February 25, 2013

University of Warwick French Studies Postgraduate Conference

Writing about web page http://www2.warwick.ac.uk/fac/arts/french/current/pg/conference/2013/

On Friday 22nd February the French Postgraduate Conference took place in the Wolfson Research Exchange. The broad theme was 'Place and Space', and each student presented a fascinating paper. It was an excellent opportunity to share our current research interests, and to set our thinking about these themes in the wider context of French studies.

Those presenting papers explored the themes of place and space in a variety of ways, and a number of interesting connections were made. I found it particularly interesting to hear about the place of politics in works of fiction, for example Jonathan Durham's paper questioning whether Le Mariage du Figaro constituted a balcony onto the French Revolution. It was good to be exposed to lesser known areas, such as the insect world of the 18th Century (Elisabeth Wallmann) and the London Drag scene (Kayte Stokoe), as well as revisiting themes more familiar to me, like the city as text (the theme of my MA dissertation), and the complexities of working with translation (Sarah Blaney).

David Lees shared some helpful pointers on teaching skills, and Dr. Emma Smith signalled the wide range of research development opportunities on offer at the University. Upcoming workshops can be found here.

We also heard from Dr. Liz Jones about the changing relations between geography and literature, as she emphasised the importance of mapping complex (multilingual, multidisciplinary), contemporary space in literature and other art forms. Her own research explores the relationships between space, place and life-writing.

What I found particularly helpful was that in presenting to a wider (:not exclusively postcolonial) audience, I was asked questions about things I hadn't previously considered in great detail. A number of very interesting issues were raised and as a result I will be looking further into, among other things: how far Monénembo's language choices reflect the violence of the texts' content; whether the representation of gender relations is wholly pessimistic; parallels to be found with French 20th Century novels especially as regards the insidious spreading of autocratic rule.

Abstracts of most of the papers can be found here and my own paper, entitled 'Contesting Space in Monénembo's Novels: the threat of dictatorship in Les Crapauds-Brousse' can be found here: contesting_space_in_monnembo.docx.

Many thanks to Merryn Everitt and Sarah Blaney for organising the day!

December 07, 2012

Aiming to be an effective researcher

Not wanting the wealth of information I got from the RSSP's recent worshop to go to waste, I thought I'd note down here the most significant things I learnt. I cannot recommend this service highly enough: apart from the information below, I also spent the day being encouraged, affirmed and inspired by Emma and Alex, and got the chance to meet other new PhD students. It was so helpful to talk through challenges like project planning and miscommunication with other people at a similar stage, but from a number of different disciplines.

A few of our thoughts on what makes an effective researcher

Surround yourself with people (those who will support you; those who will stretch you)
Maintain a balanced and healthy lifestyle, with lots of breaks to refresh perspective
Write from the very beginning (no matter what it is you write)
Think creatively and seek inspiration widely
Reflect regularly

Key questions to ask throughout research

is expected of me?
resources do I have?
am I doing?
obstacles are there in my way?

am I going to achieve this?
will I overcome my obstacles?

am I doing this?
has the project been developed?
is this unique and original?

am I responsible to?
will be able to help me?
will monitor my progress?
is interested in my work?

does it finish?
will I know when I've done enough?
are the internal deadlines?

Make the most of Warwick

The Research Student Skills Programme is a comprehensive programme of workshops, events, support and resources. They have plenty of other helpful workshops; see what's coming up here.

As well as multiple training opportunities, there are great spaces to work as a graduate on campus. The Wolfson Research Exchange is always full of interesting people, and the Postgraduate Hub is another excellent space for relaxed work (individually or in groups).

Online presence

It is becoming increasingly important for researchers to develop an online profile, and there are a several possibilities for this. The Warwick Portfolio is an excellent resource, through which you can track your progress in every area of professional development. The ePortfolio provides a space for summarising your research and recording evidence of publications, conferences and other achievements.

Self awareness

A PhD offers a unique opportunity for growing in self awareness: as you persevere through independent study, you grow in understanding of your own needs and expectations, as well as your preferred approaches to learning and teaching. It is important to be conscious, in particular, of how you approach a number of things:
- Project planning (Am I a minor detail or a big picture person?)
- Time management (Do I like to structure each day, or prefer to go with the flow?)
- Communication (Am I clear in conveying what I need? Do I address problems head on?)
- Deadlines (Do I see these as flexible or concrete?)
- Writing (Do I have particular standards for the work I produce?)

Relating to your supervisor and colleagues

We touched on the importance of structuring meetings, being clear about your purpose, and being assertive from the beginning of your first year (in spite of feeling inexperienced). It is important to think of your supervisor as your equal, not somebody far ahead of you who doesn't have time for you. A good supervisor will be interested, encouraging, reliable, and committed to pushing you forwards in your research and in your involvement with the wider field. A good postgraduate researcher will tell her supervisor what she needs from him! Be organised, honest (really honest), professional, enthusiastic, faithful to deadlines, and open to assessment and advice. There is great potential in these working relationships.

This is an overview of a workshop attended on November 1st 2012. How to be an Effective Researcher is a three session course run by the Research Student Skills Programme. More extensive notes can be found in my booklet from this workshop, in my research development folder.

Many other resources are available online:
Vitae: realising the potential of researchers
Mindtools: essential skills for an excellent career
Mindmapping skills

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  • Great to hear you got so much out of the day, Hannah – I did too, for the parts I was able to attend… by on this entry
  • Hannah, This is great. Thinking about it in your terms is so incredibly valuable and thanks for the … by Alex on this entry

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