Girl on Fire: Conferences Peer Support and a Fire in the Belly

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Wow, what a week! First there was the North West Gender Conference: Construction of Gender In Research at Lancaster University on Tuesday 22nd, and then the British Sociological Association Annual Conference held at University of Leeds. I was lucky enough to present at both, and am bursting with ideas and energy. I have heard a few attendees exclaim they have a fire in the belly, and I echo that sentiment. There was an exciting energy at both and a very supportive environment. I am very happy I presented at #britsoc14 despite being terrified beforehand. It really was nothing to worry about, and I am now confident of submitting again next year when I will hopefully have data to share.

This sharing of ideas inside and outside of the academy is what I blogged about here: Engaging With Gender Issues: A Knowledge Exchange with Women’s Community Groups. To me this is the very point of research, to share, to disseminate, to make an impact upon policy and/or the lived experiences of people. The more I push myself by speaking in public the more confident I am in exploring my own position, ideas and challenging theory or practice I do not agree with. This bouncing of ideas and sparking of new ideas in a supportive environment really does put a fire in the belly. I learn from others, I learn from ‘doing’, I have never been good from just sitting reading a stack of journal articles. Presenting a paper, writing a blog post, planning a journal article (*gulp*) planning an event, having informal peer support to debate issues; these offer me an exciting kinetic form of learning. I feel I am quite late to learning and now I am here I love it, there is so much I want to study and research. My excitement can be rather annoying if people have hit a wall, but I just can’t help it! I feel so privileged to be in a position to be researching, teaching, sharing ideas that will potentially have a tangible impact. It is also a position of extreme responsibility, and I think about that It is great to hear the papers of others, in my case I particularly enjoy the smaller events and hearing from other PhD researchers and early career peeps. Many report a sense of isolation during their PhD studies, and it really doesn’t have to be the case.

Social media has opened up a new porthole of opportunity, the importance of twitter specifically was reiterated in a paper at #britsoc14 as well as this wonderful post by Jon Rainford Live tweeting: Why and how: A reflection on #Britsoc14. I think it’s imperative we engage with these mediums and opportunities. I use twitter in the ways Jon describes, to better clarify my own ideas, to test out ideas, to find out what is happening at events I can’t attend.

The amount of people I have ‘met’ on twitter and now know in ‘real life’ is amazing. The simplicity and helpfulness of being able to connect others through a 30 seconds insertion of two twitter handles, hey @myfriend meet @soandso who is researching in your area, is just incredible. I couldn’t do a PhD without twitter. As someone who lives away from university campus, it has allowed me to engage in and support a lively research community. This peer support is fantastic, and I also want to thank the many senior academics who despite being professors and experts in their fields are kind enough and genuine enough to make a real effort to support we students. I know many Phders have been commenting on this recently, that to some is isn’t all about the REF, and titles, and publications, they have a genuine interest in the work we are doing. I think that is just brilliant. It was also fun at BSA when people tweet you saying they are coming to listen to your paper and giving feedback and comments via tweets too.

I have spoken about the idea of paying it forward before in this post about Dr Billie Lister who really inspired me in trying to promote a friendly culture in postgraduate academia. It takes 30 seconds to hook someone up on twitter, or send a fellow student a relevant link or forward on a call for papers to peers. It really is that easy. We need to try and break the dark competitive nature of the neo-liberal university and go back to what universities should be about: encouraging the production and sharing of ideas. I know this sounds cute at best or beyond naïve at worst, but that’s the kind of academia I want to be part of. And it could be this way. The best academics I have met whose work I greatly admire are not territorial or passive-aggressive or backstabbing, they genuinely want to help others. And the PhD students who are producing the work I admire and enjoying the experience are those who are encouraging their peers.

And just to show the BSA wasn’t so scary after all, here is Lucy Binch of the University of Sheffield and I getting into our joint paper at #britsoc14.

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I look forward to attending many more events over the course of my PhD and meeting many more fellow researchers. Thank you for all the support and feedback so far.

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