It’s over a month since our Research without Borders festival of postgraduate research took place across the Univeristy of Bristol and Colston Hall – so these highlights are a good reminder of what fun we had, how much we learned, and how hard our postgraduate research students are working each day of the week!
Pick up on the buzzing atmosphere from our showcase afternoon finale and hear from participants about why they got involved and what they learned:
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!)
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
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.