Research without Borders: a blog from last year’s interactive display winner, Henry Webber

As our 100 postgraduate researchers involved in this year’s Research without Borders festival prepare their exhibitions, discussions and presentations, we took a trip down memory lane to last year’s showcase and talked to the winner of the prize for Interactive Display, Henry Webber, an Archaeology and Anthropology PhD candidate.

Last year I applied to display my research at the Research Without Borders festival. I wanted to use the process as an exercise for thinking about my ideas, and how to present and communicate these ideas to a mixture of people from colleagues to academics, to the general public and other industries.

My research involves connecting archaeology with agriculture. It is about learning what impacts humans have had on the landscape, the material remains left in the soil, and how these may be impacting state of the art farming techniques and agricultural knowledge in the 21st century.

Some of the main aspects that I wanted to convey were the material aspects of my research, the focus on soils and how they are central to both archaeology (for the study of the human past) and agriculture (for the future of society). In addition, I wanted to showcase how agricultural techniques are changing with the evolution of remote sensing data, and software and hardware development. With an increased focus on high resolution data and precise methodologies, such as GPS steering of tractors and variable rate fertiliser application, requiring ever more detailed knowledge of soil variation, the impacts that humans have had on soils are becoming increasingly more important.

To try to engage people in my display and demonstrate these ideas, I brought in real soil and turf blocks to replicate a field with a crop. I then stripped off the topsoil and recreated a miniature archaeological site with darker colours of soil representing high organic matter and nutrient levels such as phosphorus, which is often found in conjunction with archaeological sites. I used toy tractors from my childhood to demonstrate the actions and spatial connection that farmers have with archaeology and to explain some of the contentions that currently exist between farmers and archaeologists. Next to this I had printed images of my case study datasets and a projector with several videos showing high-tech precision spraying, laser weeding and autonomous vehicles. I also brought some actual geophysical equipment (Ground Penetrating Radar) for people to use. With Ground Penetrating Radar, it is possible to see objects below the surface, and in the display hall we could tell where pipes, electric cables, and solid floor supports were from the way they reflect radar energy. This sort of technique is also however, commonly used to discover buried archaeology.

After I found out that I had won the prize for best interactive display, I was delighted! I had certainly got a lot out of the event already from just the networking and discussions with people, but the prize was an additional bonus. The prize consisted of money to put towards training of my choice, which I decided to use to improve and continue my professional development in being qualified in agronomic advice.

I had already completed a course in fertiliser and agronomy advice as part of the PhD, but this extra funding helped me to continue to be professionally accredited and knowledgeable about current agronomic

Research Without Borders Event, University of Bristol/@Bristol

advice, issues, and legislation. This has great benefit for my research as, when talking to farmers, I can contextualise my research in ‘real life’ farming practices in the UK today. It has also helped me to engage with farmers and develop positive relationships around which my research can become much more reflexive. Finally, this training provides me with a qualification that will be useful in any future career path relating to food and farming and allow me to have a broader perspective.

The Research without Borders festival was certainly a great event and I am glad to see it continuing this year. It was worthwhile from many perspectives for me and I would encourage you to get involved to meet new people, try out new ideas and explore displaying your own research!

The showcase exhibition returns to Colston Hall frmo 2 to 5pm on 12 May in this year’s Research without Borders festival. Sign up for tickets via Eventbrite

10 Questions with Keri McNamara: from 3MT to RwB, and why you should get involved

In case you hadn’t heard yet, sign ups are open for Research without Borders 2017, our flagship festival of postgraduate research where we put your work front and centre. This year’s festival is bigger and better than ever, including an evening discussion series, a showcase exhibition at Colston Hall, and the finals of the 3MT competition. Why should you get involved? We spoke to Keri McNamara, who took part in last year’s festival and presented in the 3MT finals (catch her video on our YouTube channel!), to offer you an insider’s perspective on what’s great, what’s challenging and why it’s important to take part.

  1. Which faculty are you in? Can you tell me a bit about your research? Maybe, instead of three minutes, you could tell us in three words…?

I’m in the school of Earth Sciences in the Faculty of Science. To describe my research in three words: Volcanoes, Ash, Ethiopia.

