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BCUR Blogs 2021

University Challenge: Decolonising the Curriculum

Xaymaca Awoyungbo

First Year Undergraduate, History


On April 13th I presented at the British Conference of Undergraduate Research, held at…my house. The event which would have been hosted at the University of Leeds, moved online this year as the academic world adapted to our new normal.

The conference excited me more than my routine seminars because it was a chance to step outside of my comfort zone. I could present my research to an audience and listen to talks on topics I had never even considered.

I had wanted to attend ever since the opportunity was advertised to me by the Institute for Advanced Teaching and Learning team. It was a chance to present my proposed research project to my peers and receive instant feedback. I was cognisant of the fact that my presentation on the early stages of my summer research project, aptly named, University Challenge: Decolonising the Curriculum, was centred on an emotive yet relevant topic. Hence, I viewed the event as a pilot episode before I film and release my documentary, based on my research, later this year.

Before lift-off, I was delighted to learn that there was a schedule of events lined up for presenters to get acquainted. The virtual Murder Mystery social was an attempt by the organisers to create, as much as possible, an atmosphere in which we could socialise as we would in breaks at an in-person conference. Of course, we wouldn’t normally have to solve the murders of fake Peaky Blinders characters but the entertainment offered us a moment to mingle outside of an academic environment.

Thanks to the social, once it was showtime the following day, I was already at ease, having socialised with my fellow undergraduates. I was also fresh off the back of hours of practice, perfecting my three- minute flash talk. Consequently, after registering with the organisers and settling into my panel’s breakout room, I was prepared to sell my proposed summer research project idea.

As the penultimate speaker, I was able to get a flavour of the other panellists’ research before my time in the spotlight. A standout talk came from Joshua Macholl of the University of Exeter, who investigated how we could better predict the weather through studying the relationship between the wind and the ocean (at least that was my understanding of it).

The fact that the conference opened my mind to such a topic is testament to the breadth of research on display. It’s also credit to the undergraduates who can simplify complex topics for people like me, who usually disengage when hearing about STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) subjects.

Although complex, my project seemed so far removed from some of the sciencey parlance I heard on my panel. For the most part, I was relying on my charisma and the power of my topic, when it came to presenting my speech. I liked that all of the undergraduates could coexist in one safe space despite our different backgrounds and interests.

So, as my three-minute window inched closer and closer, I became aware that my project intrigued some members of the audience. I mean, instead of facts and figures, my supplementary PowerPoint slide, featured a Photoshopped image of ‘University Challenge’ host, Jeremy Paxman, in front of a backdrop of potentially provocative photos from ‘decolonise the curriculum’ protests.

Once I started speaking, I was quickly submerged into a flow state, including light-hearted jokes to soften my heavy subject matter. Three minutes felt like thirty seconds. The experience was electric.

More importantly though, the feedback I received was timely. The chat filled up with encouraging messages about my presentation and proposed project. Serendipitously, one of the audience members was a professor from the University of Glasgow, who was interested in my project, having done her own work on decolonising the curriculum. The conference therefore gave me the opportunity to network with university staff and students alike.

After the triumph of my own presentation, I felt inclined to watch the presentation of my Warwick counterparts. Both Perry Beard’s, on the oversexualisation of Black female rappers and Jay Kinsella’s on the experiences of Christians in the LGBTQ+ community, inspired me to find out more about their topics. In my unbiased opinion, I think our university had some of the best presentations.

I would therefore recommend that more Warwick students participate in BCUR next year. It is a great occasion to improve your public speaking skills, network with like-minded people and expose yourself to different ideas. All are valuable skills, regardless of your degree, and the experience you gain from the conference could positively influence your approach to research. There’s nothing to lose and a whole lot to gain.