Over the last few days I have attended two research conferences for our PhD students that are designed to increase students’ skills in communicating their research to others, whilst improving their networking skills and meeting researchers from other disciplines too.  My role tends to be to make introductory speeches and occasionally hand out prizes too, happy occasions!

The two conferences included the PGR Showcase which is a series of events over one day, open to all PhD students, from the early morning ‘Porridge with the Professor’ (a great event to encourage PhD students to meet and chat with some of our Profs on any topics they chose) to a poster competition and finally the three minute thesis (3MT) competition. The second was the Medical School’s PGR conference, organised and run this year entirely by the PhD students themselves. Both were very enjoyable and I really supported the concept of the latter as the students learned so much too. Being able to support our early career researchers to advance their work and demonstrate their skills and expertise to a wide audience is something that I am passionate about. It is a testament to our research students, too, that they actively engage with opportunities to share and promote their excellent research and their research findings to wider audiences.

Undertaking postgraduate research is truly challenging; yet at the same time it is also immensely rewarding. It requires a unique combination of commitment, inquisitiveness, a thirst for knowledge and dedication in order to become an independent researcher.

Both of these events showed the diversity of cutting-edge research taking place. For example the topics for the final of the 3MT competition ranged from ‘The Artistry of J.K. Rowling’s work’, the ‘China-UK free trade agreement’ and ‘Stress whitening in pre-coated steels’; and the posters encompassed ‘Tackling Teenage Inactivity…’, blood tests for the diagnosis of pancreatic cancer and the causes and origins of corruption in Europe to name but a few!

Events like this of course do mean that we reflect back on our own experiences as postgraduates, for my part at Warwick University where our Microbiology research laboratory was actually a converted toilet! I did try to make the most of every opportunity that presented itself to me – like learning new skills, presenting my research to others including my industrial sponsors, publishing my research and networking at conferences – in order to be able to contribute to my discipline, try out new experiences and learn new techniques.

Below I’ve included much of the speech I made at the opening of the PGR research conference for the Medical School, in case this is of interest:-

 

“Thank you for inviting me to open today’s Swansea University Medical School PGR Conference.

This has been a week of celebrating outstanding research and achievement amongst our PGR student community; yesterday I hosted the award ceremony of the University’s first annual PGR Showcase, where the winners of the University’s poster competition and 3MT were announced. These opportunities, as with your conference today and tomorrow, to promote your research, the passion you have for your discipline and develop your skills to communicate and engage diverse audiences with your findings, are paramount as you strive forward in your careers.

When I was growing up girls were taught cooking and needlework at school rather than physics, metalwork or chemistry. In my early 20’s I was particularly interested in nature conservation and emerging environmental challenges. I was a vociferous reader and when I read the seminal book ‘Silent Spring’, by Rachel Carson, I became aware of a number of opportunities that I thought I’d like to pursue. I took A-levels at evening class and then enrolled at Warwick University. I sought out every opportunity I could to promote my research and develop my skills as a researcher and communicator; and that’s the approach I’ve taken throughout my career – to make the most of every opportunity that’s presented itself along my science journey.

I say this because it’s at conferences just such as yours today that you can take your own steps as part of your career journey. Taking part in delivering a poster or paper is important but don’t forget to make the most of meeting new people, sharing new ideas, discussing new opportunities. All of these aspects help you to build your contacts and your network.

 

As many of you will know I am a prolific user of Twitter, which is just one way I choose to reach many different people with the breadth and variety of things (not all scientific), which interest me (and which I hope will interest them).  As some of you may also know I have a blog –The Disruptive STEMinist! I am passionate about the involvement and promotion of women, in particular in STEM and in taking an open and inclusive approach. I was interviewed not so long ago by the Federation of European Microbiology Societies, of which I am currently the Vice-President, for International Women’s Day, and was asked for advice I’d want to pass to today’s postgraduate and early career researchers. This is how I’d respond for you today:

  1. Do join learned and other academic societies as it is great to be a part of a research community from an early stage and contribute to your discipline
  2. Take every opportunity to learn the skills of how to present your research to others and try this out at conferences and to others whenever possible
  3. Public outreach is important, especially in communicating your research to others outside of your subject area
  4. Network, network, network – be that at informal College and research group gatherings or conferences beyond your own group; and invite yourself to other labs to learn new techniques
  5. Publishing your research is essential to progress in an academic career, so discuss with your advisors when is the right time to consider this
  6. Work hard but do get some balance with a social life too – I have always played a lot of sport, which I find helps give perspective to my research!

If any of these tips are as helpful to you as they have been to me in my career, then we’ll be on the right track. Thank you again for asking me to open your PGR Conference. For all those participating, I wish you all the best of luck!

 

 

 

 

June 6th, 2018

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