  1. Why did you decided to sign up last year – what persuaded you, or what were you hoping to get from taking part?

I had heard about it from a friend in the year above and it thought it would be a good opportunity to practise my public speaking. I’ve always found presenting rather daunting but felt that the more I pushed myself to do it the easier it got. This just seemed like a fun opportunity. I also enjoy outreach so seemed like a good way to combine both.

  1. What was the hardest, or scariest part of the 3MT? Is it what you expected it to be before you went onstage, or did that change?

I think the scariest bit is sitting waiting for your turn. Once I opened my mouth to speak I felt much calmer and more confident. Towards the end I even started to enjoy myself (something I never thought I’d be able to say about public speaking!)

  1. How did you prepare?

I love writing so I found the easiest thing was to write it out first like I was writing an article and perfect it on paper. I then basically learnt it like a script and then made minor tweaks so it flowed better. I know a lot of people prefer to improvise but I felt much more confident learning what I was going to say.

  1. What is your funnest memory from taking part last year?

I think during the first heat- everyone taking part was so friendly and it was fun to get to know people from completely different parts of the university studying a huge range of topics. It made it a very relaxed environment- not threatening or intimidating at all.

  1. And what made you get involved with Research without Borders?

I liked the fact it was multidisciplinary with opportunities to meet people from other research areas as well as people from industry.

  1. What was the funnest bit?

Making a display to go along with my poster- it was a bit more interesting than preparing for a traditional conference.

  1. Any pearls of wisdom to share for people considering taking part in this year’s 3MT?

I would recommend spending more time at the beginning sketching out the ‘story’ of what you’re going to say to make sure the content flows well in a strong framework. Also practise as much as you can be bothered to right before; being prepared was the only thing that saved me from being too nervous. Also definitely take part– even if (or especially if!) public speaking scares you. It’s a great way to improve!

  1. Has the 3MT been helpful to you in anyway? Why should students to get involved?

It has helped no end with my confidence in public speaking. In my PhD I have to give quite a lot of talks and I think it was a real turning point for me. I went from just rushing to get to the end of a presentation to actually thinking about what I was saying and being conscious of how I was presenting. I also put it on my CV as an example of public speaking and outreach skills.

  1. What about Research without Borders? Did it change how you think or view your research/PhD?

I’m not sure it helped me in one particular way but it was really great to talk to people working in other areas to challenge me to get ‘outside the bubble’ of my research areas and think about the bigger picture.

Fancy showcasing or presenting in this year’s Research without Borders? Sign up by 28 February! Want to take part in the 3MT competition? It’s as simple as this application form

This could be you, if you signed up to take part in this year’s Research without Borders!

How to stop worrying and learn to love the 3MT

The Three-Minute Thesis (3MT) 2017 competition is open for sign-ups! We asked last year’s winner, Sam Briggs, for some of his top tips.

So you’re thinking of doing the 3MT – well, stop fretting about strutting your stuff on stage in front of people and just do it! Applications for the 3MT 2017 are now open, so you should throw caution to the wind and go for it! It’s a wonderful time with some of the warmest and most attentive audiences you are ever likely to present to, and you meet the most interesting people along the way!. Here are some of the things that I’ve thought a little bit about since taking part last year, and would like to pass on to any other aspiring postgraduate research communicators:

1. Limit the jargon
We use jargon in our fields of research because it is precise, concise, and highly descriptive. When participating in a competition that values those things you can use jargon but make sure you can explain it with a short rider, caveat, or example!

2. Start with the big picture — and end with it too
Your area of work is likely to be highly specialised, which means your average layperson isn’t going to have a clue as to why you’re so interested in what you do, or why it matters. Contextualise. Pose a big question that you’ll try to answer in your 3 minutes. Wrap up with that question too, so you can answer with what you’ve learnt so far during your research.

3. Use humour to your advantage
Research isn’t all peaches and cream and has certainly, for me, had its moments of humour and/or despair – but maybe this isn’t your experience! Audiences love hearing about some of the struggles of research, as it humanises you and makes your work relatable. It’s also a good reminder that research is about the generation and discovery of new knowledge, which doesn’t happen without a few hiccups or missteps along the way. A backdrop of healthy self-awareness and critique goes a long way.

