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As a post-graduate at Lancaster, one of the most exciting parts of the year is the annual Post-Graduate Research Conference, which was held on the 7th May. This year was particularly exciting, as Graduate College secured keynote speaker Eric Stoller, a writer for Inside Higher Ed, an online resource that discusses all things higher education. Stoller opened the conference with a talk on the importance of social media; as a post-graduate, it can often be overwhelming to try to manage your work and make connections in the professional world, and Stoller painted a picture where social networking can heavily assist in personal networking, if you’re willing to put in the time and effort. In an academic world, for those hoping to go into academia and industry alike, social networking plays a huge part in securing a job in the future; for those hoping to go into academia, social networking can often provide insight into relevant conferences to attend or journals to read, but it can also help to connect you with important people in your field so that you can follow their research and start a conversation with them, and for those going into industry, social networking allows you to more easily find out who’s the leading expert in your field and which companies align most closely with what you hope to do in your post-uni career.
For those of you sceptical about the impact or necessity of maintaining social media accounts, just look at Stoller’s own experience. When he and his wife decided to move to London from the USA, he put out feelers online to see who the relevant people were to get to know and sent them requests to connect on LinkedIn. While most of us may have considered this a taboo (connecting with someone you’ve not actually met – how bold!), Stoller said that when people sent him a message back asking if they knew him, he was able to reply with a personal message explaining his project ideas and goals, something which started a conversation and helped him settle in after his move. Social media can help to foster conversation and collaboration in new and innovative ways.
Following Stoller’s introduction, conference attendees listened to a number of post-graduate students take part in the Three Minute Thesis competition, where contestants had three minutes to give an overview of their thesis work in way in which people from outside their field would be able to understand it. Longer presentations followed, with other PhD students giving us insight into some of the countless varieties of work being undertaken at Lancaster.
In the afternoon, parallel workshops ran, and I attended one on academic writing. The workshop was invaluable, with the posed question, ‘what will your finished work bring to your specialist audience?’ (This is now hanging on my bulletin board alongside my supervisor’s question: ‘Who is your audience?’) The leader of the session called our attention to the fact that ‘criticism is the engine of academic work’ and reminded us not to become too emotionally invested in feedback we get, whether from supervisory meetings or elsewhere. Ultimately, criticism will make our papers more clear and our arguments more strong.
Overall, the conference was an excellent and useful way to spend the day, and the closing session summed everything up perfectly: ‘Accept that knowledge isn’t everything.’