Making internal symposia a success

How many internal research days, symposia, PhD student conferences and the like are perceived as a little dull with only tiny snippets of new stuff presented, with mediocre talks reflecting minimum excitement, and above all low attendance by members of staff often only sneaking in for their own students?

This was not the case at the Biological and Environmental Sciences (BES) Winter Symposium 2013 held 3-4 December organised by Matt Tinsley.

Here is what STI-CS thinks made the difference.

  • The symposium was not advertised as a PhD training event but as a scientific symposium
  • Every student in their 2nd and 3rd year presented a short talk (15 mins), long enough to get the latest results across but short enough to give everyone a chance to talk in 1.5 days
  • First year students presented a poster to introduce themselves and to discuss their PhD plans
  • Students made a real effort to make their presentations interesting and engaging
  • It was in a proper conference room away from our normal office space so it felt more like a useful practice and you weren’t tempted to slip back to your office in the breaks (and then not return!)
  • Talks were organised into sessions that mixed subject areas and where people were in their PhD’s so there wasn’t overkill of particular subjects
  • Two plenary talks by enthusiastic professors on their research and a short section on how to become a scientist (bloody mindedness is key!). Thanks to Mike Billett and Andrew Tyler!
  • A great talk by a celebrity (filmmaker Gordon Buchanan)
  • An inspiring address by of one our departmental PhD alumni Dr Karen Spencer from St Andrews University.
  • Great attendance by staff throughout the whole symposium
  • A good mixture of friendly but challenging student and staff questions
  • Coverage of the symposium on twitter (yeah we created our own hashtag #BESWinter) and Facebook
  • Rubbish coffee so we have something to moan about and bond
  • No cookies on the first day, because who eats cannot speak/discuss
  • Cookies on the second day guarded by the poster presenters so that even the last person (more hungry than shy) introduces themselves to the new PhD students

Quote from a new PhD student:

“4 weeks into my time at the University of Stirling I presented a poster at the BES Winter Symposium and I have come away feeling welcomed, invested in and part of the team. Having professors and lecturers committed to giving time to PhD training and mentoring (outside of official supervision) is just fantastic and has made me feel that this department is going to be a brilliant place to do my PhD and begin my career as a conservation scientist.”

The BES Winter Symposium 2013 was a real success showcasing the fantastic and excellent research carried out in the division. It had a real vibe of excitement and enthusiasm for science, applied issues and challenges in a changing world. Thanks again to Matt Tinsley for organising a great symposium.

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