4. Don’t try to pack too much in
You only have 3 minutes. I know that’s obvious — but seriously, it’s not that long. Don’t try and do your entire thesis! Stick to only one project, or one concept that you are exploring. Pick one thing and do that thing well. If you can give someone a new perspective on something, or new knowledge about just one tiny aspect of your work, then you’ll have done a good job.

5. Practice makes perfect
Practice! To your colleagues, to your mates, to your family, to yourself in the bathroom mirror. How you stand, how you project your voice, and how you time your vocal cues -, these are all crucial to coming across confidently, clearly, and effectively. The only way to do this is to become comfortable with the material you prepare, to trust that it will fit within 3 minutes, and then to practice, practice, practice.

The 3MT is a bit of a whirlwind: the experience is one that carries you along at a terrific pace. Before you know it you can be stood on a stage performing to the general public, but remember – you are human, they are humans. Take a deep breath and speak – it’s only for 3 minutes. It goes without saying that to get the benefits of taking part, you need to apply. Just do it! You won’t regret it.

Applications for the 3MT 2017 are open until midday on March 15th: apply now! For information, key dates, and to learn more about our previous 3MT competitions, visit our website.

7 things all Bristol PGRs should do in 2017

Make sure you start the year as you mean to go on by getting involved in the thriving research community here in Bristol. Here are some of the highlights coming up in 2017 that our postgraduate research students should watch out for:

1. Look after yourself by prioritising your self-care

We bet you didn’t expect to see this as number 1 on the list, but looking after yourself shouldn’t be forgotten. Life as a researcher can take its toll on your mental and physical health. In the depths of research – whether in the lab, the archives, or the field – it’s all too easy to get sucked away from the wider world. Take a quick look at our virtual resource hub for activities, events, information and news about mental health and general wellbeing.

http://www.bris.ac.uk/doctoral-college/healthy/

2. Celebrate the start of your research at our special inauguration event in February

If you’ve started your research degree on or after 1 August 2016 then come along to our special Researcher Inauguration event on Monday 6 February, 2017. Receive your official welcome from the Vice-Chancellor and President of the University, Professor Hugh Brady, and introduce yourself to the University’s rich and vibrant research community over a glass of wine and some nibbles. Sign up for your free ticket here: https://www.eventbrite.co.uk/e/researcher-inauguration-event-tickets-30551567561

3. Showcase your research at the BDC festival of research: Research without Borders 2017

Our flagship Research without Borders festival provides an interactive space for Bristol postgraduate researchers across all disciplines to come together and showcase their work to a broad audience from within and outside of the University. This year’s festival will include a whole week of interactive showcase events: an evening seminar series, the finals of the Three Minute Thesis (3MT®) competition and an afternoon showcase exhibition at Colston Hall on Friday 12 May. More than 100 PGRs shared their work at last year’s exhibition, through research posters, hands-on demonstrations, innovative research displays and lively discussions. Take a look at last year’s event to get a sense of just how special the event was – and help us make this year’s event bigger and better than ever! Keep an eye on the Bristol Doctoral College website to find out how you can sign up.

4. Sign up for personal and professional development training  

In an increasingly competitive environment there is a growing demand on postgraduate researchers not just to be qualified experts in their subject area, but to be highly accomplished individuals with the skills and attitude to communicate, innovate and adapt within a continually changing landscape. The Bristol Doctoral College runs a Personal and Professional Development programme with more than 150 workshops, seminars and online resources designed specifically for postgraduate research  students. Take a look at the full catalogue and sign up today!

5. Join the Bristol SU Postgraduate Network

The PG Network is a student-led initiative for all postgraduate students (both research and taught) that seeks to develop an active, strong and vibrant postgraduate community here at the University of Bristol. The PG Network organises events in Bristol and provides a real chance for students to work together to shape and develop Bristol postgraduate community life. Get involved and keep up to date by joining the group on Facebook.

6. Learn something new and see where it takes you

Keep your mind active even when you need a break from your research by going to a public lecture, talk or debate about something completely different to your main study area. There are numerous public talks and lectures in Bristol, and many of them are free to attend. The Bristol Festival of Ideas attracts experts from around the world to Bristol with an inspiring programme of debate and discussion throughout the year. The Arnolfini also organises regular talks and the Pervasive Media Studio at the Watershed holds a free lunchtime talk every Friday.

