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Connecting dots… and people

Last week we had our Higher Degree Research Conference, a place for researchers in the Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences at UTS to show their work and connect with colleagues. 

As a newbie in this academic world, this was my first conference. I was in the organizing committee, but more important than helping to organize this event was to see so many possibilities of research inside my faculty.  

Research and PhD life is a lonely endeavour and more often than not we find ourselves so immersed in our own struggles that we don’t have the time or even the motivation to see what is going on around us, what our colleagues are doing. I find myself on this spot a lot! But it is when I allow myself to see and hear what others are doing that I feel more inspired and excited about my own research. 

Seeing so many different works made me realize that it is possible to research in so many ways, from so diverse standpoints. It is amazing. And a conference is the best place to see this diversity in a short period of time.

Research with a heart 

All the projects I saw during the conference helped me in some way to figure out something on my own research, even when it was a research on education or what topic not related to my own in any way, and all were interesting and inspiring. But, two of them made me think a little more how our personal experiences can be used as a strength in research. 

Life on the Edge, by Sinead Roarty, was a great surprise to me – as I didn’t know her and hadn’t heard about her research before, and we are in the same faculty… She is using walking methodologies to understand the relationships the community form with a place known as a place for suicides in Australia – The Gap.  

Her presentation begins with her memories of the place, that she used to visit during her childhood. Besides the research around traumascapes, she is also writing a novella, as a creative outcome. 

What made this presentation so special to me, was her engaging storytelling and her personal relationship with the research. You could see that she was deeply present in her research and this made it all so much more powerful.

Scripting for screen and space: how alternative exhibition formats such as virtual reality are impacting poetic documentary practice by Renée Brack sounds (and it is) incredibly technical and sophisticated but it was also filled with her personal story. Personal archive and her relationship with dementia (experienced by her father) were used to produce a Virtual Reality video and a poetic documentary to help the public to have a grasp of what it is to live with dementia and, hopefully, bring more awareness and empathy to this illness. 

Renée’s presentation made me realize that our stories are our strength, they are what make each one of us unique in the competitive academic world and that we (me) should explore this more.  

Both projects showed me how our personal stories can lead to exceptional research work and make our projects even stronger. And made me proud and grateful to be part of such inspiring team of researchers.

Life After the PHD 

There should be life after PhD, right? So, on the first day, we heard  The Thesis Whisperer, Inger Mewburn, on work possibilities for PhD graduates. She brought data about employment in Australia for graduate researchers. And, believe it or not, there are many jobs out there for us! Yeah! 

What I’ve got from her talk is that we have to connect the dots and use all things we do during the PhD to show the recruiters we have the skills for such jobs – most of them don’t know exactly what a PhD involves and we should translate our skills to their vocabulary.  For example, when they ask about time management, budget management, project management etc. 

Also, we shouldn’t only focus on our research (this is hard, I know) and try to engage in courses or events (such as organizing a conference, box ticked for me!) to have a more diverse CV and more connections. And be aware of all the course our universities offer and other opportunities to make our CVs juicier and looking great. I also think these courses can help my research. What about you? 

For me, Inger’s talk was about being practical and thinking ahead, as there will be a life after the PhD, and we will gonna rock it! 

In sum, a research conference, besides being a place to show your work, make connections with colleagues, can bring a wide range of inspirations and insights for our careers as researchers. I am eager to participate in the next one, maybe next time, dealing with my fears and anxieties to present something (really scary!!!).

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