Are you beginning your 2nd year? The BGRS would like to hear from you!

WRITING

Are you just beginning your 2nd year as a Birkbeck PhD student?

As the new 2018/19 academic year begins we hope you are looking forward to diving back in to your research. In order to give our new intake of PhD students a better picture of what their first year might entail, we would like to hear from those of you who are just beginning your second year as a doctoral researchers at Birkbeck.

We would aim to include your answers in a profile piece on the BGRS blog during the Autumn term.

For those who are willing to take part we would ask you to reply to some of the following questions  about your first year as a research student; and you would be welcome to add any other experiences that you think are relevant:

  • Were there any aspects of beginning your PhD that you found especially challenging and how were you able to overcome this?
  • What are the key achievements or milestones from your first year and how do these fit with your aims for the second year?
  • What role has your supervisor played during your first year?
  • What advice would you give other students who are just beginning as doctoral researchers at Birkbeck or to staff who have responsibilities for supporting or supervising PhD students?
  • What were the highlights of your first year?
  • What are you looking forward to most as you begin your second year?
  • Was there any training or resource that you would particularly recommend to first year PhD students?
  • How well have you been able to balance the work required to begin your PhD with other family, work or other commitments?

Tea and coffee invitation

Those who agree to take part will be invited to share some free tea and coffee in G20 with others who contributed to the piece, later in the term.

Contact us

Please do contact us if you would be willing to share your experiences for this blog piece, or if you have any questions.

London Science Fiction Research Community (LSFRC) – Reading Groups for Research Students

Aren Roukema

Science Fiction is simply one of the most productive and stimulating areas available for research and discussion — encountering and discussing SF texts provides opportunity for thinking (and worrying!) about the future, for struggling with ecological, social and philosophical issues of the present — in addition, of course, to new technologies and scientific advancements — and even for enjoying the continued presence of the monsters, utopian visions, and other imaginaries that have always drawn us to the fantastic.

Birkbeck has a number of faculty members who are leading SF researchers (Roger Luckhurst, Caroline Edwards) and even authors (Mark Blacklock) and has thus attracted a number of students over the years who are specifically interested in SF, whether via the MA module or as PGRs supervised by the above. As researchers whose projects are centrally concerned with SF, Rhodri Davies and I felt that setting up a Research Community with reading group could benefit both ourselves and the Birkbeck Eng and Hums community. We started slowly but have built up our average attendance at reading groups to the point where we can expect 15-20 people per session, either from the community or from universities in London and surrounding areas. We were later joined as organisers by Francis Gene-Rowe of Royal Holloway (in 2015) and Katie Stone (in 2018), who started this past year at Birkbeck.

We also hold an annual conference and host evening lectures, in tandem with Birkbeck’s Centre for Contemporary Literature. The last evening lecture we held (in February) was with SF author and critic Brian Stableford. Thus far we’ve held three of these lectures, in which we try to bring in a well-known SF author either for a lecture or a panel discussion.

Organic Systems

Our last annual conference, Organic Systems: Bodies, Cultures, Environments dealt with ecocriticism in SF. Our next conference will be held on 14–15 September, and will feature keynotes from Roger Luckhurst (Birkbeck) and Helen de Cruz (Oxford Brookes), and a round table with SF authors Jeff Noon, Justina Robson and Fiona Moore (Royal Holloway).

I’ve had many positive reading group experiences. One highlight, though, was reading Frank Herbert’s Dune in tandem with a documentary about a film adaptation by Alejandro Jodorowsky that was never made, yet went on to influence a number of now high profile SF film directors, screenwriters and illustrators. A high profile example is Star Wars, made shortly after Jodorowsky’s seven hour film project was shopped to (but not bought by) Hollywood studios. As a number of critics/conspiracy theorists have observed, Star Wars has some inventions and scenarios that seem suspiciously similar to Jodorowsky’s storyboards. The surprise for me in all this was that I enjoyed the concept of Jodorowsky’s film—the imagining of its never-fulfilled conception—more than I’ve enjoyed completed films like Star Wars; indeed, more than I enjoyed Dune itself!

