And what a place it was.
Fresh of the back of the SSHM annual conference (I was naughty and left a day early, sadly), I naturally felt a blog coming on. First and foremost I wanted to say…what a good bloody time I had. Canterbury is wonderful. It’s a place I’ve always wanted to visit (one of a very long list) and I reckon I’ve fallen a little bit in love. I’m going to have to find plenty of excuses to go back there, I think. More than that though, it was such a friendly, encouraging event. I’d previously helped to organise a SSHM/Wellcome postgrad conference and found it very much the same. Helpful direction on your work. People taking a genuine interest. The incredible variety of research fields and topics represented that gave you the research envy… for postgrads, especially those of you just getting used to conferences, these are events I’d highly recommend.
Because networking can be hard, as I’ve whinged about on here before. Forget teaching, marking, quantitative research and SPSS and all of that; networking is the hardest skill I’ve had to learn as a PhD student or doctoral candidate or whatever you want to call it. Coming in from a taught masters on a course where I already pretty much knew everyone from undergrad, networking made me feel awkward and anxious the first couple of times but the only I’ve found to get over that is to approach people and then you realise, ‘Hey, no one’s not looking at me like I have a third head. Huh.’ It’s what you’re expected to do at these events, and there are always!! people thinking/feeling the same as you. So take the plunge.
But, back to the conference. Needless to say there were some brilliant panels. The first I attended ended up a brilliant, integrated group discussion about gender and alcoholism with Lesley Hulonce, Kate Taylor and Craig Stafford. Craig’s talk in particular caught my attention as he spoke a little bit about pressure to drink amongst women in working class communities and the quite malicious intent behind this sometimes. It’s a perspective I’ve never encountered before and I think adds something quite significant to perspectives of alcoholism, class and women.
Natasha Feiner and Lynsey Shaw Cobden’s paper on Psychology and Pilots was great, too, though it had to compete with – and I am definitely not kidding here – ‘Putting Shit in its Place: Excremental Politics in the Twentieth Century’. See this, this, is why you just have to love history. Here’s some of the finer tweets the #sshm16 tag got on twitter
My own presentation got a pretty good reception I’m grateful to say, and got some really helpful feedback and food for future thought. I was on a panel with Louise Hide and, quite rightly so, her paper went down a storm. Neurology, Psychiatry and Psychology, mental health and mental health services were represented pretty brilliantly, actually, at this conference and #teammadness, managed to work ghosts, blind river dolphins and a direct Trump-Caligula-Wilhelm II comparison which may have been my favourite moment of the conference. Make no mistake, I am in the best field ever.
These conferences are also pretty great for postgrad events and the SSHM seems pretty keen on integrating these events rather than isolating us wee PGs into a conference corner. I personally gave Ray Laurence’s talk on ‘Social Media and Future Historians’ a try. Now – obviously I’m a fan of social media, but I’m still learning how to use it to its full potential. We got some really good pointers here in how to use social media, who to approach and potential projects – and a good giggle out of it, too, I might add. Social media is becoming more important. It’s not just about relevancy but about access, too. It’s about reaching a wider, more varied, international audience and doing it far more quickly than you would otherwise be able to. And, on a teaching not, not giving students and excuse for not checking emails and notice boards. Sorry, what was that?
The good thing about these kinds of conferences, too, is that they give you a chance to step out of your comfort zone. I went to the panel on ‘Sites for Medical Education’ and was introduce to the lovely worlds of Dutch scrofula, seventeenth century medical guest books and post-war medical education and I have to say, the speakers did a great job in making their work accessible to completely ignorant audience members. Kate Grauvogel’s paper was one of my favourites though – and anyone who reads this will know my soapbox position on saving the poor , wee, desolate asylums going to ruin. Sweden knows how it’s done. Be more like Sweden, world. Be more like Sweden.
All in all it was a fantastic event. I met some brilliant people, postgrads like me, early-career researchers and established academics, the lovely folks from the Wellcome Trust and funding and publishing gurus… although as is the way with the massive conferences, there were some I unfortunately missed. A conference poet and a conference artists? How many can say they had that?