British Conference for Undergraduate Research – Harriet Lowes exhibits at this years event

Harriet Lowes was recently accepted to exhibit at this years BCUR – she writes here about her experience.

“Over Easter I participated in the British Conference for Undergraduate Research in Nottingham, my dissertation research was presented as a part of a poster conference. When I received an email before Christmas from Darrell Swift in the department to all third years suggesting people submit their abstracts to be selected to take part in BCUR14 I was in the middle of trying to pull my dissertation together into something that actually made sense to anyone that wasn’t me. I had already written an abstract as a part of my dissertation proposal, however – as is naturally the case with any piece of research like a dissertation – my work had changed somewhat throughout the process of data collection and so I re-wrote my abstract for submission. In part, I didn’t really consider at length what would happen if my abstract was accepted, I felt like I may as well send it in as I was having to write it anyway to hand in with my dissertation. I thought perhaps it would be interesting, and a fairly unique opportunity as an undergraduate, to talk to people from different disciplines with all such individual research interests and projects, and hopefully interest them in turn with my work. But, similarly, I braced myself for the question that has plagued me since handing in my dissertation proposal; but how is that a geography dissertation? Let me explain; my dissertation investigated how children’s literature from a colonial period (Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, King Solomon’s Mines and Charlie and the Chocolate Factory) narrated themes of responsibility that was used to justify colonial values, impingement and the annexing of territory. As anyone who has taken BA modules in Geography will know, there is significant wriggling room when it comes to deciding what can be constituted ‘geography’, the boundaries are fairly fluid. And so, when granted the opportunity to write a dissertation about any topic you like, if you have interdisciplinary interests – such as my own, in literature – it really is yours to play with.

1Fast forward to April and I was sat on a train to Nottingham, awkwardly shaped poster tube in hand. I had tried to look the part; donned my blazer, which – honestly- I was just excited to get out of my wardrobe, it rarely sees daylight. I had never been to any sort of academic conference or event before and so could only surmise over what the set up and atmosphere would be like. I blame my lack of conference experience for what I think was my biggest faux pas of the day; my A3 poster. It dawned on me a couple of days before that maybe my poster might not be big enough, but thought that surely it couldn’t be that small relative to everyone else’s. Alas, I walked into the room and as all the delegates began pinning their posters to their boards I was filled with poster envy. Apparently A0 (which is massive, in case you’re wondering) was standard size for poster conferences, I must have missed the memo. Although, in fairness, my small poster gave me some strategic advantage (not that it was a competition, but I did feel the need to find some way to redeem myself). My little poster itself attracted attention, not its content. It became an conversation opener as people had to get quite close to it just to read the text, and so couldn’t really avoid talking to me. Nevertheless, despite my small poster syndrome I had the rare opportunity to talk to someone that wasn’t my mum (who tries very hard to remain interested) about my dissertation, and even engage in conversations that pushed some of the themes that I had identified and explored further than I had considered them.

I intend to stay in academia, in pursuit of a masters, next year and so that was a source of motivation to apply for BCUR14 as it seemed like a relevant experience. A dissertation is a very different piece of work to anything else I have done in the 3 years of my degree, its much more personal and easier to get attached to because of the sheer amount of time you spend. But, for current second years, I would recommend that if you research something you are interested in (which I hope you do!) BCUR gives you the opportunity to share that.

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