Life Beyond the PhD conference at Cumberland Lodge

In June, Brighton Doctoral College ran a competition offering one of our research students the chance to win a fully-funded place to Cumberland Lodges’ ninth annual ‘Life Beyond the PhD’ conference. Winning entrant, Uschi Klein, PhD student in the College of Arts and Humanities, reports back on her experience and shares some of her wonderful photographs.

Life Beyond the PhD conference
Uschi Klein

uschi-klein-phd-candidate-brighton_profileI was delighted when I heard that I’d won the competition by the Doctoral College to attend the ‘Life Beyond the PhD’ conference at the end of August this year. The event attracted 40-odd PhD students from around the country and took place at Cumberland Lodge, a 17th century historic building. Set within the Great Park in Windsor, it was the perfect venue to exchange ideas and views; equally important, it was a great place to relax during the last days of summer.

Taking place over four days, the aim of the conference was to bring final-year PhD students together in order to engage them in interesting workshops, presentations and talks. A social evening programme was offered too, which included a tour of Cumberland Lodge and the opportunity to sit on the chair the Queen Mother sat on during one of her many visits as the Patron of Cumberland Lodge. Considering the diversity of the programme, there was a lot to discuss and exchange during the four days, which was guided by the Cumberland Lodge Rule:

In our discussions we seek to exchange views across academic disciplines and beliefs and consider the ethical dimension issues in order to make a positive contribution to society.

Indeed, discussions were inclusive and respectful throughout the conference, and some of the highlights triggering interesting conversations included the sessions:

• ‘Working Inside and Outside Academia: Views from the Recent Past’, in which the speakers shared their personal experiences of their careers and how they got to the stages in which they are now;
• ‘Successful Applications’, when we discussed CVs and cover letters for jobs inside and outside academia;
• ‘Public Speaking: Techniques for Impact’, which we were encouraged to apply in the session ‘Delegates Research Presentations’, a 10 min presentation on our research
• ‘Interdisciplinary Research Proposals’, when we were given a couple of hours to develop a collaborative research proposal in a group and present that to a panel at the end;
• ‘Being examined: Tips for your Viva’, a particularly useful session and opportunity to hear from people who were recently examined.

Personally, I found the session on successful job applications particularly productive, as we learned what to include in CVs and cover letters, and, moreover, what their purpose was. For example, a CV should include past and present jobs and achievements, while the cover letter focuses on present role(s) and responsibilities, as well as on future ambitions. Some of the mistakes people make in cover letters, and which should be avoided, are:

• Using overly-emotional language;
• Using clichés from template letters;
• Simply repeating the CV in long form

The Public Speaking session was also very helpful, as we learned new and different techniques on presenting our research in front of an audience. One such technique is to tell your audience the why of your research before describing the what. In other words, start your presentation with a really interesting fact from your study before you explain what your research is about. Then introduce yourself to the audience.

Most participants were in their final stages of their PhDs, which is a particularly intense period. As the Director of the Cumberland Lodge Programme said in his welcome and introduction session, the writing of the PhD gets so intense in the latter part, that it is important to stay positive and not lose sight of the ‘bigger picture’, which is what the ‘Life Beyond the PhD’ conference addressed.

The inter-disciplinary nature of the conference generated many interesting conversations that were continued over lunch and dinner. Here, I should emphasise the delicious food they prepared for us every day. It is not always easy to talk to someone from a different discipline, often because of the different approaches and understandings. This conference, however, was a safe place to be open and ask questions throughout the programme.

Conference photo gallery

To find out more about Cumberland Lodge, an educational charity tackling social divisions by promoting creative thinking and inclusive dialogue, please visit their website.

To find out more about Uschi’s work, please visit her research profile page on our website.