It is part of LSFRC’s wider mandate to create a space for established academic researchers, students, and non-academic members of the community to discuss science fiction. Interested PGR students can contact

Aren Roukema: arouke01@mail.bbk.ac.uk;
Katie Stone: kstone03@mail.bbk.ac.uk;
Rhodri Davies: mrrhodridavies@hotmail.com

Follow @LSFRC_ on Twitter

Join the London Science Fiction Research Community on Facebook

Birkbeck Intern Blog Post – Pauline Suwanban

Pauline Suwanban

My experience starting a PhD was certainly shaped by my internship with Birkbeck Institutes.

It gave me a rich introduction into academia and public engagement. The Birkbeck Institutes of Social Research, Gender and Sexuality, and Humanities are directed by Professors Jacqueline Rose, Slavoj Zizek, Esther Leslie, Felicity Callard and Kate Maclean. The institutes promote interdisciplinary research on critical issues through public debates, lectures and workshops. They also founded the London Critical Theory Summer School, which is a two-week course where graduate students engage with internationally acclaimed academics.

I joined a group with three other PhD students from different Schools across the university, trained and supervised by the manager of the Institutes. We provided basic assistance at events. This ranged from registration (which in other words meant crowd control when it came to the Slavoj Zizek and Judith Butler talks), AV support, to being on hand in case of any technical hitches. We also promoted the events through emails and social media. This involved reaching out to specific audiences who could be interested- quite tricky for some niche events, especially in the case of one interdisciplinary stem cell and nutrition lecture. We also sourced and wrote blog posts for the website about research topics and events supported by the Institutes.

As interns we were also responsible for organising the annual graduate conference; a two-day event which encouraged MA and PhD students to present their work within a supportive environment. This was a more challenging and rewarding experience than I had anticipated. The budget had been allocated and room was pre-booked; which left the rest to our management. This included the theme, call for papers, keynote speaker invitations and the programme. This year’s theme was ‘the Age of Distraction’. We interrogated the meanings and implications of distraction, its reputation in modern societies, its potential to disrupt and to create. We had a broad range of stimulating panels which explored the role of distraction within aesthetics, politics, psychology, digital media and education. Our keynote speakers were Prof. Carolin Duttlinger from the University of Oxford, who insightfully discussed the ‘Narratives of Distraction’ from Kant to modernism, and Dr. Sophie Jones from Birkbeck’s English department, whose provocative paper explored minimalist literature and attention deficit disorder.

We also presented a mini-exhibition of Dr. Kai Syng Tan’s photographic series (BADGE-WEARING MIND WANDERING IN ACTION 2017). Dr. Tan’s work, which explored the fusion of at and mental health, was complemented with energetic drawings from the public which interpreted the concept of mind-wandering. This display was curated by Alessandra Cianetti, who joined Dr. Jones and Prof. Callard in a discussion on mind-wandering, contemporary art and day-dreams. She also presented a very arresting film by Dr. Tan, which surrounded the audience with the visual and sensory impact of attention deficit disorder.

Credit: Dr. Kai Syng Tan

 

I easily underestimated the time that had to be spent for all the logistics and unexpected obstacles, which sometimes felt like an endless checklist! But there were certainly fulfilling moments, especially from noticing the pride in fellow students and the enriched thoughts of a public audience.

I would urge anyone to apply for this internship. It ticks all the boxes in building an academic career and is a wonderful way to meet new people who could inspire your research. Keep an eye on the BIH and BISR websites for recruitment and join the mailing lists to keep up to date with upcoming activities. If you are unsuccessful, there are still ways to get involved, such as volunteering at events, writing a blog post and joining the next graduate conference as a speaker or helper.

