My Path Through Research

The Trials and Triumphs of Doing a PhD

“Price? No Object!

…Climate change: the challenge to cultural heritage”

This was the name of an activity I attended last week at The Royal Institution. The event was organised as part of  EGOR: Environmental Guidelines Opportunities and Risks research cluster, which was sponsored by the AHRC/EPSRC Science and Heritage Research Programme (the same programme sponsoring my PhD). The event was organised to “encourage the audience to think more deeply about the complex issues relating to heritage, the effects of climate change and the threats it poses to survival”. And if that was the aim, I think they succeeded.

It was a different kind of event to what I would normally expect, bringing different elements that you would not normally expect to see used in such a manner. I think it could have gone seriously wrong. Luckily it didn’t…And if the aim was to encourage the audience to think […], I think they succeeded.

So what was different? And how could it have gone wrong?

The main focus of the event was probably a performance…yes, a performance…by Kandu Arts For Sustainable

Kandu works with individuals and groups across the statutory and third sectors, with businesses and industry to assist in understanding social, environmental and economic impacts and responsibility in effecting positive, sustainable change. Using their unique methodology encompassing creative arts and personal development, Kandu contributes to policy development at local and national levels.

So how did they do this? The way they went round to achieving this was by first presenting a 5-10minute play. This they then repeated with one difference: the audience was asked to intervene where they thought they should by calling freeze and explaining what they would change. But did the audience participate?

The play was divided into two:

First half: Half-way through the ‘first-half’ the programme manager for the Science and Heritage Programme for the AHRC intervened to make a comment. The actors followed her changes (sort of! The ‘mother’ in the play was not happy with her suggestion of having a shower rather than a bath not to waste water :)) and the performance continued. End of the first half…no other intervention. But just as the first half ended, one man intervened, going quite a bit back…and the floodgates of comments opened…what was on the verge of becoming a very awkward time turned into a hilarious and fun event which was also thought-provoking. The people were participating, and the actors were keeping us entertained as they dealt with the comments put to them and new discussion threads they needed to continue (whilst keeping in character!).

Second half: The second half continued much in the same vein as the end of the first half…the banter continued with freezing of freezes, and people getting over-freezed and what-not freezed. However, what definitely emerged from this was the real complexity of the issues at hand: Is safeguarding artefacts in a museum essential should we be in a situation of low power availability? What makes an artefact important for safekeeping and others not? It was also definitely entertaining seeing both my supervisors (who are also the principal and co-investigators for this research cluster) and the head of the centre I am based in, dragged down to the ‘stage’ (the location was similar to an amphitheatre) to take part in the performance and interact with the actors to bring their point across.

After a while however it was time out for all comments, as we moved on to the next part of the programme. This involved a person playing a stringed instrument he has built himself (cannot remember the name…if anyone is reading this who was there and remembers, leave a comment!), followed by a presentation by Dr Jonathan Ashley-Smith, former Head of Conservation at the V&A who spoke about the challenges of environmental guidelines.

All in all, a successful event, especially considering that I wasn’t even going to go! I had received e-mails and been told about it, but for some reason I didn’t note it down in my calendar, so it just slipped my mind. Luckily on the day a colleague at TNA e-mailed me to tell me she had an extra ticket if I wanted to join them, so off I went. So thanks Sarah…and thank you all for your enlightening discussions which I had the opportunity to experience!


You can read more about Climate Change and the Heritage Environment in the following reports:

Report commissioned by English Heritage.

Report by UNESCO


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Presentation at TNA

As you should have realised by now, I am doing a collaborative PhD between a university (University College London) and a non-HEI (The National Archives – TNA). So when the Conservation Research department was hosting the ICON Science Group for a meeting, they wanted to offer the members a visit to the repositories as well as a walk-around opportunity in the Collection Care department during which they wanted to showcase the ongoing research. After some discussions it was decided that I present two posters: one on my project in general, and another one on a paper I have been writing on aldehydes in libraries and archives.

After many different versions, discussions with people, and final agreement on the posters, these were printed and the 14th of October saw me off to TNA with the freshly-printed posters in hand (my first posters…woohooo ;)) together with another researcher in my department who is also working with TNA.

The meeting was not attended by too many people, but it was still good to meet people I’ve met before and new people and discuss my work with them. I realise that the more experience I get in presenting my work, things can only improve, so I am hoping to get as much experience as I can.

After the show-around the meeting then started. The meeting was addressed by Jim Williams, the coordinator of the National Heritage Science Strategy (NHSS). The third report in a series of three published in the run-up to the launch of the strategy document was presented by him, followed by a discussion. Not knowing all the ins and outs of the field as yet, it is always enlightening to hear other people discuss relevant issues. Originally I wasn’t thinking of sitting in on the meeting, but when my supervisor at TNA asked me if we wanted to, we decided to stay and not disappointed at all that I did!

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AHRC Media Training Course

Sometime in May or so I received an e-mail from the Science and Heritage programme coordinator about Media Training to be organised by the AHRC in October. It was a long way away but I decided to sign up to it as soon as I received the e-mail. I was one of the luckily few to make it on the course (we were only 10 or so!) and so glad I did! The training was organised by Inside Edge, a media training company headed by Chris Jameson and Tony Prideaux. It started off with an introduction from Jake Gilmore, the AHRC Communications Manager, who from then on left it in the hands of Chris and Tony (sort of at least ;)).

During the rest of the day we first had the ‘theoretical’ part fo the course, where we discussed what makes a good story and how to make our research news into a story. I thought it would be the same old stuff of how to give presentations, but luckily it did what it set out to do – prepare you for communicating in the media giving concrete examples and tips.

The best part of all however probably came in the afternoon session. After having gone through the theoretical part we were split into two groups, one group with Tony and one with Chris, and each person was then interviewed in front of the others on the basis of a pre-course questionnaire we had all filled in prior to the course about our research. This made the interview go beyond the normal questions of describe your research and taking it from there, but also, the interview having been thought about beforehand by the interviewers, we got some questions which maybe we weren’t expecting. It was interesting to see how we all dealt with them! And best of all (or maybe worse :P)?…the interviews were recorded so after each interview it was then played-back so the person being interviewed could listen back on what had happened and the performance could be discussed.I think I did decently Ok in this, even though I did not quite come round to discussing what I am actually doing, but just replied to the questions being posed to me…only at the very end did I get round slightly to it.

However, best of all was that we all had a second try at this! Second time round all the group came together and the interviewers switched groups. This allowed us all to learn what the others are doing in their research as well as learn from their styles. These interviews were also recorded and after all the interviews were done we returned to our groups with the course directors switching groups. In this second (interview I think i did manage to get the point of my research across more than in the first interview. However, I did blab on a bit too much at points…and did not get to the point which the others enjoyed most in my first interview…namely that I am actually destroying photographs to learn more about them ;).

Well, all in all a successful day! I felt like I really learned something and actually having two tries at a media interview with people in the field in a non-confrontational environment was great! I didn’t expect to get as much out of it. The fact that we were a small group also definitely helped. I was quite neutral about it all before I attended, but now I feel like it is something that everyone should do…so glad I got the opportunity through the AHRC. Meeting other AHRC-sponsored students and hearing about their work was also great! They all sounded so coherent about their work that before my first try I got quite scared…but maybe I can be coherent about what i am doing when I put my mind to it! I just need to work on it :).

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October 2009
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