Tag Archives: Archaeology

Organising a Conference, or: How to act like a swan!

By Mareike Ahlers (Archaeology PhD)

Graciously gliding across the water, swans have the uncanny ability to present a serene picture of themselves to the world above the water. Underneath the water, however, their feet are paddling frantically to keep them afloat. This sounds very much like organising a conference.

On the 20/21st November 2015, my colleague, Lucy Cummings, and I hosted the 2nd Neolithic and Early Bronze Age Research Student Symposium (NEBARSS). Full of new experiences, it was both our first go at organising a conference and our first time presenting an academic paper. You can imagine then, that this was a little daunting! Our conference was a great success. Everyone—guests, colleagues, and staff—was really pleased with how it went. Our effort and organisation certainly paid-off, but it was not without its difficulties.

Starting on Friday evening, Newcastle’s own Dr Chris Fowler gave the keynote on ontologies in Neolithic and Bronze Age Britain and Ireland, followed by a wine reception. This was a great start to the conference. The excellent keynote set the tone for the rest of the conference, and the wine reception provided the opportunity for everyone to meet. The occasion also gave the speakers the chance to loosen up and calm down any nerves with a glass of wine (or two!) … While we proceeded to stress about making dinner plans, double-checking that people had places to stay, and cleaning up and clearing everything away before rushing down to meet everyone for dinner. But the world seems much more relaxed after an amazing curry!

But the organisation does not stop there. On Saturday morning (the main day of the conference), Lucy and I met at the department well before 8am, doing more clearing and setting up coffee, biscuits and poster boards… These are wobbly A4 folding screen boards onto which we had to fit A1 posters. Just a little hiccup.

Trying to get your nerves under control throughout the morning is especially tricky if you know that your own, very first, paper is coming up in just a few minutes. While finally getting the chance to tell your audience about henges and long barrows, a little piece of paper telling you that only there are only 5 minutes remaining is vying for your attention. They seemed really off-putting! But, we are told that it happens even to the best.

After that it is finally time to relax… well, at least until lunch time. While everyone else was enjoying the delicious food platters and sandwiches, we were already starting to think about the next session: making sure that all the power point presentations are working, water is ready at the lectern to slake any sudden thirst, and the session leader has some information to use when introducing the speaker.

Finally, after the last session and when all thanks have been given, the first sip of your cold drink in the pub is the best feeling of the whole day. Everyone is happy, the conference is a success, no fatal mishaps, no wine or coffee on the carpets. You managed pass the whole day off like a swan. Time to breathe … and start thinking about the next one!

Just a Minute with… Lucy Cummings

LucyLucy Cummings, our very own Seminar Series Co-Ordinator, is a 2nd year archaeology PhD student studying the henge monuments of the British Isles. Newcastle University ‘lifer’ so far – BA, MA and now PhD here in the department. Currently organising the 2nd NEBARSS conference (https://nebarss.wordpress.com).  Occasionally uses twitter, follow her if you don’t mind archaeology/football related tweets.

1. How did you come to be interested in your current area of research? 

In archaeology: from an open-day session ran by Dr Mark Jackson, which changed my mind from applying for a chemistry degree to archaeology!

In henges/Later Neolithic: From first year UG lectures on monumental space and enclosure of ‘special’ places in the landscape – especially when the functional use was so up in the air! It was very intriguing, and a theme through quite a few of my UG and MA pieces of work, which has now led to my current PhD topic.

2. What is the worst advice you have even been given?

‘Lose your accent to do well’ –Everyone likes the Yorkshire accent – who wouldn’t?

3. What has been the highlight of your week?

Actually ticking something off of my ever-growing ‘To Do’ list!

4. What is the most important life skill you learnt whilst being a PGR student?

That things are never as bad as they seem after a decent sleep!

5. What do you enjoy most about being part of the History, Classics and Archaeolgy department at Newcastle?

I’ve been here from UG to PGR so I definitely love it here! Everyone is friendly and encouraging, and it is a great department to be in as a student. It’s always good when you can have a laugh with your lecturers!

6.  What did you want to be as a child? 

A vet, and then a CSI officer – until I realised I don’t like blood/needles/wounds of any kind.

8. What is your favourite place on earth? 

The Lake District is a favourite area of mine, for the walking, the scenery and also the wild animal park!

Also, skiing (anywhere) – being at the top of a snowy mountain gives you stunning views and is a great way of relaxing and clearing the mind.

9. What’s next for Lucy?

I will be co-hosting a conference here at Newcastle at the end of the month (and giving my first conference paper- scary!), then after that it will be a couple of months of focused reading and data collection to get ahead in my research.

Thanks Lucy! Good luck with the conference!

Just a minute with… Dr James Gerrard

Dr James Gerrard is a lecturer in Roman archaeology here at Newcastle, he studied at Sheffield for his BA in Archaeology and Prehistory, before completing his MA (in Archaeological Research) and PhD (Pottery and the end of Roman Britain: the view from south-western Britain) at York. Check out his project blog: https://blogs.ncl.ac.uk/luftonarchaeology/

After a busy couple of weeks of student inductions, he answered a few questions for us:

1. How did you come to be interested in your current area of research? 

As a child, I was inspired to study the Romans and the end of the Roman period by the novels of Rosemary Sutcliff (Eagle of the Ninth; The Lantern Bearers). I was also lucky enough to grow up in Somerset surrounded by Roman and early medieval sites.

2. What book are you currently reading? 

101 Dalmatians. Seriously. My daughter was reading it and I thought I’d regress to childhood. It’s a great story, charming, serious and in places downright ironic.

3. If you were a biscuit, what sort would you be?

A garibaldi (squashed fly) biscuit, or perhaps a ginger nut.

4. What has been the highlight of your week?

Meeting all the new students!

5. What is the most important life skill you learnt whilst being a PGR student?

That life is hard but you can survive its ups and downs.

6. What do you enjoy the most about being part of the history, classics and archaeology department at Newcastle?

It’s a great, friendly place with brilliant colleagues and excellent students.

7. What did you want to be as a child? 

An archaeologist

8. Can you describe your research in three words? 

No. Perhaps: End, Roman, Britain

9. What would your perfect day away from work be?

Somewhere wildish – the countryside or coast. It’d need to have no mobile signal and perhaps a nice pub for some food and drink.

10. What is your favourite movie quote?

‘Remember, short controlled bursts’ (Corporal Hicks in Aliens)

Thanks James!