My Path Through Research

The Trials and Triumphs of Doing a PhD

Science and Heritage Symposium

A lot of people find working on their PhD a lonely ordeal. Fortunately for me, there are ten of us PhD students working with the same programme, together with a number of post-docs (2 of which are in my same department and office), and other research projects. All of us are part of the AHRC/EPSRC Science and Heritage (S&H) Programme.

Earlier this week the S&H programme organised a symposium in Oxford for us ten PhD students to have the opportunity to present our work to each other and to other guests from the heritage and related fields.

Monday was dedicated to a development workshop. This allowed us to first of all get to know each other and each other’s work better before starting to get ready for the presentations the next day. We are a mixed bunch of people, at different points in our PhD project and from different backgrounds. I found the workshop useful in giving me a better sense of belonging to something bigger, and also in giving support as I realised that problems I have faced and am facing are quite common for others in the group.

Monday night then our supervisors, invited guests and the programme’s advisory board joined us in Lady Margaret Hall, Oxford, for a silver-service dinner followed by drinks. I appreciated the fact that on the dinner table we weren’t bunched by ‘status’, but we were all sitting together, giving all of us time to talk to someone from the advisory board, or someone working in the field, as they were sitting right next to you.

Tuesday was then the day of the actual symposium. I was first up, which was good as I got it over and done with quickly, but not as good as I wasn’t so sure what to expect. Also me and the guy who was up second got bombarded with questions (a grand total of 12 each!) which then tapered off significantly towards the end of the day.

I feel like I gained a lot from the day’s events. First of all it was a good opportunity to take some time to reassess where I am in the project to be able to present the work done, and also to go forward from there and formulate the plans for the coming weeks and months. However, even more useful than that was the interest of the audience there in discussing the work with me. Even though the question and answer session left me mentally exhausted, that and the discussions arising from it has helped me to formulate my thoughts better to be able to speak about the work in a hopefully more coherent manner. It has also shown me that I need to practise thinking on my feet more and formulating quick coherent answers in English. I have also pinpointed issues in the way I present my work, such as glossing over aspects of my work that maybe I should spend more time explaining.

I didn’t know much of what to expect from the symposium. However, it has definitely given me quite a bit to think about, particularly on the way I handle answering questions when I don’t have much time to think, and the need for me to think more about where the person asking the question is coming from in my answer (rather than just being happy that I got a somewhat coherent answer out). Hopefully it will only help to improve my skills and make me a better academic.

A very fruitful two days. Hopefully I get more such opportunities as any experience can only help to make you better!

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September 2010
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