Pauline Suwanban is a second year English PhD candidate. Follow her on Twitter @paulinesuwanban 

The Other Side of the Story

Melanie Jones

I decided to take my Creative Writing MA at Birkbeck because of The Mechanics’ Institute Review, an annual collection of short fiction that showcased the best writing at the college. At that time, the Review was produced by MA students as part of a publishing module.

In the first few weeks of term, it became clear that everyone wanted their story to be selected. For some, including me, it represented the first ever chance to be published. Unfortunately, the module was cancelled in my first year because not enough people signed up. Everyone wanted to be in the book, but being an editor made you ineligible.

Julia Bell, the lecturer who set up the Review ten years earlier, wouldn’t let the project die. Instead she called for volunteer editors and built a team that included Birkbeck alumni as well as current students. MIR 11 was published that year and I was fortunate enough to have my story Sowing Seeds included.

I had only written one short story before I started my MA. I had never shown my writing to anyone else. I had never called myself a writer. Seeing my name in print, going to the launch party, holding a physical copy of book that included my work was a gamechanger. It legitimised a creative spark that had, up until that point, just been a hobby. When I was a little girl in the early 80s, I felt like having my name printed out in ‘computer writing’ on a piece of paper meant I was famous. MIR 11 allowed me to live out that dream as an adult.

Julia had a vision for MIR. She didn’t want it to be a university publication that just printed work from Birkbeck students. She wanted to open it up to all UK based authors and she wanted to combine the other extra-curricular activities (like the Writers’ Hub website and the Hubbub live reading event) offered at Birkbeck under one banner. I was about to start my PhD at Birkbeck and becoming the Managing Editor for the online counterpart to the Review was the perfect way to help with my fees and to share my experiences with other budding authors.

 

At MIROnline, I manage a team of about twenty volunteers. We have readers, copy editors, bloggers, features writers, and social media experts. We publish fiction and poetry from writers across the UK and provide an in-depth copy-editing experience for those writers. We run live reading events and free writing workshops that are open to all.

I am a secondary school teacher and sometimes the combined workload is overwhelming. In theory, my weekly schedule is Monday MIR, Tuesday teaching, Wednesday PhD study at home, Thursday PhD study in the Wellcome Library, Friday and Saturday teaching, and Sunday relaxing. It doesn’t always work out that way! My research focuses on anxiety and creativity, and sometimes the stress of a MIR deadline gives me some first-hand experience of this link. That being said, I have an amazing team of volunteers who always step up when I need them. I also have the support of Julia, Toby Litt, and Sue Tyley, the experts who give us a professional sheen.

In my research, I am looking at ways for writers to use the mental barriers they might face to fuel their creativity rather than block it, and this definitely comes in to play when mentoring new writers. Of course, we publish the work of experienced authors too and I learn a lot from their methodology and practice.

My aim as Managing Editor is to offer quality university and industry level experience for anyone who wants to engage with us. For the volunteers, I hope that they learn and develop as writers and editors. For the authors and participants in our events, I hope to pass on the feeling I had when I held the physical copy of MIR 11 in my hands. You are an author now. Legitimate and celebrated.

MIROnline

MIR Anthology info

Buy Mechanics Institute Review 2017 Edition

Melanie Jones is the Managing Editor of MIR Online and a PhD student at Birkbeck University where she researches the links between anxiety and creativity. Melanie teaches at a secondary school for pupils with anxiety and other emotional barriers, autism, dyslexia and school phobia. Melanie was long listed for the 2018 Bristol Prize and shortlisted for Poetic Republic’s Short Fiction Competition. Her work can be found in the following anthologies: Kissing Him Goodbye and Other Stories, and The Mechanics’ Institute Review issues 11 and 13. Melanie is currently working on a collection of semi-true short stories.

 

Avant-Garde Study Group – Reading Groups for Research Students

Evi Heinz

The Avant-Garde Study Group was set up in 2017 and is currently co-organised by Paul Ingram, Robyn Jakeman and myself. I was keen to get involved in the running of the group because I think it provides an important forum for postgraduate students working in the general field of experimental, modern literature and art to discuss their own research and learn about that of their peers. Working on your own, very specific research project can sometimes feel quite isolating and co-organising the Avant-Garde Study Group has been a great way for me to participate in a stimulating intellectual exchange.

