Thursday, 20th June, 2019
It’s a grey evening in Glasgow, and I can just about see the sun through the thick cloud out of my window, over the tops of the high-rise buildings across the street. It’s a far cry from St Andrews here. Everyone who comes to St Andrews is always shocked at how small it is, but it’s the opposite for me – I’m always surprised by the busyness, noise, and vibrancy of cities, and Glasgow is no exception.
I’m writing after a full day of workshops at the SGSAH Summer School, which has been a really eye-opening experience. When you do a PhD (especially in St Andrews, which is affectionately named ‘the Bubble’), you tend to forget about the outside world a little bit, and the variety of research that goes on outside your own field, school, and institution. But suddenly I was exposed to a whole world outside of my ‘bubble’, and I was reminded of just how much incredible research goes on outside of my little research corner and my little town on the coast of the North Sea. Being in the city, a place full of life and colour, seems like a good metaphor for what I experienced at the summer school – the research community at the SGSAH is just as vibrant as the city itself, and just as much of a surprise.
The workshops I went to were also a reminder of just how much you can do with academia. I started off with a more traditional session on how to write a journal article, which provided an incredibly useful insight into the academic politics associated with publishing, and how to negotiate and navigate this difficult and alien world.
Today though, the two workshops I went to were much more of a surprise. The first, titled ‘A Stone Thrower to the Pigeons: Disruption as Knowledge’, I didn’t really understand the concept of before signing up. Mostly, I have to admit, I liked the title, and wanted to know what on earth pigeons have to do with academic knowledge. It turns out that this title is a metaphor for the role of a teacher, who can disrupt traditional knowledge by ‘throwing a stone’. This to me sounds really appealing – the breaking up of assumptions and traditional streams of thought and knowledge by doing something different. Our speaker showed us how he breaks the status quo with art, but I’m excited to see how this might be applied in an academic setting, especially with my work with wolves – I wonder if you can ‘throw a stone’ into the traditional perception of the ‘Big Bad Wolf’, disrupt this old narrative and replace it with a new one?
This brings me to my second session of the day, which was on public engagement and impact. When I saw the programme for the summer school I knew instantly that this was a workshop that I had to go to, because public outreach is key in wolf conservation and reintroduction. I gained a lot of tips about how to plan and implement public outreach work, but what I didn’t expect was the explosion of ideas that came as a result. At the end of the session we were given time to start thinking about our own public engagement activities, and having an A3 planner to do so apparently made something click in my brain. Doing this workshop directly after learning about ‘disruption as knowledge’ also seemed to really help the ideas materialise, as I tried to incorporate ‘stone-throwing’ into my plan.
I must admit, I was hesitant about coming to the summer school, mostly because travelling and being in unfamiliar places usually set off my anxiety. And while this was definitely the case, and it was a bit of a struggle, it was definitely worth pushing through. I gained so much insight into just how much I can do both inside and outside of academia, as well as ideas that might well form concrete plans in the future. I’m leaving Glasgow tired, but excited to see what I can do with all this new knowledge.
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