Residential Postgraduate Training Weekend at The Burn, Edzell

Below includes images and 2 student reports from this weekends event.

Caitlin Yool (2nd Year PhD student - Theology and Religious Studies)

Although I was only able to attend the latter half of the Burn, I found it an incredible experience, and it was without a doubt a great way to spend my birthday weekend. Besides being particularly apt for a History event, the atmosphere of staying in such a venerable country house surrounded by picturesque landscapes is indescribable and contributed immensely to the experience.

With all the demands of a connected modern life, spending a weekend at the Burn and being able to fully “disconnect” was a unique experience and one I would highly recommend to any research student. It allowed me to spend time getting to know fellow postgraduate researchers (and staff) without worrying about any of the other things that usually demand my attention.

What first encouraged me to attend the Burn was the prospect of showcasing my doctoral research to students and academic staff from a variety of different research areas and having the opportunity for them to ask me questions related to magic in the ancient world. This is without a doubt one of the main benefits of attending – some of the questions posed after my presentation have provided fertile ground for further exploration in my research.

Although the other staff and students presenting were mostly based in History, I found I was nonetheless able to follow the talks and participate in the discussion despite my own research being in Theology/Ancient Religion. Being able to make these interdisciplinary connections was one of the highlights of attending! I also wasn’t the only attendee with a background in Theology, as Fr Emsley Nimmo from St Margaret’s Episcopal Church gave a guest lecture on “Scottish Episcopalianism from the 17th to the early 19th century.”

Fr Emsley’s presentation was followed (after dinner) by a staff talk from Prof Robert Frost on “Plotting an Academic Career”, which also elicited input from other members of staff attending. The discussion included questions I hadn’t considered before – such as how to determine whether an institution is the right “fit” for you as an academic. As I am now in the second year of my PhD, I found these perspectives on career development in academia incredibly helpful, and they will definitely help me refine my own expectations and future plans.

Aside from the formal sessions, the weekend provided ample opportunity for informal discussion and socialising. It was refreshing to meet such an enthusiastic group of like-minded research students. This allowed for a valuable exchange of ideas and experiences on things like sub-honours teaching, working with your supervisor(s), and maintaining a healthy work-life balance.

The highlight of the entertainment programme was the quiz – though as an (albeit minor) cog in the winning team, Burn After Reading, I am probably biased! All in all, there was a great sense of community throughout the whole weekend. It is impossible to attend the Burn without making new friends, whether with your quiz teammates, your roommates, or the people you just happen to sit down next to at dinner!

If you’re suffering from writer’s block or the dreaded PhD slump, the Burn will provide a creative boost, revive your research enthusiasm, or at least reassure you that you’re not alone. Special thanks to my second supervisor, Dr Ehrenschwendtner, for letting me know about this event and putting me in touch with Prof Karin Friedrich!

Christopher Jason Moore (PGR), Caitlin Yool (PGR), Seluvaia ‘Ita (PGT)

After storm Arwen cruelly cut short our first attempt to gather for a residential postgraduate training weekend at the Burn – an 18th-century manor house now run by the Goodenough Trust near Edzell – we rescheduled the event for 25-27 February 2022. The storm damage was still clear to see while we trekked out there. Many woods were flattened, and storms Corrie and Malik even felled some of the staunch oak and beach trees that previously lined the drive.

This second attempt proved highly successful. Taught postgraduates and research students, including distance learners, congregated at the Burn keen to engage in an interdisciplinary exchange of ideas, and to expand their existing networks: students from history, art history, archaeology, religious studies, and English literature happily mingled. We held discussions with staff (Dr Mehrkens, Dr Bow, Dr Dilley and Professors Friedrich and Frost) on how to master the transition from undergraduate to taught postgraduate study, and from there to doctoral studies, how to take steps following a PhD to gain employment and tackle job interviews, how to get funding, and how academia was measured. Dr Richard Anderson and Dr Armstrong also added useful advice. Postgraduate taught students used the opportunity to inform everyone of their topics and received practical advice from staff and fellow students.

Located in the beautiful Scottish countryside, phone and internet reception at the Burn (despite having made great improvements in technology) was not always ideal, but this had advantages. Few people could be seen hiding behind screens. Instead, lively conversation between real people, not MS Teams and zoom meetings, took over - something we had missed for so long. Far away from the formal setting of supervisions, we could address practical aspects of postgraduate life and study sometimes omitted within the university setting. A highly entertaining quiz night – thanks to Cameron Flint and Hayden McCracken - was followed by singing, live music on guitar, flute and piano, and merriment into the early hours. We are grateful to the brilliant staff of the Burn who fed us with excellent breakfast, lunch, and dinner for two days.

We are grateful to the School of DHPA and the Centre of Early Modern studies for sponsoring the event. It allowed us to make new connections, discover shared interests, gain new knowledge, and find new contacts. A comradery was built during the lovely get-away that had been dearly desired since lock-down. Along with the ambience of the location, fruitful discussion and the free-flowing of ideas, the Burn weekend brought a greater sense of community for all postgraduates.

 

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