The 2023 Manchester Met PGR Conference took place on 23 March and was a great success. The Conference’s Marketing and Art Director Beth Turner-Pemberton recaps what happened.
The 15th Annual Postgraduate Conference took place at Manchester Met’s Students Union. The theme for this year was Broadening Perspectives: Innovative Approaches to Interdisciplinary Research. Through Broadening Perspectives, the Conference celebrated the many facets of postgraduate research at Manchester Met, showcasing the innovative, interdisciplinary, and often unconventional nature of contemporary research. Presentations, posters and object handling sessions brought the PGR community together for a full day to reflect on their progress and connect with other researchers from Manchester Met and beyond.
Panels were grouped by sub-theme and allowed for in-depth and passionate discussions that considered the coming together of disciplines, innovative methodologies and when research takes an unexpected turn! This year’s keynote speakers covered issues in interdisciplinary research such as finding and owning your research niche from Dr Martin Turner, the importance of using your networks to identify research opportunities from Ian Whadcock and Dr Jasmine Hearn, and the pitfalls and prospects of being an interdisciplinary researcher from Dr Lexi Webster.
The Conference received positive feedback and will return next year with a new theme and organising committee. The nature of a PGR-led Conference is that of a supportive and safe environment to present research. We would encourage PGRs to submit abstracts to present their research at the next PGR-led Conference. It is a great opportunity to showcase your work with like-minded, generous postgraduate researchers.
We would also like to encourage all PGRs to look out for the Graduate School open call and volunteer to be part of next year’s Conference organising committee! This year’s committee have gained valuable experience and made life-long connections within the PGR community.
Co-Event Manager Amal Mazouz, tells us more about the learning experience of being part of the Conference organising committee.
Our team was composed of five people: Bethany Turner, Narimane Boudali, Chloe Young and Liza Bobrova, our Committee Chair. There were tasks that we shared as a team, like choosing the name and themes of the Conference, promoting the event and contacting keynote speakers. And since we lacked an Academic Lead, we also had to go through all submissions and classify and choose the ones that fit in with our themes. However, as each member had her own role, there were specific tasks for each of us.
I was responsible for preparing catering lists and managing Eventbrite, which is the platform from which our participants and attendees bought their tickets. As a student, I have bought events tickets from Eventbrite a million times, however, as an organizer, this was my first time dealing with this platform, and so there was so much to learn. Summarizing all the data from the platform into spreadsheet format was particularly challenging since I had to go through dietary options and allergies one by one for all our 110 participants and attendees. Then I had to create separate spreadsheets for volunteers, participants and keynote speakers, and simultaneously tend to their catering needs.
Choosing a photo for the event was equally challenging since it had to be formal/academic and at the same time eye-catching, which is why I landed with a simple design, including our keynote speakers’ photos and depending on their good reputation to attract the audience’s attention. With all open honesty, I made two mistakes in the process; first I forgot to ask the attendees for the names of the people they would be bringing with them in order to add the names to the final attendees’ list, since there was the option to buy multiple tickets. This was rectified by emailing all the people who bought two tickets and luckily for me they were only three to ask for the names of their invitees! As for the second mistake, I would rather call a cultural one rather than an academic one, since I had forgotten to ask attendees about their pronouns, and for this, I can only hope for future diligence.
Another task we were trusted with as Event Managers was booking catering and the venue. For catering, we had to choose a menu that suited everybody’s needs but was still within our budget; luckily for us, Pete – Peter Lambert – our Students Union liaison, provided some compelling options, so we went with Vegetarian, Vegan, Halal, and Meat. As for the venue, we did not really have a choice since it was free of charge, still the rooms’ capacity and equipment were to our taste and need so there was no need for a different venue. Furthermore, Pete was the Tech support himself, so it was only natural to hire him. Last and not least, since I had the numbers and the names, I had to order the stationery, print the name cards and put them in the lanyards, which were colour-coded. Suzette’s guidance and experience was very helpful at this stage. As for the day of the event, I had to inspect the menu, and the rooms according to the risk assessment made by my co-Event Manager Nari, and make sure everything ran smoothly while in fact chairing two sessions myself.
It is important to note that compared to previous years, ours was just a small team – which meant there was loads of work to do! However, being a small team had its advantages too. It was easier to communicate with the ladies, we stayed in contact on our WhatsApp group literally 24/7, we never missed a meeting – we held a Zoom meeting every Thursday – and our feedback was always respectful, positive and encouraging even when we disagreed; especially when we disagreed. Even the loss of some committee members and volunteers did not weaken our resolve a bit; if anything, it made us more determined to make this year’s Conference more unique in the sense that it was hybrid, in other words accessible and relatable to a larger audience online and in-person as well as far away from the traditional presentation format to include Lightning Talks, Poster Presentations and even Object-based Presentations.
Sure, there are things that we could have done better, for instance, we could have chosen a different date, since 23 March was the first day of Ramadan which was inconvenient for a number of our attendees and volunteers, particularly. Nari and I had the idea to contribute with Iftar kits, which, unfortunately, was not possible at the time since we were unable to obtain the health clearances needed which were logistical issues that hindered our good intentions.
We could have also distributed the feedback forms at the registration, rather than at the end of the event, which was just a miscommunication, and the result was that attendees who left early did not get the chance to fill in the feedback form.
We could also have had a list of backup keynote speakers, in the case that one of our primary speakers had to drop out for one reason or another, which actually did happen and fortunately for us we were able to replace them soon enough.
Furthermore, we should have tried to accommodate our numbers to our budget, not the other way around, in other words we should have calculated the costs before setting our Eventbrite numbers.
Whilst we did a great job organising a hybrid sustainable conference, I’m sharing some of the challenges we experienced so that they can be avoided in the organising of future Manchester Met PGR events. As for what I have learned from this experience, it is actually a lot and cannot be summarised in few lines, but I will try!
I have learned a lot about Eventbrite and can easily use it in the future. I have developed my organizational and IT skills, especially spreadsheets which were my least favourite things to do! I have also improved my communication and teamwork skills, and enjoyed working with and learning from amazing people; Nari, Beth, Chloe, Liza, Suzette and Pete. Finally, after Covid, it was hard for me to reintegrate into academic life; organizing this event gave me the chance to be around people again, to collaborate, share and actually make a difference, and for that I am very content and grateful.
Manchester Met PGRs are invited every summer to form the organising Committee for the Annual Conference held in March. Look out for the invitation to join in the Friday bulletin email and your chance to take the lead on next year’s Conference.