Thursday, 10 December 2015

"What should I wear?!" - My first conference as a PhD student

Guest post by Roxanne Armstrong, PhD student at Sunderland University

First of all, let me introduce myself. My name is Roxanne and I am currently doing a PhD at the University of Sunderland and I am part of the Fuse partnership. On the 18 – 20 November I attended my first ever conference, the UKCRC public health conference that took place in Edinburgh. I am going to use this blog to guide you through my experience, not to include the academic research that was presented. Hopefully providing an insight into what the “First Conference” feels like for a PhD student.

I am writing this blog, because despite being surrounded by a really supportive supervisory team, there are some things you just wouldn’t ask. A few examples; “do you think a four inch wedge is too formal for the day events? How about with jeans? Do I wear a dress for the conference dinner? Are flat shoes okay?”. This list goes on… This “fashion anxiety” led me to take a suitcase that could clothe a small town, four pairs of shoes and an array of eye shadow shades that a stylist from London fashion week would be proud of.

I started my journey on the train. A busy, smelly, full train. I had reserved a seat, sure, but due to me being (possibly overly) kind, I let someone take it. I glanced around and saw some other Fuse members that I recognised; I braved going over and introducing myself and ended up having a really nice, chatty trip to Edinburgh. Hurdle one – accomplished!
Professor John Frank, Director of  SCPHRP, got into the Scottish spirit at the conference dinner
Second hurdle, accommodation. Would I have a bed? Would I be sharing with a stranger that was prone to sleepwalking? How about free toiletries? I had no idea what to expect and have heard some fairly scathing reviews about conference accommodation. When I walked into my room I practically had to call someone to pick my jaw up off the floor. My accommodation was bigger than my own house! Bed? Check. Free toiletries? Check. Oh and two double beds, two plasma TVs and a kitchen area. I felt like Kate Middleton; surely this means I have made it in the world….

The third hurdle I faced was being in a sociable environment with people I’d only ever seen in a professional light. This was the most rewarding aspect for me; making connections, talking about normal things with lovely, like minded people. We shared mealtime and a couple of drinks and I finished the first evening with people I now class as friends.
Making connections with lovely like minded people
The conference itself was another challenge; I was full of nerves thinking about all of the other academics that would be there and how I’d act around them, but in truth it was so easy going. I was engaging with lots of approachable individuals with a lot of knowledge to share and exchange. I left the conference sessions feeling excited for my own future and how I was so grateful that I have such a diverse and welcoming community around me for at least the next three years and hopefully many more after that.

If I had to give some advice to someone who had never been to a conference before it would be the following: be open minded – every conference is different and you will find yourself being a social chameleon, adapting to whoever you meet, this is a great skill to develop. Secondly, enjoy it! I enjoyed every minute and really made the most of it. Finally, take as many free pens as your pocket will allow… That’s what they’re there for!

Oh, and I couldn’t end this blog without telling you – I opted for three inch wedge boots, jeans and a neutral shade of eye shadow. You’re welcome.

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