On 25th and 26th March 2015, the Department of Geography at The University of Sheffield welcomed postgraduate students from all over the UK to present their work at the annual RGS-IBG Postgraduate Forum Mid-Term Conference.
The event, which the organising committee, with the help of the RGS and the department, had been planning since November was a huge success, and this was evident in the diverse range of the papers, which were also high in quality and both informative and entertaining. Although the committee were unable, sadly, to hear every paper, we witnessed great attendance at every session, and saw the conversations and debates raging on in the networking spaces, and at the conference dinner.
Once we had everyone registered and checked in, it was off to the Alfred Denny lecture theatre for the introduction by our Head of Department, Professor Andy Hodson, and a great opening keynote lecture by our very own Dr Andy McGonigle where he talked about his research and work measuring volcanic gases released from summit craters, and his wide range of experience carrying out fieldwork. Andy’s talk was engaging, amusing and very entertaining, as he connected with not just physical geography researchers and volcanologists, but also with the human geographers in the room with his reflections on knowledge production in the academy.
After lunch, where everybody got a proper chance to meet, chat and wind down after their journeys to Sheffield, we had the first panel sessions, which were so diverse in range, offering a great choice for delegates to hear talks about food sustainability, environmental science, and transport geographies. Following further diverse papers in cultural geography and glaciology, amongst others, the RGS and the Geographical Association, represented by Sarah Evans and John Lyon respectively, dedicated time in the RJRR to tell delegates a bit about their organisations, informing students how to get involved and what they can do for us. We then had, before we were to head out to the Wig and Pen for the conference dinner, the poster session and wine reception, where the deputy Vice Chancellor, and geographer in the department, Professor Paul White spoke to students, and passed judgment on the great range of posters on display in the café area.
Sufficiently filled with alcohol, delegates headed (or stumbled) across town to the Wig and Pen restaurant, where welcome drinks awaited us, helping students top up after the short journey across Sheffield, before settling down at our tables for dinner. Whilst spread out, the atmosphere at the venue was fantastic, as many students, as well as staff and keynotes who attended, walked around from table to table introducing themselves to one another. The RGS postgrad committee who were also in attendance, came up with the idea of ‘table identities’, in which we were all encouraged to draw a picture and come up with a name that said something about our group (with a geography theme of course). The organising committee’s identity combined our love for wine and geography, as we imagined a wine bottle exploding like a volcano, demonstrating our variety of research interests, and our poor artistic skills.
Day two kicked off bright and early back at the Alfred Denny lecture theatre with Dr Paul Simpson, our human geography keynote, who started the day with his talk on ‘performing mobilities’, in which he wonderfully combined his research interests in mobility and transport geographies, with his personal experience of moving up and down the country in the years immediately after his PhD, in which he went for numerous interviews and occupied several temporary academic positions, before finally settling in Plymouth where he now holds a lecturers post. This talk was precisely what we were looking for from a young academic, as he really connected with students fraught with worry about what their academic careers will look like once finished with the PhD.
Inspired, and potentially a little hungover, delegates headed back over to the geography department for more interesting panels and papers ranging from the Royal Welsh Agricultural Show, to the impact of climate change on European wheat production. Later on in the day, once delegates had a chance to refresh and eat, we held the RGS PGF AGM in the RJRR, where we were all informed about the RGS postgraduate forum’s positions up for grabs, and potential organisers for next year’s conference were invited to host the event. This position has yet to be filled, so anybody wanting to get involved with the RGS and host next year’s annual postgraduate conference, get in touch with committee, it really is a fantastic opportunity and great experience.
Whilst papers are a great way of disseminating, learning and networking, we also felt it would be beneficial for delegates to hear something from people with experience of post-PhD life. We therefore invited people to speak on 3 parallel sessions about careers, in which we had a panel of ‘early career researchers’, one about publishing in which Fiona Nash from the RGS informed delegates on how to publish their work, and one on innovative methodologies, led by Suzanne Hocknell, also from the RGS. This gave students a break from presenting and receiving in panels, and gave them the chance to learn something about the world beyond the PhD, in what were three extremely useful and informative talks.
We then entered into the last two parallel sessions of the conference, which again were broad and exciting ranging from geohazards to the CREN panel, a session sponsored by the White Rose Critical Race and Ethnicities Network, in which a discussion was facilitated by the network about race and dominant forms of knowledge production in the academy. The final sessions saw papers about refuge, energy, and policy, before we all congregated in the RJRR one last time for the close of the conference. Our own Professor Charles Pattie closed the conference, with a typically entertaining and comedic speech, summarising the conference and presenting the award to James Brooks, who is a Masters student here in the department, for best poster presentation. It was heart-warming for us as the organisers to see so any people crammed into the room for the close, with people standing at the back, and packed up on the balcony. We were even more touched when our own Dr Adam Whitworth presented each of us with a very fancy looking bottle of fizz, as a very generous thank you for hosting the conference. We could not have done this however, without the incredible amount of help and support, both moral and financial, from the department, specifically Adam Whitworth, Jess Dubow, and Martin Jones, everybody in the office and in finance, all of the helpers we had on the day, as well as from everybody at the RGS.
By Alex Hastie, Amber Wilson, Amy Jowett, and Kate Orgill