We meet every other week during term time to discuss different manifestations of avant-gardism in the nineteenth and twentieth century, including but not limited to such movements as Expressionism, Cubism, Futurism, Vorticism, Constructivism, Dada and Surealism. All members of the study group are invited to suggest topics for discussion and lead individual sessions based on their personal interests. Reading or viewing materials are circulated in advance and each session begins with a brief introduction of the topic by the session leader, followed by an open discussion.

The open format of the study group, which is shaped by the research interests of the participants, means that it is a great way of meeting other researchers working in related fields and learning more about their work. I like the friendly and informal atmosphere at our meetings and that the group has attracted a good mix of participants, including PhD students, ECRs, independent researchers and Masters students from Birkbeck and beyond. Next academic year we hope to organise some one-off events and socials beyond the regular study group meetings. In particular, we’re planning a screening of rarely-seen avant-garde short films.

The study group has given me the opportunity to lead sessions on specific texts and topics closely related to my own research and has allowed me to interrogate my broader understanding of the (historical) avant-garde in incredibly fruitful ways. Being able to practice presenting aspects of my research and discussing them in detail with a group of my peers has been an invaluable experience and I look forward to many more exciting sessions in 2018/19!

The Avant-Garde Study Group meets during term time on alternate Tuesdays from 7-9pm and are always keen to welcome new members. For more information please contact avantgardestudygroup@gmail.com or find us on Twitter (@agstudies).

Birkbeck Intern Blog Post – Ralph Day

Ralph Day

I joined the Peltz Gallery intern team at the beginning of the academic year 2017/18. Interns are employed on a 40-hour contract, and we manage our own time, deciding how much time we would like to give to organising our own public engagement event, promoting and evaluating events at the Peltz, and installing and de-installing exhibitions.

The internship is designed to fit around our own PhD research, and all three interns have been flexible in swapping responsibilities and supporting each other in our Gallery projects. As well as promoting public events at the Peltz and supporting the install of exhibitions, the major part of my work as an intern has been conceiving, organising and facilitating a public engagement event.

In May, the Wellcome-funded, internationally-touring exhibition, Transitional States: Hormones at the Crossroads of Art and Science, was installed at the Peltz Gallery. The exhibition explores feminist and queer perspectives on the role of hormones in contraception, fertility, menopause, and gender transition. By chance, this academic year also saw the emergence of the Birkbeck Feminist and Queer Theory Reading Group.

While meetings of this reading group normally take place in seminar rooms at Birkbeck, it seemed to me that it would be stimulating to stage a discussion of a queer text at the Peltz Gallery with the Transitional States exhibition in place. And what better text to discuss, in order to engage with the themes of the exhibition, than Paul B. Preciado’s Testo Junkie: Sex, Drugs, and Biopolitics in the Pharmacopornographic Era, which explores the author’s use of testosterone as a form of ‘gender hacking’. This proved timely, as Preciado had also been invited by the organiser of Transitional States, Dr. Chiara Beccalossi, to deliver a lecture about his work at the Wellcome Collection in June.

With my bid for funding approved by Birkbeck Gender and Sexuality (BiGS), I invited two specialists to contribute to the reading group meeting at the Peltz, to help us unpack the relationship between queer and feminist theory and (art) practice: Raju Rage, a London-based artist and activist whose video work at Transitional States makes reference to Testo Junkie; and Sofia Ropek-Hewson, a PhD candidate at the University of Cambridge who is writing her thesis about pharmacopornographic subjectivity in Preciado’s work. Spaces for this session quickly filled up, and it promises to be a valuable resource for the PhD and MA students involved. This may also signal the start of new partnerships between the Peltz Gallery and university reading groups.

