Looking back on the Festival of Doctoral Research

This post  was originally published on the Doctoral Connections blog on 6th July 2018. It is re-posted here with kind permission from the Doctoral School. Source: Doctoral Connections

At the end of June Sussex hosted its first Festival of Doctoral Research; over three busy days, visitors were inspired, engaged and challenged in a series of events celebrating Sussex’s doctoral research. So much happened, it was hard to keep track of it all but for those of you that could’t make it, the Doctoral School have put together a brief recap.

Tuesday 26th June: Opening Talks

Opening Talks kicked off on a sunny Tuesday at the Attenborough Centre for the Creative Arts. Maintaining good mental health and wellbeing was the theme of the session, led by Brunel’s Dr Fiona Denney, and Sussex’s own Dr Jeremy Niven (Life Sciences) and doctoral researcher Joshua Hutton (SPRU).

Dr Fiona Denney gave a powerful presentation at our Opening Talks

Dr Denney opened her speech by sharing quotes from an old diary, demonstrating the anxieties and insecurities experienced during her PhD. These quotes informed her subsequent recommendations regarding how to avoid the perpetuation of such feelings among the doctoral community. Dr Niven, leader of Sussex’s funded U-DOC doctoral research project, then spoke about PhD study as a creative, artisanal and highly individual project, at odds with our post-industrial and increasingly regimented society. This contrast, Dr Niven proposed, could be a factor in the recurrence of mental health problems among doctoral researchers. Finally, Josh Hutton’s insightful presentation adopted a researcher’s perspective and emphasised the day-to-day activities researchers can undertake to be kinder to ourselves and others. Josh’s final thought: ‘You know yourself better than anyone else – that’s just the nature of being a conscious human being. So if you need help, seek help.

Wednesday 27th June: Public Engagement Pop-Up and Three Minute Thesis

In the Public Engagement Pop Up on Wednesday morning, a group of doctoral researchers and research fellows showcased the demonstrations and activities they had been using in order to engage and excite the external public. Sonali Mohapatra dropped small metal balls into a fabric-covered hula hoop and somehow brought the inner workings of black holes to life for entranced visitors.

Sonali’s demonstration was out of this world

Across the room, Samantha Furfari performed the ‘Colours in Chemistry demonstration she originally developed for February’s ‘Bright Sparks’ festival. Pipette in hand, Sam mixed various chemicals into vivid hues before coaxing colourful bursts of flames from her Bunsen burner.

Sam F 1.jpg
Sam dazzled visitors with her colourful chemistry display

Later that day, an attentive audience gathered in the Attenborough Centre to hear six intrepid students present their thesis in under 180 seconds for the Three Minute Thesis competition. Presentations included Devin Clarke speedily relating the effects of a high-fat diet on the human brain, followed by Dorieke Grijseels’ brief but virtuosic account of her research into ‘place cells’. After deliberations, the top prize went to Jo Cutler for her succinct presentation on the psychology of charitable giving. People’s choice award went to Ireena Nasiha Ibnu for her presentation of the experience of Malaysian Muslim female students in Manchester.

Jo Cutler.jpg
Jo Cutler emerged victorious from the Three Minute Thesis competition

Wednesday 27th: Research Image Competition

For one of the most exciting contests, the Research Image Competition, doctoral researchers submitted a single providing a visual perspective of their research. Of the many entries received, two were singled out as exceptional. Tunde Alabi-Hundeyin took first prize in the ‘fieldwork’ category for his photograph ‘Tug of Fun’ (below). Tunde’s research seeks to challenge stereotyping and oversimplifying media representations of children from the Global South. His inspiring image of a group of girls at the Durumi Camp for Internally Displaced Persons elegantly captured his key themes of hope and resilience.

Tunde Alabi-Hundeyin’s image ‘Tug of Fun’

In the ‘science’ category, physicist Nephtali Garrido-Gonzalez took home First Prize for his image of a cloud of cold Rubidium atoms inside a high-vacuum chamber at Sussex’s Quantum Systems and Devices Lab. The high-vacuum chamber makes atoms easy to manipulate, and Nephtali’s research focuses on how we can use these atoms as a probe for sensing magnetic fields, gravitational fields, electrical fields and rotations to an extremely high level of precision, making way for the next generation of sensors based on Quantum Technology.

Nephtali Garrido-Gonzalez took first place in the ‘science’ category

Both Tunde and Nephtali were awarded £300 towards their research in a special prize-giving ceremony hosted by Pro Vice Chancellor Michael Davies. Congratulations to all the winners, and huge thanks to everyone who took part – you can see all entries for the Research Image Competition in the online gallery.

RIC winners.jpg
A big congratulations to all the winners.

Thursday 28th June: getting to know our doctoral researchers at the ‘Living Library’

Happily, the Festival provided several opportunities for academics, professional services staff, and students of all levels to meet, network and learn from each other in rich and rewarding encounters. One such occasion came via the Living Library, a Festival highlight for all involved. Jointly organised by the Doctoral School and Sussex Library, the event turned visitors into ‘readers’ and doctoral researchers into living ‘books’ – each prepared to relate a story based on their own unique experience.

Of the 11 ‘books’ on offer, we sat down separately with Sophie Valeix, George Byrne and Shanu Sadhwani. Sophie, a third-year PhD student from IDS, gave her readers a thoughtful account of the mental health problems she had encountered during her doctorate, and offered advice for anyone embarking on a major project.

Sophie V.JPG
Sophie gave some great advice to her ‘readers’ in the Living Library.

George, from the School of Global Studies, told readers of the frustrations he encountered during a difficult fieldwork experience in which his data collection did not proceed as expected. These frustrations shifted George’s attention and fuelled a change in his PhD focus, which subsequently became increasingly concerned with the process of research and prioritising of certain forms of data. For anyone interested in the structuring of knowledge, George’s story was a fascinating listen. Finally, BSMS’ Shanu Sadhwani provided readers with two stories: while explaining her research on the complications of diagnosing dementia, Shanu also shared techniques on maintaining a balanced lifestyle while also maximising productivity. In so doing, Shanu passed on invaluable knowledge to her peers.

Thursday 28th: a goodbye BBQ

As the Festival drew to a close with a sunny BBQ on Thursday afternoon, it was clear that it had showcased some of Sussex’s best characteristics. We had seen innovative and impactful research being undertaken by engaged and socially conscious community of researchers. The Doctoral School extends sincere thanks to all those who supported the Festival – it could not have happened without you – see you next year!


Some minor changes have been made to the original text in order to make clear the Doctoral School’s role in organising the festival.




Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s