SWDTP Conference 2021 – Getting Through It: Uncertainty in Research

Wednesday 10 November 2021, We the Curious, Bristol

After what has been a very challenging year and a half for all research disciplines where research students had to deal with unprecedented circumstances and find ways to show resilience in “getting through” with their research; this year’s conference theme is adaptation in the face of uncertainty.

The SWDTP held its 10th annual conference at the We the Curious Museum, Bristol. Amidst 18 months of pandemic related uncertainty, it seemed fitting that this year event encouraged the SWDTP postgraduate researchers (PGRs) to reflect upon the nature of uncertainty in research, and from these reflections, share their wisdom and insight. The event kicked off with a warm welcome from Professor Deborah Wilson, who reminded the students of their strength for completing research in such a difficult time, and that in the post-covid world, with increased funding, the social sciences had arguably become more important than ever. Our PGRs then spent the morning presenting, discussing, and exploring ways of embracing uncertainty when researching young people, the dangers of striving for too much certainty in professional education and healthcare environments and how the PGRs adapted their projects in response to the Pandemic.

Lunch provided a well-needed chance for everybody to gather, enjoy some food, network, and check out the excellent selection of posters submitted for the research poster competition. Dr Lindsey Horner then provided the keynote speech, calling for the embracing of uncertain outcomes in research. This talk set the students up nicely for an afternoon of exploring how their research participants adapted to uncertainty and how creative methods can mitigate against covid-based research restrictions. Further panels also considered the relationship between AI, music, and inequality to uncertainty. The discussions were fruitful, and students enjoyed the opportunity to spend time collectively sharing and searching for new insight, in a friendly and supportive environment.
Throughout the day there was also the opportunity to get involved in several workshops. Two of these workshops, run by the mental health charity ‘mind’, facilitated a discussion on wellbeing, and how research students can protect it through their postgraduate life. Dr Molly Conisbee’s Collaboration workshop also reminded researchers of the excellent opportunities the SWDTP provides for collaborative activities and PGRs of the key principles for effective collaboration.

Ending the day on a high, Dr Nasrul Ismail shared his inspiring and deeply personal story about the last 6 months of his PhD. A journey from feeling overwhelmed by uncertainty, during the covid-19 lockdown, to publishing several papers and finding a full-time position at the University of Bristol. Finally, after some comedic closing remarks from the SWDTP director Rich Harris, who also awarded Sarah McLoughlin a prize for best poster, everybody joined together a final time We the Curious’ roof terrace. A scenic spot overlooking Bristol, for a few well-deserved drinks!

A huge thank you to the conference committee members. From left to right: Kieran, Uygar, Jess, Scholastica, Paula and Owen (and Flo who was unable to make it on the day).