis submission, so all my efforts were spent on that (and working full time of course). Thus, its worth planning sufficient time for funding applications, and researching funding bodies.

* If you've had to travel to a conference, the funding will help with this, and if the conference runs over two or three days, its worth trying to attend all of it. This will enable time to meet fellow presenters and other attendees in your own time as well as in the formal discussions of the conference.

* If you are travelling to another city, or even another country, plan your transport as early in advance as possible and always keep an eye on any changes to public transport or if you're driving, the traffic levels, diversions etc.

* When planning your talk, make sure you keep timing yourself and practice lots. It is much more professional if you complete the talk in the time allotted. This is a good skill to have, allows for questions from the audience and ensures you are not running onto the following presenter's time.

* Take business cards or hand outs of a shortened version of your talk so that people can remember you following the conference, and successful contacts are made.

I hope that this post has not come across too much as an arduous moan, but has provided a bit of advice for students developing experience and finding outlets for their knowledge and experience that doesn't impact too much on finances when these are scarce. Hopefully we can look forward to a time when students will once again be valued for their skills and contribution to knowledge and not just for the huge amounts of money they are giving to the universities.

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