Report from the ESRC First Year Student Conference

The ESRC funded first year student conference is a one day event held annually. It aims to inform and engage new PhD researchers with opportunities available to them as a part of the ESRC community.  The most recent of these events was held on Wednesday 27th November 2013 at the University of Nottingham write Jessica Abrahams and Jennifer Hampton.

Jessie AbrahamsJennifer HamptonKicking off with a fantastic evening meal and wine reception (we were well impressed) the ESRC had us engaged immediately. Well attended by just over half of this year’s 600+ cohort, the event was a welcome opportunity to meet some of our contemporaries. The range of students in attendance, from various Universities and disciplines, made for lively and varied conversations throughout the conference.  As well as an opportunity to network, the event highlighted some of the ESRC’s current concerns.  The conference was an attempt to encourage and motivate us in starting out on our doctoral research journeys.  In addition to this, the program reflected the importance of impact and interdisciplinary work.  There were talks from a range of speakers, from Paul Boyle (Chief Exec of the ESRC) through professors from Nottingham to ESRC funded researchers and current doctoral students.

A highlight of the day was a lecture by Dr Ahimsa Campos-Arceiz, entitled: ‘The elephant in the room’; which, to everyone’s surprise, turned out to be about actual elephants!  His talk was both informative and entertaining – we learnt a lot about elephant conservation and the human impact on their environment in a relatively short amount of time.  In addition to the topic itself, he managed to put into context the practical issues of working in an international, interdisciplinary and inter-institutional field.  Dr Campos-Arceiz also spoke of the level of impact we, as researchers, may hope to have in a broader, political, real-world sense.

The interactive Twitter board was a visible (if somewhat distracting) addition, allowing the audience to respond and reflect in real-time to the content of the presentations. Whilst most people enjoyed the event immensely some of us more critical socialists noted that there was a distinct lack of any conversation of the ethics of research and we problematized the language used by the ESRC throughout the day, as one student tweeted: “The language used re ESRC funded students is sociologically curious – eg elite, gifted, quality”.

Overall the conference presented an excellent opportunity for us new researchers to engage and network with people who, as was pointed out during the event, are likely to become our colleagues in the future.

Image: East Midlands Conference Centre by Matt Buck, CC BY-SA 2.0