Abi O’Connor, Sociology, University of Liverpool, 2018 Cohort
Over the past few years it’s become apparent that everyone’s reasons for pursuing a PhD differ (and can change over time). For me personally, one of the most appealing aspects was the opportunity to travel, both near and far, which would allow me to get to know people from various institutions be it through conference participation, attending seminars or conducting fieldwork.
Whilst not always as glamorous as those outside of academia might bill it, the opportunity to visit new places as part of work is a privilege I, amongst others, are very happy to take advantage of! Nonetheless, undertaking a PhD is accompanied with particular financial constraints which can – at times – be stressful. Financial burdens can lead to missed opportunities in fields which demand upwards of £200 for conference registration fees alone. These figures are exclusionary even before you factor in travel and accommodation costs – which tend to be high with many conferences, particularly large ones, occurring in (often) high-end venues in major cities across the world.
Our paper was part of a panel which marked 40 years since Neil Smith’s publication “Toward a Theory of Gentrification: A Back to the City Movement By Capital Not People” in which he outlined his first conceptualization of the rent gap as a necessary, causative determinant of gentrification. I should note here that for many, including myself, the thought of attending conferences is sometimes daunting – with the concept of ‘networking’ or awkward moments of standing alone in a crowded room being one causes you to shudder. Those presenting alongside us on the panel were people whose work I have cited throughout my academic studies, work which has been instrumental in shaping my PhD project. With this in mind it’s safe to say I was grateful to be presenting with someone I knew (and who knew me well) when I read those names in the programme! I arrived a few days before the conference, which if possible, is beneficial as it allows time to get to know the place in which you’re staying – diminishing the fear of getting lost on route to the main event! Preparing for the presentation and attending panels challenged me intellectually and enhanced my understanding of the field in both broad and nuanced ways, opening up new avenues within my research.
When asked if I have any advice to give to those just starting their PhD, I would say to always remember what it’s like to read and write for pleasure – and continue to do it. We spend so much time desperately quickly scanning papers and books for purpose – to collect data, quotes, ideas – that often it’s easy to forget that for many of us, our interest in academia derived from a love of reading and/or writing which developed at a young age. Spending time away from your office and the tasks of everyday life – whilst away at conferences, for example – can allow you the space to remember this. For me, a significant advantage of being away from the usual places I work is a better ability to focus, perhaps as I’m detatched from the endless procrastination possibilities which come with being at home or on campus. I found time to think about what I was working on in different ways, developing new ways of approaching problems I’d been focused on for a while. I found writing inspiration in new surroundings and allowed myself the time and space to appreciate where I was on my academic journey. In short – I’m grateful to the ESRC NWSSDTP for the opportunities made available to us and encourage, where possible, students to take advantage of these as part of their PhD journey.
It is no secret that these barriers actively restrict PGRs from participating in conferences, events that we’re told are crucial to our development and career trajectory. However, through the various funding opportunities offered by the NWSSDTP I have been able to take advantage of opportunities which otherwise would not have been possible. Specifically, the advance payment process for overseas conferences under the Research Training and Support Grant (RTSG) meant that I was able to take up the opportunity to present research at the Nordic Geographers Meeting in Trondheim with one of my supervisors, Dr Kirsteen Paton. Gaining this financial support before attending the conference meant that I was able to pay for travel and accommodation in advance which was crucial, particularly as some other funding opportunities require students to claim-back expenses after having attended the event. The RTSG application process was simple and did not demand hours of extra work: I emailed our abstract and a break-down of the estimated cost of the trip to the DTP office and then awaited approval for advanced funding (which was, thankfully, very swift!).