7. And finally, make the most of being in Bristol

Bristol has a wealth of cultural treasures and historic places to explore – from museums, art galleries and theatres, pop-up cafes, festivals and world-renowned graffiti. Make sure you make the most of studying in such a vibrant city and take some time out of your research to explore. Keep up to speed with what’s going by keeping an eye on Bristol 247 and Bristol Museums.

#BristolisGlobal: an event invitation

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Following the wake of June 24’s announcement of the EU Referendum result, many of us in the Higher Education world – academics, staff, postgraduate researchers alike – find ourselves today with more questions than answers. As the UK’s political landscape continues to shift and adjust to the outcome, so the socioeconomic landscape confronts a future that seems more uncertain than ever. These questions affect us not only as students and staff, but also as residents and citizens of the city of Bristol, and the UK. Many see the decision to leave as a threat and stand against globalisation and a globalised world. Importantly, this international vision is something that the University espouses, as well as the city of Bristol.

Last week the Mayor of Bristol, Marvin Rees, delivered a talk in the Anson Rooms in a show of solidarity with the #WeAreInternational movement, a campaign that brings scholars together from across the globe in recognition and celebration of the diverse world of research, knowledge and academic life. While it is not known what impact the UK’s decision to leave the EU will have on us, it is clear that the decision to leave will have immediate, short-term and longer-term repercussions, at the University of Bristol. Despite our questions and our uncertainty, in the spirit of International Friendship Day, we’d like to take this opportunity to come together as a community and stand in support for a global, internationally cooperative and collaborative Bristol.

On Wednesday, July 27, we will host an open discussion from 5.30 to 6.30pm in the Seminar Room at Beacon House Study Centre. The Pro-Vice Chancellor International, Dr Erik Lithander, will attend to provide an update on current developments, respond to your questions, and engage with us as we work to find solutions. This is also an opportunity for the PGR community to voice their concerns and share constructive strategies they would like the University to engage with. Refreshments will be provided. Please register via eventbrite.

Over 1500 PGR students registered at Bristol are from outside the UK. As we face the uncertainty of the UK’s political landscape the Bristol Doctoral College remains committed to supporting all international students, partners and connections. Moving forward, we will continue to champion global research and to foster and support globally-minded researchers.

See you there!

Research without Borders: from the exhibitor’s stand, with Heide Busse

On Monday 9 May the Bristol Doctoral College hosted the ‘Research without Borders‘ festival, a showcase of postgraduate research excellence with over 100 student exhibits. Heide Busse, a second-year PhD student in the School of Social and Community Medicine, spoke to us about her experience as an exhibitor. Her research is funded by The Centre for the Development and Evaluation of Complex Interventions for Public Health Improvement (DECIPHer), a UKCRC Public Health Research Centre of Excellence. Follow Heide on Twitter @HeideBusse.

On the 9th of May, I swapped office and computer for an afternoon at @tBristol science centre, where I participated in the annual “Research without Borders” event. This event is organised by the University of Bristol and provides PhD students across the university an opportunity to showcase their work to other researchers, funders, university partners and charities with the overall aim to stimulate discussion and spark ideas.

It did sound like a good and fun opportunity to tell others about my research so I thought ‘why not, see how it goes’ – immediately followed by the thought ‘alright, but what actually works to make visitors come and have a chat to me and engage with my exhibition stand’?

Luckily, help was offered by the organising team for the event from Bristol Doctoral College in terms of how to think of interactive ways to present my research – and not to just bring along the last poster that was prepared for a scientific conference. For instance, we developed the idea to ask visitors to vote on an important research question of mine. That way, visitors could engage with my research and I could at the same time see what they thought about one of my research questions!

My PhD research looks more closely at the potential of mentoring as an intervention for young people in secondary schools. There are quite a few formal mentoring programmes offered to pupils but there is hardly any research in this area to suggest whether this actually works in helping to improve young people’s health, wellbeing or educational outcomes. To provide information for different audiences, I also brought a scientific poster along, as well as leaflets about my work and the work of The Centre for the Development and Evaluation of Complex Interventions for Public Health Improvement (DECIPHer), a UKCRC Public Health Research Centre of Excellence, which funds my PhD.

