Roots and Reach in Review


Roots and Reach: The 12th Annual Manchester Metropolitan University Postgraduate Conference in Review.

Rebecca Wynne-Walsh

The 2020 iteration of MMU’s postgraduate research conference took place with resounding success on the 4th of March. The theme this year was the postgraduate journey, beginning with the roots and inspiration of each individuals research to desires and logistics of its eventual reach, dissemination and external impact. 

The event was hosted at MMU’s student union, which proved an excellent conference centre. The main hall was used as an effective locus for the day as a venue for welcoming delegates, hosting coffee and lunch breaks. The space was also intelligently utilised as an extension of the conference as it hosted an exhibition of the research posters. The posters formed comfortable research pods in the main hall and addressed a wide range of themes including but by no means limited to, nineteenth century Anglo-American naval relations; teaching English as a foreign language; micro facial-recognition technology and contemporary debates on de-stigmatising mental health among young men. 

The proceedings were divided into three main panel sessions, two keynote speakers and one session of three-minute lightning talks. The main panels were organised around carefully selected general themes; ‘Sustainable Futures’ for example included discussions ranging from sodium-ion batteries to veganism; ‘Information, Communication and Technology’ addressed the future of the cyborg and explored virtual community formation. 

Undoubtedly, one of the most popular panels of the day was the ‘Creative Writing’ session which featured three MMU based researchers. Sarah K. Perry discussed ‘Affect-as-Methodology in Feminist Creative Writing’, Sarah Jasmon then addressed the pressures of finding a balance between creative and critical projects, finally, Anna Turner detailed how her practice-based creative writing PhD methodology involved woodland walking in relation to its inspiration of her fiction writing. Such panels directly focussed on practise-based, creative PhD’s offered a refreshing and dynamic divergence from standardised conference formats which traditionally maintain a strictly theoretical focus. 

Given the theme of the day – Roots and Reach – another incredibly insightful panel was the ‘Personal Reflections’ session, which saw three researchers look back on a particularly challenging aspect of their work or a difficult period and discuss the measures taken to overcome the obstacles presented throughout the research journey. A highlight of this panel was Daniel Skentelbery’s (Keele University) presentation ‘Raiders of the Lost Methodology’ which paralleled the development of his research methodology with the plot of Spielberg’s 1981 classic in a highly creative and engaging manner. Aysha Mazhar (Keele University) then detailed the benefits of maintaining a PhD diary while Laura Mafizzoli (University of Manchester) initiated an important and indeed essential discussion on dealing with sexual misconduct and traumatic incidents of harassment when conducting fieldwork and indeed throughout one’s career. 

Another highpoint of the day were the three-minute lightning talks which incorporated everything from the psychological effects of interactive television, the relationship between emotional intelligence and nursing assistant’s personal development, padded clothing in rugby and black UK cancer survivors’ experiences of care continuity. These talks, though rapid were massively informative bite-size samples of lots of research projects. This session proved ideal in combating the post-lunch mental slump as the quick-fire nature of the talks was as exciting as it was educational. 

The success of the conference must be credited to the superb efforts of the organisation committee Zoe Siobhan Bibbon (academic lead), Freya Ernsting (committee chair), George Hurst (volunteer co-ordinator), Matthew Hutchinson (event manager), Magda Marchowska-Raza (marketing and communications), David Mee (techology and distance engagement), and Sarah Walker (artistic Director and brochure lead). The conference ultimately served to encourage interdisciplinary dialogues, to bridge gaps between the arts and the sciences, the critical and the creative, all in a highly respectful yet intellectually stimulating environment which allowed both the researchers present and the research being presented, to flourish and inspire.