Thought on the landscape — how a ‘disruption’ symposium stimulated debate

Our PGR Ventures Fund supports grassroots innovation, creativity and leadership in the University of Bristol’s postgraduate researcher community.

This year, the Literary and Visual Landscapes Seminar Series received funding from the Ventures Fund and the School of Modern Languages to host a half-day symposium on the theme of ‘Disrupted Landscapes’.

The Literary and Visual Landscapes team took some time to tell us about the event’s success.

Our Disrupted Landscapes Symposium, which was held on 14 June, was an opportunity for postgraduate researchers from all disciplines to explore the concept of ‘disrupted landscapes’ across all geographical and chronological time spans.

In our call for papers, we invited speakers to explore the concept of landscapes in both the traditional sense — as geographical and pastoral spaces — and also as figurative sites of conflict and uncertainty.

We also encouraged speakers to question the dual relationship between humans and their environment. For example:

  • What does it mean for a landscape to be ‘disrupted’?
  • How might we measure this?
  • How might a ‘disrupted’ landscape affect its inhabitants, and how might these individuals contribute to the disturbance of their physical surroundings?

The greatest success of the symposium was how our broad call for papers brought so many different areas of research together, enabling us to really promote the interdisciplinary ethos of the Literary and Visual Landscapes Seminar Series.

The speakers came from our own postgraduate research cohort, including some new faces, as well as the University of Sheffield and Goldsmiths (University of London). Our audience was even more varied.

Our panels — ‘Disrupted Victorian Topographies’, ‘Digitised Landscapes’ and ‘Memorialising Landscapes’ — overlapped in more ways than we could have foreseen, such as Andy Day and Doreen Pastor’s discussions on memorials in the landscape, and Joan Passey and Sophie Maxwell’s references to the landscape paintings of J. M. W. Turner.

Tamsin Crowther kicked the afternoon off with a fascinating look at the anxieties of the Victorian suburbs, and Richard Stone commenced our final panel with a lively debate on the urban representation of Bristol’s connection to slavery.

It was exciting also to see how the papers linked back to our seminar series — particularly James Watts’s discussion of colonial landscapes.

Thank you again to the Ventures Fund for such a great opportunity to gain experience organising and coordinating a symposium and to meet so many great postgraduate researchers and learn about such a wide variety of projects.

Tried and Tested: Organising a PhD Symposium

Rachel Harris is a postgraduate researcher in Neuroscience in the School of Clinical Sciences. She helped coordinate the Bath & Bristol Science Film Festival, and organised the Bristol Neuroscience Festival, and is an active supporter of the city’s Neuroscience-related activities. As part of our Tried & Tested campaign, she spoke to us about the benefits of organising a PhD symposium and what her experiences doing so have taught her. Check out more of her musings on her blog, and follow her on twitter at @NeuroRach.GW4neuro2015

Last year I helped organise the first GW4 Early Career Neuroscientist Day. I didn’t have any experience organising an academic event but I was keen to help bring together neuroscience PhDs and postdocs from a range of disciplines and universities.

There were many roles available, from selecting and contacting speakers to choosing a venue and drumming up sponsorship. I took up a role on the scientific committee along with a team comprising of members from the other GW4 Universities (Bath, Cardiff and Exeter). A huge number of abstracts were submitted and it was really interesting see what stood out from the pack when we were selecting talks. It’s definitely something I think about when I come to write abstracts now.

The team for this symposium were all really committed and we communicated by combination of emails, calls and face to face meetings. The programme was developed over several months and it was rewarding to hear about progress from other members of the committee and see the event come together.

On the day the committee helped prepare the venue and greet attendees and speakers. Members of the scientific committee also hosted scientific symposia which included introducing speakers, managing questions, and dealing with any technical issues!

Check out the highlights from the day on Storify.

I’d recommend getting involved in organising a symposium. It’s a great way to meet other people from within your university as well in other institutions. It didn’t take up a huge amount of my time, but I still felt like I’d helped shape a successful day.

As a result of working on this event I now manage Bristol Neuroscience social media and helped out with the Bristol Neuroscience Festival, so you never know where things will lead. I’m also looking forward to this year’s symposium as I know the effort that goes in to making it work.

GW4 Early Career Neuroscientists’ Day is looking for volunteers to help coordinate the 2016/17 event in Cardiff. Email you expression of interest to Catherine Brown ( by July 18th.