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Exhibition Stand

On the day itself, over 100 PhD students exhibited their work in lots of different ways, including a few flashy displays and stunning posters about their research. We were given different research themes and I was included in the “population health” research theme – alongside 16 other research themes ranging from “quantum engineering”, “condensed matter physics” to “neuroscience” and “clinical treatments”.

All ready to go just in time before the official event started, I really hoped I wouldn’t be left alone for the rest of the afternoon polishing the pebbles that I had organised for my live voting. Fortunately, that didn’t happen! Time flew and without realising I chatted away for two and half hours to a constant flow of over visitors and other exhibitors – and actually hardly managed to move away to have a look around other people’s exhibitions. In total, I have been told, there were 200 people attending the event.

Visitors told me about their own mentoring experiences when they were younger, spoke about the things that mentors do and asked me questions about my research, such as why I research what I research, the methods that I am using in my research and what relevance I think my research can have for mentoring organisations- all questions that I could imagine could be re-asked in a PhD viva (in which case I guess it’s never too early to prepare!). This really made me think about my research and practice ways in which I can communicate this clearly to people who might be less familiar with the field or with research in general without babbling on for too long!

Note left by visitor
Note left by visitor

At the end of the event, I was really curious to see how many people interacted with my research and to look at the results of the live voting. I had asked individuals to vote on the following question: “Do you think mentoring young people in secondary schools has long-term benefits to their health?” and was actually quite surprised to see that 22 out of 25 individuals who voted, voted for “Yes” which indicates that there is something about the word mentoring that makes people think that it is beneficial, which itself is an interesting finding. Not a single person voted “no” and three individuals voted “not sure”.

Pebbles and 'live voting' ballot boxes
Pebbles and ‘live voting’ ballot boxes

The whole afternoon went well and made me realise the importance and benefit of talking to a variety of other people about my research – I guess you never know who you are going to meet and whether questions by visitors might actually turn into research questions one day.

How about signing up to present your research at the upcoming ESRC festival of social science, the MRC festival of medical research, other science festivals, talking about your research in pubs or talking to colleagues in the public engagement offices at your university?

 

10 reasons to exhibit your work at ‘Research without Borders’

RwB croppedNot sure why you might want to showcase your research at ‘Research without Borders’? Here’s 10 good reasons why you might want to get involved:

1. Get out of the lab / library

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http://blog.lib.umn.edu/

We spend so much of our time focusing on doing our research that we sometimes forget that there is a whole world of exciting opportunities for us to take advantage of! Take a break for a few hours and come down to @Bristol to tell others about what you’ve been working on. You’ll be much more relaxed and refreshed when you return to your work – and you might even have a few new ideas to try out!

2. Meet other researchers and connect with the wider Bristol community

UoB instagram account
UoB instagram account

Postgraduate research is so specialised and individual that sometimes you forget that you are part of a community of more than three thousand research students. Come and meet one another, share ideas – you might even make some new friends!

3. Potential employers

This year you won’t just be showcasing your research to other PGRs and the Bristol academic community – we’ll also be inviting key external partners, including academics from other institutions, industrial partners, local community groups and organisations, the Bristol City Council – the list goes on and on. Let us know if there is anyone in particular that you would like us to invite. This is an ideal opportunity for you to network with these high-profile guests. You never know, this could be a foot in the door for your post-PhD career!

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4. Meet the people funding your research

We’ll also be extending an invitation to the charities and research councils who fund your research. This is your opportunity to show them what you have been doing with the money they have invested in you. It’s also a great opportunity for you to speak with funders about any ideas you might have for future research projects. It never hurts to make friends with the people who hold the purse strings!

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Jorge Cham, PhD Comics

5. Talk to interested people about your research

Your supervisors, parents, partner, and friends are probably all getting a bit tired of hearing about your work. This is an ideal opportunity to talk to others who haven’t yet heard all about it. Plus, it’s always a good challenge to try to explain your research in a way that others can understand it. Take advantage of the fact that you’ll have a captive audience on hand.

6. Explore interconnections between your work and others’

You won’t be the only one doing all of the talking – this is a great opportunity for you to find out what other people are working on. You might just realise that there are connections between your work and others. Breaking out of your research bubble is never a bad idea!

