July 5, 2021, by Postgraduate Placements Nottingham

Considering virtual conferences as an aid, not a hindrance

Abigail Williams, a final year PhD student in the School of English, reflects on attending an online conference with help from the Researcher Academy’s Online Conference Fund.

~ Abigail

The world at present is a difficult place, including in academia. Although we cannot work in the same way as before, the academic community implemented changes to allow researchers to interact virtually with annual meetups now available via Zoom and Microsoft Teams (drinks not included). Conferences are a lifeline for networking, presenting research, and scoping out future projects for myself as a final year PhD student. New virtual conferences and events are much more affordable for students, but they are also a strain on the student budget. Most students attend several conferences a year, and most are also forced to pick and choose which ones they attend. That is why the Online Conference Fund (OCF) was a godsend!

The conference for the International Society for the Study of Early Medieval England (ISSEME) presented a golden opportunity to share my thesis research. ISSEME offered a wide range of papers, speakers, offers, and (most importantly) a mentoring scheme, which I found very appealing. However, the conference price and added membership fee felt daunting as a self-funded student. Once the committee accepted my paper, I began the hunt for funding. I found out about the OCF from emails communicated by the school, but also through the prompts of my supervisors, and decided to give it a go. After I received the email informing me that my application was successful, I immediately went back to the conference programme with renewed excitement.

“These virtual settings are a brilliant way to connect and reconnect with other like-minded researchers and enthusiasts after a long gap of restrictions.”

The society accepted my application for a mentor (a professor who shared my research interests in the USA) and, before long, I had a full four days planned out. I wanted to make the most of this conference, especially since not only would several big names in my field be in attendance but also some of my fellow PhD students from abroad. These virtual settings are a brilliant way to connect and reconnect with other like-minded researchers and enthusiasts after a long gap of restrictions.

After all the planning, writing, pre-presentation panic, and time zone checks, the conference was a huge success! I presented my research to many people whom I would not have had the chance to under normal circumstances. The online social rooms provided a relaxed place to catch up with my friends in the Netherlands. I also made some new contacts over in Brazil! It was during these sessions that I also got the chance to ask some of the other presenters about their work. They offered me constructive feedback about my paper and insight into my methodology. It was a very welcoming and helpful community. The whole event was well organised and engaging despite the lack of face-to-face meetings, some technical camera glitches, and rogue pets.

My advice to anyone who might be considering applying for funding or whether they should attend virtual conferences is to go for it! They offer a wonderful experience for students whether you are presenting a paper or just want to listen to the newest research. I am very grateful to the OCF for helping me to make the most of the opportunity, and I encourage anyone to consider the virtual format as an aid, not a hindrance, to academic life as a student.

You can find out more about the Online Conference Fund here.

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