Running Conferences

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As a PhD student, you have the privilege of being in a position where you can take risks, where you can organise innovative events and push the envelope of academia just a little bit. If I were to give a new PhD student any advice, it would be this - to use this time to take the intellectual risks you might never get another chance to take. A perfect venue for this risk-taking, and showing it to the wider community, is to run conferences. Inspired by the student-led symposia, Materiality and Intangibility, which I attended and live-blogged in my first few months as a research student, I instigated a repeat event, which turned into an experience the likes of which I could not imagine.

Before we were even student representatives, my colleague the Viking and I were leaders of the conference project that would become known as Curiouser and Curiouser: a project which, I think it is fair to say, played a huge part in spawning the PhD led conferences which are now so embedded within the cultural fabric of my old department. Of all the things I have left behind at that School, I am, perhaps, proudest of that. 

When I began calling meetings to organise the next event, we had no funding and a whole host of different ideas about what we should do. There were arguments about theme, and I regularly cried with frustration when it felt like we were getting nowhere on even that most basic of things. I was the treasurer for Curiouser too, and trying to source money was complex and worrying - eventually, however, we won funding from the University.

When we had settled on the theme, we had to write a call for papers, organise the structure of the days, organise a day trip that we planned for the middle day, organise when it was all going to be held, accept and reject proposed papers, take bookings, deal with catering, organise the evaluation and produce promotional material and programme brochures. The Viking and I didn't do all this ourselves - rather, we learned to delegate, and we were really lucky to have an active and eager group of students alongside us. The School, when they saw what we were doing, and how well we were doing it, became more and more supportive - as did the University.

We had nightmares in the weeks leading up to the conference. Fears of the department burning down and no one turning up were top on my list of terrors. But it went so fantastically well, and everyone attending seemed to have a remarkably good time. In fact, many of those individuals still attend the PhD conferences at the department: and we had attendees not just from the UK, but from all over the world. We gave them a chance to eat party rings and talk about remarkable things, to drink wine and to discuss their own strange and spectacular visions of the world and the objects existing in it.

It was such a joy to be part of that. And whilst I was exhausted by the end of it (don't make the mistake I did and try to organise, live-blog and present at the same event), I was so happy and proud that it had all come off so well. To think that I had a hand in that gave me a feeling that is indescribable, but which I will never forget. And I'd say that if you have the opportunity to do something similar, do it: and when you do it, don't play it by the book. Take a risk, take a chance, and who knows: you might launch your mind, and those of others, out beyond the atmosphere.

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