Peter Panayi, Psychology, University of Manchester (2020 Cohort)
In September 2021, I attended my first conference: the European Association for Behavioural and Cognitive Therapies (EABCT) 2021 in Belfast, NI. I had completed the first study of my PhD at this point, and presented the findings thereof as part of a wider symposium on trauma in people with psychosis.
Attended primarily by psychological therapists, the conference comprised of various keynotes, symposia, posters and workshops. I primarily attended talks directly relevant to my PhD – for instance, the role of attachment difficulties in the development of psychosis, but the diversity of topics on offer was attractive. I found myself enjoying talks on persistent physical symptoms, or parental interventions. In this sense, the conference built my knowledge of my project, as well as wider developments within my discipline. These unrelated talks were a welcome break from my typical PhD worries, giving me the chance to just enjoy science being done.
Primarily, though, I attended the conference to present the findings of my first PhD study. I had presented to my colleagues and peers previously in online divisional seminars, but this didn’t quite prepare me for the face-to-face format. Starting my PhD during the pandemic, I’ve grown used to sharing my screen and presenting to a faceless void hidden from my screen. There could only have been about 30 people in the room, but still my voice shook as I gave my talk and I was convinced I made little sense. My colleagues assured me that I came across calm, clear and informed. The talk was recorded for remote audiences – one colleague recommended I watch myself back to prove to myself that I had done well…
I decided to give it a try. I did indeed get so nervous that what came out was an old version of my presentation, which didn’t quite match the information on my slides. Yet, I did come across clear and confident. The moral of the story? As academics, we can be our own harshest critics. We might stumble, but we won’t always fall. I’m sure I was not the only speaker to mess up my presentation thanks to nerves. The reception of my presentation was quite positive, and I’ve learned to be more present in the moment of a presentation, in future. Another colleague reminded me to trust myself and my skills. I’m not sure whether I would have taken on these ideas without the face-to-face conference format.
A final, fundamental experience of attending the conference was building my relationships with my supervisor and research team. Exploring a new city together (mostly finding places where we could catch up on work comfortably) was a bonding experience, and something I’m grateful for. I funded the trip with the NWSSDTP’s Research Training and Support Grant (RTSG). Not only did they cover the cost of the conference ticket, this also covered the travel and accommodation costs, without which I could not have attended. I would highly encourage other DTP students to consider attending future conferences via the RTSG to develop your presentation skills, build research networks and extend your knowledge of cutting-edge findings.