Dr Sam Miller of the School of Medicine, Medical Sciences and Nutrition tells us about changing a symposium into a conference in order to improve both session attendance and the learning experience for 1st and 3rd year PGR students presenting their research orally. 

Problem

All 1st and 3rd year PGR students are required to present their research orally to the School.  This is an element of monitoring and progression.  Previously this was organised by Graduate School staff and PGR co-ordinators as a symposium, held twice a year. We wanted to enhance the PGR experience of this process, improve and reenergise the experience for students and staff alike.  We aimed to improve attendance of sessions and also provide a learning experience.

Solution

We decided to change the organisation and format of the symposium into a Conference, starting with Winter 2017 and recently with the Summer 2018 Conference.  We recruited a volunteer team of PGR students from across the School into a ‘PGR Conference Organising Committee’ and with them devised a new format whereby as well as the student talks we also included workshops and plenary talks.  The student organisers take the lead on all aspects of organising the conference.  Speakers apply by submitting an abstract and their presentation has to be submitted ahead of the Conference.  The format of the talks were altered to reflect current practice at conferences; now 1st years have 3-3-3 format ie 3 slides, 3 mins talk and 3 mins questions on “Overcoming a Research Challenge” and 3rd years have a 10 min, 10 slide talk on ‘‘Impact and Benefits of Research’’ ie ‘So What?’’.  The School has many different types and subject area of research project and sessions are organised now by year of student rather than by discipline to encourage audience attendance of all types of project talks, and to facilitate a more interdisciplinary approach to science communication. Each session of talks is chaired by a PGR student and we also have academic staff as judges.  We also include workshops in the schedule, for example, to date we have held workshops on ‘Social Media and Science’, ‘Publishing during your PhD’, and ‘How to survive your PhD’, presented by guest speakers or in the latter example by recently submitted PhD students.  The workshops and guest lectures provide both a way of focussing the Conference on a theme but also enhancing learning at stages throughout the PGR experience.

Evaluation

Feedback from audience to each speaker is collated and forwarded to them following the Conference.  We have observed an increase in feedback across the conference and to all speakers.  We also have prizes for best speaker from each session, judged by the session and an academic member of staff.  These prizes are awarded at the end of the conference. 

Impact

Session attendance and feedback forms have improved. The organising Committee have gained valuable experiences.  There have been many positive comments from both staff and students around this revised format, with a sense that this now reflects a “proper” conference, rather than an in house research presentation.  The Postgraduate Research School has highlighted this as an example of excellent practice and will be facilitating sharing this across the University as a model for other Schools.