The Importance of being ‘Visible’

By Sam Petty (PhD History)

Tuesday 8th December, 6.30pm, Armstrong 3.38: “The Importance of being ‘Visible'” question and answer session.


I’m sure many of you would agree that academic life can be a fairly bewildering experience. Trying to get on with your research is a difficult enough enterprise in its own right. When you factor in applying for conferences and funding, planning research trips, and partaking in the oft-maligned practice of ‘networking’, it can all seem a bit too much.


The idea for this event came from several discussions about the value of the advice that our more experienced colleagues can give to us. My own experience of organising an academic conference for the first time was made much easier by being able to repeatedly saunter over to a colleague’s desk and ask her how she’d done things for her conference the year before (“never underestimate the frequency and cost of refreshments”). Equally, being able to pitch my conference paper to non-specialist colleagues was a great way to learn how to get my argument right for an audience that would only know the basics of my research.

I also wish that I knew things ‘then’ that I know now. I wish I could go back and tell undergraduate me what it would be like doing a Masters. I wish I could go back and tell the Masters me how the PhD funding and application process was structured. I wish I could go back and tell first-year PhD me not to spend six months on a mostly fruitless research thread that I still haven’t fully resolved.

The point is, is that although I have had to learn things through trial and error, it doesn’t mean we need to perpetuate this cycle of misery (there’s only so much ‘character building’ I can take). I’d like to give advice to other students who went through the same experiences as I did. I’d also like to talk to some of our academics so that I don’t make the same mistakes as they did when they were at the same point in their career.

Sometimes it seems, however, that there is rarely the right forum to receive (and give!) this sage knowledge – there are only so many times you can ambush someone in the corridor or the staff room before you feel like you’re unduly imposing on their time and freedom of movement!

With this in mind, the Postgraduate Forum have teamed up with several of the School’s academics to try and help you navigate the murky byways of academic life.

Our academic panel will consist of Dr. Chris Bannister, Dr. Robert Dale, Dr. Katie East, Dr. Philip Garrett, Dr. Patrick Gleeson, Dr. John Holton, and Dr. Lisa-Marie Shillito. We hope that this group represents the different disciplines in our School, so that there will be something relevant and representative for all of us who attend. Our panel will take questions from the crowd, and then when we’ve drained their knowledge (but hopefully not their patience), we can all just meld into informal groups to carry on the conversation.

Use the hashtag #AskThePGF to get your questions in before the event (although there will be time at the event to ask any you might have.

This is an event is for any students that are interested in attending, not just PhDs. This includes any Masters or MLitt students who are thinking about ‘the next step’, or any UGs who are contemplating postgrad study. We’re hoping for a useful, inclusive, and informal event that will hopefully set the ball rolling for more interaction in the future.

Five Tips for… Organising a Conference

OneOne. Create a timetable

One of the best things we did in the lead up to the conference was create a to-do list and a timetable for completion. This really helped us to stay on track, and made sure we didn’t forget anything. There are a lot of things to keep in mind when organising a conference and having a well-planned schedule allowed us to stay on track making the whole process a little smoother.

Delegates at the NEBARSS conference

TwoTwo. Don’t worry if something goes wrong
No matter how organised you think you are, there will always be something you haven’t thought about. But it is Ok. Our delegates were a particularly amenable group, but really anyone will appreciate that there are little details that may go wrong (like the microphone in our case!) and that it is not the end of the world.

ThreeThree. Acquire some free pens: freebies mean everything!

Of course, they don’t, not really, but everyone appreciates a good

the NEBARSS conference pack
the NEBARSS conference pack

selection of items in their conference packs. It is also a very good way of making contacts within larger organisations and businesses, local or national. It is a good way of obtaining financial support for your conference. The earlier you start this process, the better. You are far more likely to get support if you ask in advance. Organisations often have deadlines for funding, so do your research. Some publishing companies are also really keen to hear what universities are up to. In fact, on account of this our conference report is being printed in ‘Past’, the Prehistoric Society magazine.

FourFour. Enjoy the day!

Even though there was a lot of work leading up to the day, and a lot of running around and frantic organising on the day itself, it pays off! Every one of our delegates came up to us at the end of the conference and thanked us for the day for organising it so well. This was of course so thoughtful, but well-received and valuable feedback which made it all worth it!

FiveFive. Don’t buy too many biscuits!

Incredulously, there is such a thing as too many biscuits! Don’t panic though, they are a welcome, if fleeting, addition to the office… That is until everyone blames you for tempting them.