 

Birkbeck Intern Blog Post – Shijia Yu

Shijia Yu

I have thoroughly enjoyed being an intern at Birkbeck Centre for Nineteenth-Century Studies. Already a subscriber to the Centre’s newsletter and blog before applying for the PhD programme, I learned about this opportunity through the Centre and was lucky enough to be selected as event officer intern. Most of my responsibility lies in assisting the organisation of various Centre talks, lectures and conferences, and I also manage the blog and social media platform of the Centre, as well as sitting in Centre meetings and taking minutes.

The internship has been a rewarding, eye-opening and inspiring experience. As I am in frequent liaison with Birkbeck as well as external PhD colleagues and established scholars over the Centre’s everyday running, I have made many contacts in the field of nineteenth-century studies, which is where my PhD research lies. Communicating research with them helps me keep exploring new perspectives in my work.

Assisting the organisation of various events for the Centre is of great benefit for both my academic and employment prospects. Organising academic events is now expected from a PhD student, and part of the everyday life of a researcher in academia, which is what I aspire to be. Hence my experience from the internship will certainly help make things easier when it is my turn to devise an event.

In a way this is already proven true, as I have been most generously supported by the Centre, but most of all by its co-directors, in organising two events for Birkbeck Arts Week 2018: Paper Peepshow: Make Your Own, and Paper Peepshow: Peep into the Rabbit Hole. During my preparation for the two Arts Week events, they were very generous in their help, from giving guidance on my funding application to coming to the events on the day to show their support. The events have helped me address methodological issues that I have encountered during my first-year research, and also brought more attention to my research subject.

Apart from helping me during the Arts Week, the co-directors have also made sure that I have all the support needed on my daily work on the role, including providing me with handover notes, training me on skills such as minute taking, and maintaining the website. They also encourage me to develop my own working style and help me establish protocols and standards in my work. Indeed, this support can be felt with everyone in the Centre, and even my predecessor, who has long left the position, has come to my help again and again with admiring patience.

I find the internship a great opportunity for Birkbeck PhD students, and would definitely recommend it to others. In particular, the flexibility given to me on this role is incredible: I could finish 80% of the work at any time of my choice, hence integrating the internship into my PhD study nicely, instead of having it disrupting my research.

Shijia Yu, Research Student

Birkbeck Intern Blog Post – Elena Shampanova

Elena Shampanova

From September 2017 to July 2018 I embarked on an internship with Peltz Gallery at the School of Arts at Birkbeck. The position was advertised through the BGRS regular emails, and immediately caught my attention. Having worked and managed events in an arts gallery before, I have never worked in a gallery in an academic setting, and saw this as a chance to apply my existing skills to the new environment, and learn more about the way Peltz Gallery operates and public engagement events are run. I applied and was very excited to have been offered this internship together with two other PhD students.

At our induction meeting we were given an overview of the Peltz Gallery annual plan, and exhibitions coming up. We were invited to support the install and de-install of exhibitions as well as some of the events, however, the focus was very much on what we were interested in doing, and what we wanted to try our hand at.

During my interview for the internship we spoke about my experience of developing evaluation frameworks for arts projects, so when I started I suggested creating one for Peltz Gallery. The idea was welcomed by the team, and I went through a series of questions with them to shape the aims of evaluation. Based on that I developed a framework and tools for collecting data throughout the year, and now I am in the process of analysing it, and writing up the report. Throughout the year evaluation process received support from all the team as it was the first pilot year, and everyone is looking forward to seeing the results. I was pleased to see that my initiative was taken on board at all levels – by peer interns and the gallery team.

Overall, I feel that this internship is a unique way to gain hands-on experience of running a gallery in an academic setting – from shaping a yearly plan of exhibitions to learning all the technicalities of lighting and sound in the space, as well as organising and running public events. I learn best by doing, so this was just right for me, and will be beneficial for my future work in academia as it gave me a lot of ideas on how my research can be presented to public in an engaging way. Being part of an interdisciplinary team and working alongside my peers, who are coming from different research backgrounds enriched our dialogues and boosted ideas – it is amazing, how you can approach a similar subject from a range of angles and disciplines. So if you are considering taking on an internship, go ahead, you will learn so much, meet new people, and will most likely see your own research in a new light.

