by Craig Evans
It’s hard to believe it, but after 6 months of anticipation, from first hearing about the UWE-funded opportunities to attend BCUR 2014 to finally making the trip to Nottingham’s Park Campus with rolled-up poster under arm, the conference is now over.
After months of thinking up a research topic, designing an experiment, background reading, realising that I may have bitten off more than I can chew, and somehow finding a way to present meaningful(ish) research, I can now reflect on an experience that has been inspiring and a great deal of fun.
I travelled by train from Cheltenham to Nottingham on Sunday. It was a warm, bright afternoon, and even the heavy breathing, furtive back-and-forth glancing, Special Brew-slurping behaviour of the man sitting next to me wasn’t going to dampen my spirits. Leaving the train I jumped into the back of a taxi, where I was greeted by a driver who made up in joviality what he lacked in knowledge of the University of Nottingham’s campuses. “Nottingham University is spread all over the city, mate,” he called back to me, driving along, the meter rolling. Park Campus? “Never heard of that one.”
Luckily, after a short tour of the city, I spotted road signs for the campus and soon enough I was where I needed to be.
Park Campus at the University of Nottingham is a place that lives up to its name – with rolling stretches of green between various period buildings, cherry blossom in full bloom, row boats in a lake overlooked by the clock-tower and the white pillared face of the grand Trent Building, it is a romantic ideal of scholarly life.
Even the dining hall at Lenton and Wortley where many of the delegates were accommodated, with its long tables and Latin-scrolled emblems, was slightly resonant of Harry Potter. This is where on the first night we gathered for a quiz meant as an ice-breaker, and soon enough I found myself chatting and joking with other students as if we’d known each other for years.
The conference itself opened the next morning with a plenary hosted by the organisers which included a keynote talk from the philosopher Stephen Mumford on ‘Knowledge is Power’. The talk contained an especially rousing characterisation of researchers as would-be smashers of paradigms; particularly affecting was the description of researchers as creators of new knowledge.
The day then proceeded with tea and coffee, spoken presentations, lunch, poster presentations, and so on in alternating fashion – the same pattern occurring over both days of the conference. The posters were displayed throughout the day, with specific times allocated for students to stand by them and field questions about their work. Four spoken presentations took place in each concurrent hour-long session, which meant you had to be selective about what you went to see.
One thing I really liked about the organisation of the spoken presentation sessions was the randomness of the topics included – in the same session there might be a talk on the effect of UV light on beetles, measuring take-off and landing angles in dog agility training, the phenomenology of Roman forts, and the right to abortion in English law. This seemed to be a great way to encourage cross-discipline engagement among the attending delegates.
As for the posters, a wide variety of subjects were covered, ranging from the science of saving goals to trappability as a measure of badger personality, from a historic perception of lunacy in the Scottish highlands to dozens of science-based posters whose meanings my non-scientific mind struggled to fathom. My own poster was on conversation analysis as part of reflective practice in non-institutional settings, which was in fact a pilot study exploring the possibilities and practicalities of a full study in this area. It was very exciting to explain and defend my poster as other attendees quizzed me on such matters as how it might be applied in the real world. Particular highlights included discussing my work with people who were interested in how it was relevant to their own areas of research.
Attending an undergraduate conference has been an incredible experience for me. Going into it, I felt that it was something that would look good on my CV if I want to pursue a career in academic research. However, I never expected the sheer enjoyment and affirmation that I have taken from those two days in Nottingham: to be surrounded by peers with the same kind of passion for ideas and discovery that I have was very exciting. For any undergraduate reading this who feels the same, I strongly recommend that you apply for next year’s conference – I’m certainly going to.