BY RUTH SQUIRE, PHD CANDIDATE (SHEFFIELD INSTITUTE OF EDUCATION)
On 10th April I joined ten other doctoral students in presenting a poster at the SIPS Doctoral Student Poster Competition. Now in its third year, the competition and associated event present an opportunity for PhD students across the University to showcase their research and receive feedback from academics and fellow students across the Faculty of Social Sciences and Humanities.
Below: Ruth Squire (centre) with her poster “Third Sector Organisations in Widening Participation” and PHD Supervisor Professor Colin McCaig (second from the left) with event judges Professor Christina Beatty (far left) and Professor Tony Taylor (second from the right) and event organiser Jill Dickinson (far right).
I had entered a proposal in the hope that the deadline and public forum would help me to start clarifying exactly what it was I wanted to communicate about my research, especially to those outside my discipline. As a first year PhD candidate, I am still coming up with lots of questions (of varying usefulness!) and the challenge of the poster format, where I would need to be clear and concise about my research, was really appealing. I had also heard from students who had entered last year that it had enabled them to have valuable discussions and gave them new perspectives on their research ideas.
In the lead up to the event, as well as some written guidelines for our poster layout and content, the organising team arranged a briefing where we heard tips from previous winners and got to meet other students taking part. This helped me to start thinking a bit more creatively about the poster format, my audience and what I wanted to get out of the experience. My previous associations with academic posters were of dry and text heavy documents, displayed on the edge of conferences or left for years in a university corridor – in short, not entirely encouraging! I’m happy to say that the experience of this competition has definitely changed my mind about the possibilities of academic posters. Not only were the posters in the competition visually engaging, they covered a whole range of complex ideas and possibilities for impact across many different disciplines. During the afternoon I learned a great deal about other students’ research but was also able to make connections between our ideas and discuss shared challenges. I met students and academics from different disciplines whose questions about my poster challenged me to think about my methods and what I wanted my research to achieve. It was a busy afternoon, but we were well fuelled by tea and cake!
At the end of the event I was really thrilled to be awarded the prize for Impact. Recognition for the potential of my research and how I was able to communicate it meant a lot to me personally at this early stage and is great motivation for the next few years.
As is often talked about, doing a PhD can be an isolating experience – sometimes an emotional challenge as well as an academic one. Although I undoubtedly benefitted from taking part in the competition as a researcher, it was also helpful as a student wanting to be part of a research community at the university. Having the opportunity to talk about my research with students AND staff at different levels, as well as learning about theirs, was a highlight of my time so far at SHU. Events like this are so important for postgraduate students and I’d like to offer a huge thanks to organisers Jill Dickinson, Phil Whitby, Tracey Holland, Joe McMullan, Sophie Negus and Ed Noon, as well as judges Professor Christina Beatty and Professor Tony Taylor for making it such a great experience. I’ll definitely be encouraging PhD students at all stages to get involved next year.
The SIPS Doctoral Student Poster Competition is internally sponsored by the Sheffield Institute for Policy Studies (SIPS) and the Graduate School. Prizes are provided by the event’s sponsors Oxford University Press, Palgrave and Blackwell’s.