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Fostering a community of postgraduates

Thursday 21 June 2018 saw the inaugural Warwick Interdisciplinary Postgraduate Conference (IPC) take place in the Ramphal building. Featuring interdisciplinary postgraduate research from across the institution, the IPC was created by the Students’ Union, with the support of the Warwick Innovation Fund, making it possible to run as a free event for staff and students.

Here, Emily Dunford, Postgraduate Officer at the SU, and keynote speaker Dr Nese Tosun, Early Career Teaching Fellow, Institute of Advanced Teaching and Learning (IATL), reflect on the key areas that the IPC highlighted for them.

Emily Dunford
Postgraduate Officer, Warwick SU

The day commenced with a highly engaging keynote session from Dr Nese Ceren Tosun, from the Institute of Advanced Teaching and Learning. Dr Tosun received rave reviews from the packed room of conference attendees with her engaging workshop on interdisciplinarity. Later, over the course of the day, we were inspired by our 21 speakers from early Postgraduate Taught students (PGT) through to final-year Postgraduate Research students (PGR), representing Sciences, Arts, and Social Sciences. Attendees were a similar mix, with staff members and undergraduates also choosing to support the conference.

Although there were many highlights across the day, here are the top three things the Warwick IPC highlighted for me:

1. Warwick’s postgraduate research is amazing

Of course, we already know that the scope and extent of Warwick’s postgraduate student research is fantastic in its variety, impact and quality; so, although we didn’t need the IPC to prove this, it certainly reiterated it. The networking, panels, and astute questions I saw during the conference demonstrated this to a community audience, and perhaps allowed speakers to recognise their own talent.

2. A Warwick education is characterised by breaking down boundaries

The Warwick IPC was formed to respond to interest for greater inter- and cross-disciplinary sharing of research at an institutional level, building on existing opportunities for research dissemination that exist within Warwick departments and faculties. For many years, the SU has recognised that interdisciplinarity is vital for encouraging alternative questions, methods and exploring intersections between areas of interest. Given that this is a considerable element of the University’s emerging Education Strategy, it was heartening to see support for an SU-led research event for postgraduates.

3. Conferences can be places for kindness

For some of our speakers, this was their first experience of presenting their research in front of an audience. For others, it was a well-practiced art. Across the board, though, from speakers and audience members, a lot of the feedback was on the welcoming and supportive atmosphere the IPC offered. Whoops of encouragement, and a genuine, keen interest from audiences to find out more about presenters’ research and experiences, even after their panel had finished, distinguished the event throughout the day.

I’m pleased to say that the Warwick IPC has inspired a similar conference run by UCL’s Students’ Union Postgraduate Officer. Hopefully we can build on the achievements of this year’s conference to continue to foster a community of postgraduates as academics, as students, and as members of an international, multifaceted Warwick community.”

Dr. Nese Ceren Tosun
IATL/IAS Early Career Teaching Fellow / WBS Associate Tutor / Sensing the City Impact Officer

Interdisciplinarity: A Journey of Hope

I had the great opportunity of being the keynote speaker at IPC 2018, sharing the challenges but also the pleasures of interdisciplinary research, teaching and learning with a community of bright young scholars.The communities, especially interdisciplinary ones are only possible and sustained by engaged acts of listening, followed by engaging outputs .... and we did just that in an hour at IPC.

The group of MA and PhD candidates from various faculties participated in a “Reflective Interdisciplinary Exercise” while hearing about the contents and discontents of interdisciplinarity as I perceive them as an Early Career Researcher. The participants were first asked to look within, to be aware of their deeper motivations and curiosities that led them to their particular research projects. In groups, they then explored the discipline-informed methods and methodologies of generating and disseminating knowledge. The final part of the exercise was to design a teaching or public engagement event, combining the individual curiosities, discipline-informed methodologies and ways of dissemination they each brought to the group.

The final products of these very speedy interdisciplinarity exercises showed that at Warwick, when given the chance, our community of learners and researchers are highly capable of negotiating swiftly their differences, be it disciplinary, cultural, linguistic or personal. Our biggest challenge is to find time and space to play, to explore and experiment with ways of translating our deeper motivations to our academically framed activities, to each other and to other audiences.

As disciplines shape perspective, perception and action, so do the synergies created by our interdisciplinary plays. I was pleasantly surprised, encouraged and filled with hope for the future of our community at Warwick and more importantly, of the world. Compassion, critical engagement and listening are key to a truly interdisciplinary community. As IPC showed, we need more chances to encourage ourselves and each other to make the most out of that synergy, to make the world a better place.”