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May 24, 2013

REx Fest – A Festival of Exchanges

If you closed your eyes, it was like Elton John truly was in the room, belting out his classics. Open your eyes, though, and yep, you were definitely in the Terrace Bar, where Elton ain’t been seen in years, listening to an otherwise-diminutive PhD student from Economics belting out ‘Bennie and the Jets’. After he lifted his fingers from the final chord, there was a second before the applause, a second of silence as everyone looked at everyone else, and mouthed one word: Wow.

There’s nothing to bring postgraduate students together quite like one of their own getting up and doing what they non-academically do best. Watching someone who by day builds robots shooting off down the wing on a football pitch, or eating the freshly-baked cookies of people who spend their days elbow-deep in algae: these are pleasures which I and countless others have enjoyed. REx Fest was no different. For a few hours that night, it didn’t matter which department you were from, what you were researching, or whether you had a list of publications longer than the piano: what mattered was whether you could make the audience sing along. And sing along they did, a sea of arms all swaying in time to the closing euphorics of ‘Hey Jude’.

Step away from the front-line of the audience, where the tone has now changed from an indie cover of ‘Call Me Maybe’ to some strain of Portuguese folk-rock, and you would find postgraduates dotted all around the Terrace Bar, and indeed, a swarm on the balcony, sharing lighters and stories of days, weeks, years, spent in the archives or the lab. People who lived together in their first year got a chance to catch up after five years and two degrees apart: one guy whom I knew when he was eighteen had to leave early to see the girl he was dating back then, and whom he is now marrying.

Back inside, stood around a table now littered with empty pint glasses, is a postgraduate football team, discussing their latest nail-biting match, occasionally forgetting themselves and repeating the kicks and jumps which sealed the last-minute winner. In another corner, people are exchanging stories of their first years of teaching, lamenting poor excuses and late-night marking, laughing over spilt chemicals and seminar faux-pas. Meanwhile, at the bar, there is a tussle to buy new companions drinks, often culminating in a bizarre comedy of errors, with everyone insisting that it’s their round. I spent many an hour in a Terrace Bar as an undergraduate at Warwick, and never did I know it as lively, as fun, as pleasant as at REx Fest.

Back in the union building, meanwhile, I spotted several heated games of table football, with people compulsively depleting small piles of fifty pence pieces in the pursuit of victory. The same went for the pool tables, where the atmosphere was a little quieter but no less heated. Much like an excellent musical performance, there is nothing to bring postgraduates together quite like a shared ineptitude at a game. I learnt that night that doing a PhD in Physics is not necessarily an advantage when it comes to playing pool. I guess you might need a calculator.

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Needless to say, the whole event worked a treat, and I must admit that despite my own initial scepticism at the whole thing, it was quite the night. I couldn’t believe that amongst the small circles of postgraduates there exists quite so much musical talent. At the end, I found myself giving a guy whom I had only met in the last three minutes a lift back to Kenilworth. In the car he talked candidly about his recent break-up. It really was that kind of evening.

One of the issues with the postgraduate lifestyle, certainly an issue which often gets mentioned on this blog, is how easy it is to find yourself isolated, cut off from the real world. It is essential for your sanity (and for your research) that you get the opportunity to put your studies to one side, even if just for an evening, and enjoy some music, some sport, some chatter. Sure, talk may well eventually turn back to your work, but that’s part and parcel of the whole shebang. If you imagine the world of research as a quiet one, full of plain green fields and the occasional hill, then REx Fest is like a dinosaur of fun and sociality, a tyrannosaurus REx, if you will.

Sorry. Sorry I wrote a whole blog post just to make one awful pun. You’ll thank me one day.


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