7. Generate new ideas and collaborationsBCCS4

Be an academic in action! Meet new people, develop new ideas, learn from one another – that’s what being an academic is all about! This is your opportunity to spark new ideas with people you might not encounter in your day-to-day work.

8. Apply your expertise to real-world problems

Not sure what kind of impact your research could have on global challenges? How about problems affecting the city of Bristol itself? In addition to the research showcase there will also be opportunities for you to contribute your expertise to addressing real-world problems. A series of ‘Grand Challenges’ will be running throughout the day, enabling you to see how your knowledge and experience can help to solve some of world’s biggest problems.

9. Win prestigious prizes 

In the past, we’ve given away iPads, ferry boat rides, restaurant vouchers, Amazon vouchers… you never know what you might win! This year is no exception! We’ll be offering prizes for the 3MT, best poster display and best interactive research display.

www.quickmeme.com
*we’d like to confirm that, sadly, not everyone can win a prize www.quickmeme.com

10. It’ll be fun! 

With interactive maps, graffiti walls and quick-fire talks, this event is going to be jam-packed with fun activities for everyone! Free drinks and food are just the icing on the cake.

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Even the minions are excited for Research without Borders

So what are you waiting for? Sign up and reserve your place now!

What is the NSPPS and why should you get involved?

Alan Kennedy, a postgraduate researcher from the School of Geographical Sciences, writes about why he enjoys attending the Natural Systems and Processes Poster Session (NSPPS) year after year, and why current students should consider signing up. Already know you want to take part? Apply here!

The NSPPS is, it appears, now quite an establishment in Bristol: 2016 will be the event’s ninth year. What is it, and what has secured its place in the University of Bristol calendar for all these years?

Well, as the name suggests, it is an academic poster session welcoming pretty much anything relating to the science of the natural world. It turns out this description covers a lot of science, with representatives from Earth Sciences, Geographical Sciences, Physics, Life Sciences, Engineering, Chemistry and Mathematics. It’s a fascinating melting pot of ideas with some quirky and abstract topics on show, but each being a tiny, crucial cogwheel in the Earth’s system. The range of topics can show off the University’s diverse scientific community, spark collaborations and simply baffle all at the same time.

Besides the ‘boring’ scientific part of the event, NSPPS is a great occasion. Set in the Wills Memorial Building Great Hall, there is a plentiful stock of free food and drink and the social side of the event is great. Often the people carrying out the research are even more colourful than the science itself (especially after some free drinks). The social side also ensures the whole event is very relaxed, making it a great opportunity to get some practice and early feedback on your poster and presentation skills before taking on external conferences. Maybe you’re thinking of going to EGU in April? Then this is the perfect warm up. Added to that, there is healthy competition with entrants battling it out for a series of prizes from staff and student votes for the best posters. They’re proper prizes too (I can verify, last year I won an Acer tablet for the staff vote), so it’s definitely worth entering!

So here’s why NSPPS is still live and kicking after 9 years: diverse science, diverse people, laid back atmosphere, prizes and (of course) free food and drink.

Where? Great Hall, Wills Memorial Building.

When? 2-5pm, Monday 7th March.

Deadlines: Abstract submissions by midnight, Friday 29th February. Apply now! https://tiny.cc/nspps

Three Minute Thesis (3MT)

3MT Finalists abbrev

‘To pee or not to pee’, was the subject of the winning presentation at the University of Bristol’s inaugural
Three Minute Thesis competition – a global academic competition designed to improve participants’ presentation and communication skills and raise awareness of their research area, as it challenges postgraduate researchers to present their 80,000-word theses in just three minutes.

Dominika Bijos was named the winner in a close-fought affair as 10 finalists took to the stage in the Anson Rooms, in front of a packed audience.

This was Bristol’s first foray into the 3MT competition and we would like to know what you thought worked, what didn’t work, and what we could improve upon for next year.

Festival of Postgraduate Research

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The Festival of Postgraduate Research took place on Friday 21st February 2014 and included stands run by postgraduate researchers and University services alongside a range of research posters, breakout presentations and workshops.

As we consider what went well and what we could improve for next year, we would welcome your feedback. If you attended or took part in the Festival let us know what you think we should repeat again next year, or what you feel we could do differently. If you chose not to attend, we would be interested to hear your thoughts on what would make it more appealing to you.