I was delighted to have recently had the opportunity to attend a residential conference at Cumberland Lodge. Life Beyond the PhD is an annual event that gives early career researchers practical advice and offers them the chance to reflect on their future within academia. Compelled to share my experiences I thought I would begin by giving some background to the place itself. Set against a spectacular landscape the seventeenth-century lodge is situated on the Royal estate in Windsor. The decision by George VI to make the house and its grounds available to students and universities was largely influenced by Amy Buller’s book Darkness Over Germany (1943). Critical of the ways in which National Socialist ideologies were promoted and reinforced by German universities during the Second World War, Buller’s study persuaded the King to create an academic retreat where researchers could discuss contemporary ‘social matters, ethics, and international issues’, within an open and democratic environment.
The conference was scheduled to start at 14:00 and whilst traffic conspired against me I managed to arrive on time. Entering I immediately felt the relaxed and friendly atmosphere, and throughout my three-day stay everyone clearly enjoyed working and living at Cumberland Lodge. The delegates were asked to gather almost immediately in the conference hall were we received an introduction by the principle, Revd Dr Edmund Newell. We then had the opportunity to listen to various papers on the challenges of following an academic career, and as a PhD student I found the advice both pragmatic and constructive. As part of the evening’s entertainment the actress Ruth Rosen gave a ‘cultural recital’. Ruth’s oration included verse from Seamus Heaney and T. S. Eliot as well as anecdotal extracts from Nelson Mandela’s autobiography A Long Walk to Freedom.
Day two commenced with a cooked breakfast after which we were split into groups of fifteen. One of the conditions of attendance was that each delegate had to deliver a ten-minute presentation of work in progress followed by ten minutes of discussion and feedback. We were reminded that when we were presenting we would have to explain our research to an interdisciplinary audience. I was looking forward to the prospect of hearing about the projects of postgraduate students from different academic backgrounds and I was greatly impressed by the level of research. Feedback was constructive throughout and everyone seemed to enjoy the opportunity of sharing research experiences with their peers.
On the final day of the conference we attended several workshops. Starting with public engagement we were given advice on how to communicate academic research to a non-specialist audience. Then it was on to a public speaking workshop called How to Stand, Breathe, Speak and Listen. The workshop presented an opportunity to practice our communication skills and receive immediate feedback but my trepidation was heightened further when I was told it was mandatory to wear loose clothing… The session was quite challenging and whilst not everybody felt comfortable taking part I found the various exercises extremely useful. The final workshop gave practical advice on applying for jobs, and we were taught the dos and don’ts of writing CVs.
It was now time to leave and many of the delegates took the final opportunity to have a last look round the house’s original features and paintings. LJMU were well represented and I intend to keep in touch with the postgraduate students I met from both inside and outside the university. The conference was a really rewarding experience and I will remember my stay at Cumberland Lodge for a long time.