March 4, 2013, by ICCSR

My experience at the ARCS PhD Sustainability Academy

In October last year, I had the opportunity to participate in the 2012 PhD Sustainability Academy, an annual event of the Alliance for Research on Corporate Sustainability (ARCS) hosted by the Richard Ivey School of Business (University of Western Ontario) in Canada. The purpose of the event was to assist PhD students in developing papers for publication.

The event gathered 15 PhD students and 8 faculty members for 5 days of intense discussion on the theme Theories and Paradigms for Sustainability. The guest faculty included Oana Branzei (the organizer from Richard Ivey School of Business, The University of Western Ontario), Tima Bansal (Richard Ivey School of Business, The University of Western Ontario), Bobby Banerjee (School of Business, University of Western Sydney), Joshua Margolis (Harvard Business School), Andy Spicer (Darla Moore School of Business, University of South Carolina), and Madhu Viswanathan (University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign). The conference also included a panel discussion with Mike Toffel (Harvard Business School) and Marian Chertow (Yale School of Forestry and Environmental Studies).

The students were working on diverse sustainability topics such as microfinance in India, social movement boycotts, the materiality of chemical emissions and sustainability reporting in the mining industry. There were no formal presentations for this event. Instead, each student had to very briefly introduce the focus of their paper, explain where the paper would fit into their academic journey and finally list the specific areas where they needed feedback to bring the article forward. All of this in 5 minutes maximum! After this brief introduction, each student was given a one-hour timeslot where the audience would discuss the paper and provide feedback on how to bring the paper to a 4 star journal standard. 

This conference was probably the most intensive event I have ever attended as a PhD student, but I left it with constructive, honest and really valuable feedback on my work.

Why it’s interesting to attend doctoral conferences

Many academics seem to have negative opinions of PhD events, as they feel those events are just a waste of time and that efforts should be put on attending “real” conferences instead. From my point of view, PhD events can be really useful for many reasons such as:

  • They are generally small-scale events with a good ratio between students and faculty. The smaller number of participants makes it less daunting to network. I found that these events also provide good opportunities to meet people you will later see when you attend larger conferences and slowly build a good network.
  • PhD events often attract ‘top’ academics. I was really amazed by the generous and constructive feedback I received on my paper and by how approachable the guest faculty were at the ARCS PhD Academy. Those events are often a good opportunity to get feedback from the people you cite in your work.
  • They get you talking with like-minded people. At Ivey, I found a community of people with whom I share research interests. Doing a PhD can sometimes feel lonely, so it is refreshing to spend a few days talking to other students and academics from the same field and remember why you chose your area of research. I find that attending the PhD academy gave me some motivation to drive my research forward and it made me realize that there is an audience out there for my work.
  • They provide a deadline. This can act as a great motivation to finish a paper that has been sitting around for a while.

All in all, the Ivey PhD academy was a seriously productive week in terms of getting feedback on my work, meeting people in my field and learning about new avenues of sustainability research.

If you are a PhD student working in the sustainability field, I highly recommend applying for next year edition! For more information on the ARCS PhD Sustainability Academy: Also, some pictures of the Academy:

By Laurence Vigneau.  Laurence is a doctoral researcher at the ICCSR, Nottingham University Business School.

Image source ARCS Facebook page:

Posted in Academic ACTIVITY