PhD student with the Department of Sociology, Zach Roche, recalls his experience at two conferences, funded by the Faculty of Arts, Humanities & Social Sciences (AHSS), University of Limerick:
Over the summer I was blessed with the opportunity to attend two excellent conferences thanks to the funding I received from AHSS at UL. The first was the Sociological Association of Ireland (SAI) conference, held in Belfast, and the second was the European Sociological Association (ESA) conference, which took place in Athens.
These conferences marked a special occasion for me, as prior to the SAI I had never been in Northern Ireland before; and prior to the ESA I had never presented my research outside of Ireland.
At the SAI I had the opportunity to mingle with excellent scholars from across the whole of Ireland (and as I discovered many who had travelled from further away to be there). Besides meeting like-minded scholars my experience of the conference was highly positive, I was determined to get as much from the opportunity as possible. To this end I visited some of the more popular tourist areas in Belfast when I had the time, and managed to see the famous Belfast Murals, the Titanic Museum, the City Hall and the Grand Opera House.
The highlight of the SAI however was the keynote presentation by Richard Barbrook, who incisively discussed the political elements of the digital world, and to what extent can we democratize the internet. I even met him afterwards at the conference dinner and we had a long chat about identity politics, Richard (like everyone at the SAI) was very approachable and interesting.
The ESA was quite different, with almost 5,000 attendees from more than 50 countries I was concerned that the conference was at risk of feeling industrial and forced, while also being overcrowded. The organizers were certainly equal to the task and had an elegant system where scholars were organized into “streams” defined by a number of themes common to their research. I was in the economic sociology stream and was able to meet a dozen excellent scholars I would never have been aware of had I simply stayed in Ireland.
Despite the conviviality I was nervous to present my research and ended up speaking slightly too fast. Besides this I received a great deal of constructive feedback which has helped me refine the findings section of my thesis, and many business cards were exchanged.
As in Belfast, I wanted to treat the conference as a holistic experience (not a holiday, I promise) and as I was in one of Europe’s cultural capitals I wanted to see as many sights as possible during the evenings. I managed to see Hadrian’s Arch, the Acropolis, the Temple of Zeus (not much left of it, I must admit) and more.
I would recommend conferences and locales that take you a bit beyond your comfort zone to anyone doing a PhD (or indeed even if you aren’t); you will learn a lot and your presentation will go better than you think it will!