I would like to thank everyone, who I worked with, for their professionalism, guidance, knowledge and ideas sharing, support and encouragement.

Elena Shampanova, Research Student. 

Interdisciplinary Research: How Birkbeck PhD students are informally trespassing disciplinary boundaries

Antonella Patteri

On the 4th of November 2017 Birkbeck’s Graduate Research School hosted ‘No Trespassing: The Risks and Rewards of Interdisciplinary Research’, a half-day workshop organised by Dr Dermot Hodson from the Department of Politics. Inspired by Albert O. Hirschman’s concept of trespassing, this workshop, primarily taught by members of staff from across the School of Social Sciences, History and Philosophy (SSHP), brought together a wide range of expertise and personal perspectives on the intellectual benefits and dangers of interdisciplinarity. Understood as studies that deploy methods and insights from several traditional fields with the aim of integrating and combining multiple forms of knowledge, interdisciplinary research aims to make connections between concepts and to reassemble them in a circular way. Recognising the value of interdisciplinarity, the workshop stressed that interdisciplinary training should be integrated into academic careers. At the same time, it warned about the risks of superficiality associated with interdisciplinary research and the dangers of being excluded by disciplinary politics. In this sense, collaborating across disciplines involves a serious and careful rethinking of well-established academic borders that give meaning to specific fields of knowledge. Taking research beyond its comfort zone involves a creative crossing of a range of subject boundaries. Even though not all research should be interdisciplinary, the increasing complexity of issues with which we are faced as scholars compels us to look beyond single subject areas by stepping over the borders that contain our academic reality.

As Birkbeck students, we think that such boundaries are crossed in libraries, mediated exclusively on search engines and during formal academic meetings. What if we also attempt to trespass such delimiting lines of knowledge in other ways? While my first year as MPhil/PhD student in the Department of Politics was rewarding, I initially struggled to connect with many of my fellow students. Since last year I started organising monthly meetings with Politics PhD students and this year we have a WhatsApp group with more than 30 members. November’s workshop was also a fantastic opportunity to reflect upon our links with PhD students from different schools and departments at Birkbeck. At the event, we had the opportunity to discuss ways of increasing our interdisciplinary ambitions on a human level. Thanks to the efforts of Janice Lazarus, from the Department of Geography, PhD students from across the School of Social Sciences, History and Philosophy are now meeting weekly. This new intellectual network is helping us to step over our own disciplines by generating relevant ideas and arguments that go beyond departmental affiliations. Why is it working? Because it is an informal, real and direct way to avoid more ‘structured’ conversations that allow us to reflect upon personal experiences and projects with the potential to enrich our work.

Law, History, Geography, Politics, Art, Biology and Archaeology at times seem incommensurable but we are linking them through methods of analysis that are discursive in theory but practical in scope. By sharing research goals, we are becoming more aware of the fact that there are different paths of knowledge. Qualitative and quantitative methods, immersive fieldwork, archives and discourse analysis are being shared as a way to trespass rigid theorization. In so doing, generating new knowledge becomes a social activity of discovery that gets more and more exciting each week. Such meetings can also offer a possibility to ‘humanise’ the unpredictability of our research, both in premises and intentions. This is not necessarily something that can be grasped easily from our laughs, personal biographies or individual storytelling or from our most awkward and funny moments. Interdisciplinarity is not just a matter of addressing complex questions through a multiplicity of perspectives. Interdisciplinary research should be about reflexive rethinking and informal interaction that trespasses disciplinary boundaries.

This BGRS Blog post was authored by Antonella Patteri, an MPhil student in Birkbeck’s Department of Politics and Research Student Representative for the School of Social Sciences, History and Philosophy.