Reflections on the PGRNS Workshop

Our guest post today comes from Lois Burke, a co-founder of the Postgraduate Gender Research Network of Scotland (PGRNS). Lois is completing her PhD in nineteenth-century girls’ life writing and literature at Edinburgh Napier University. PGRNS is a growing network, and will turn 1 year old in August. They have recently hosted events including a launch at Edinburgh Napier University, a SGSAH-funded workshop at the Glasgow Women’s Library as well as social meet-ups. Their inaugural conference took place at the University of Edinburgh on June 5th. They welcome new members to the network, and invite research-inspired blog posts from postgraduates in Scottish institutions. 

On Wednesday 12th April 2017 PGRNS held the first work-in-progress workshop on postgraduate gender research in Scottish institutions, which was generously funded by the Scottish Graduate School of Arts and Humanities. The funding that we were awarded was from the Cohort Development Fund, which supports ‘Innovative Training Events’, i.e. postgraduate-generated training events that are not already provided by the SGSAH. The funds primarily paid for lunch, refreshments and travel reimbursement for each participant, as well as the room hire at the Glasgow Women’s Library (GWL). We felt strongly that the GWL was an ideal venue for the event. We wanted participants to feel like they were away from their institutional setting, but still inspired by the library’s collections and calendar of diverse and interesting events.

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Workshop in progress 

As our network already existed when we applied for the SGSAH funding (we will celebrate our first anniversary in August) we had a platform in place on which to disseminate our call for papers. This was primarily shared through social media and our mailing list. The SGSAH also shared the call through their own streams. Applicants submitted a brief abstract of their work-in-progress, and submitted their 5,000-word draft paper for circulation a few weeks before the event. The PGRNS committee members grouped the papers thematically – it was a deliberate decision to not group participants by discipline in the hopes that interdisciplinary discussion would help participants encounter new perspectives on their research. On the day 25 participants at all stages of postgraduate study were in attendance, in groups of four or five, with one academic ‘mentor’ assigned to each table.

The morning was dedicated to group feedback sessions in which the postgraduates and academic ‘mentors’ discussed each of the pre-circulated papers, commenting the research approach, writing style, and strength of the argument. Suggestions were made for possible ways to improve and how to pursue publishing options. After lunch, the academic mentors then spoke about their own approaches to gender in their research. The academic mentors who assisted with the workshop were Professor Karen Boyle from the University of Stirling, Professor Sharon Cowan from the University of Edinburgh, Dr. Zubin Mistry from the University of Edinburgh, Dr. Emily Ryder from the University of Glasgow, and Dr. Catherine Spencer from the University of St. Andrews. Participants were invited to ask the academic staff about their approaches, and even their career trajectories – despite the gulf between their specialities, both Professor Boyle and Professor Cowan remarked how ‘feminist’ was an essential facet of their Professorial titles.

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Finally the PGRNS organisers held a roundtable discussion, in which we invited participants to suggest ideas for future events, including the Feminist Research Methods workshop –  part of the SGSAH summer school programme. All participants agreed that they gained insight from sharing their work, and feeding back on the work of others in this way. Participants were especially happy to have had the opportunity to share their work with postgraduates from other disciplines and were surprised at the way gender research could connect across academic fields. It was suggested that a possible way to improve an event like this would be to dedicate even more time to small-group feedback sessions, as well as to mix up the groups throughout the day to increase not only the time spent on feedback, but also the number and type of postgraduates participants received feedback from.

The organisers agreed that the event was a roaring success, and this was seconded by participants in our online survey after the event, and testimonials that were emailed to us, which we included on the PGRNS blog. We are especially grateful to the SGSAH for funding this event, which created a much appreciated opportunity for gender researchers to share their work in an intellectual and supportive context. At the aforementioned SGSAH Feminist Research Methods workshop, which we are organising as part of the SGSAH Summer School Programme, PhD students will have the opportunity to present on the research methods they use to help give new researchers an idea of how these methods could be put to use. You can find out more about us and our upcoming events on our website. 

The Postgraduate Gender Research Network of Scotland are currently looking for new committee members. This is a great opportunity for PhD students to get involved in a growing network and gain experience of planning events! Find out more here.

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