Undergraduates, an opportunity not to be missed!

by Craig Evans

I was pleased to see that UWE is supporting students wishing to attend the British Conference of Undergraduate Research (BCUR) next year, no doubt due in large part to the tireless efforts of Jenny Hill to secure funding. As a recent UWE graduate of the English Language and Linguistics degree course, and someone who benefited from this support in 2014 and 2015, I feel that I should stress how it is an opportunity not to be missed. This is especially the case for those thinking about continuing your studies postgraduate. I am currently studying for an MA in Discourse Studies at Lancaster University, and I believe the experience of attending an undergraduate conference not only helped bolster my MA application, but also my self-belief for studying at a higher level.

Of course, it is not only an opportunity for would-be academics, but also invaluable for anyone hoping to get ahead in a variety of industry sectors. No doubt we’ve all had our fair share of advice about the importance of doing extra activities to get an edge in an increasingly competitive graduate work market. Well, if you only do one extra activity during your time at university, then I recommend you make it the attendance of an undergraduate conference. The drive, focus and initiative demonstrated by students who present their own independent research at a national conference is something that will impress any discerning employer.

That said, the value of attending a conference is so much more than just adding another string to your CV bow. For me personally it was a real proof of self. I have always struggled with uncontrollable nerves when public speaking. This was not so much a problem when I attended my first conference, BCUR 2014 in Nottingham, as I presented a poster of my research. The situation was informal, involving one-to-one chats with fellow attendees as they partook in the lunch buffet while perusing whichever posters caught their interest. After that, I was determined to attend again the following year, BCUR 2015 in Winchester, this time to deliver a spoken presentation.

For me, the Winchester conference came to represent a watershed moment in my academic life. I hope someday to have a career in academia, and whether it is teaching or presenting research findings, the ability to speak in front of an audience is vital if I’m to have any chance of achieving this. So, I delivered my presentation, fielded questions, and got through the experience relatively unscathed. Okay, I didn’t set the world alight, but it taught me something about myself that I would not have known otherwise – which is that my academic ambitions are stronger than my public-speaking fears, and this really is a very useful piece of self-knowledge to have.

There are also plenty of other reasons why you should seriously consider applying for BCUR. It is a multidisciplinary conference, so gives you a chance to listen to talks, sometimes very fascinating, on topics you might not otherwise encounter. It is a great way to network and engage with other students who are passionate about their research interests. It is a fun social occasion where you get to enjoy a conference dinner, and if you so choose, drinks and dancing afterwards. There are usually inspirational plenaries by eminent speakers. And it can help you to develop a sense of belonging to a wider research community – something that is very important for any budding academic researchers out there.

If anyone is thinking about applying for a UWE-funded place at BCUR, then I urge that you do. Please do not hesitate to leave any questions in the comments section below if you want to know more about the experience of attending BCUR.

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