A decade of SICSA PhD Conferences

by Dr Jeremy Singer, SGA Director
17 July 2018

Last month, I attended the tenth SICSA PhD conference at Robert Gordon University in Aberdeen. This is the northern-most location for our annual conference so far, and I was impressed by the beautiful setting and ideal facilities at this modern university campus.

Paul Hagan from RGU opened the conference; in his speech he complimented SICSA as a ‘great model for Scotland-wide subject-specific collaboration.’ Since he was one of the architects of the SFC research pooling initiative, this is high praise indeed.

Many of the 150 student delegates brought a poster along with them, describing their research projects. As I wandered round the poster display, I encountered an amazing breadth of topics. Highlights include apps to help people with Autism, using comic strips to understand complex data, and simulating the structure of stars with parallel computing.

At an evening banquet in the Trinity Hall, we did a ‘back of the napkin challenge’ where everyone had to depict their research by scribbling on a paper napkin. There were plenty of intriguing drawings – check out #sicsanapkinchallenge on twitter for some examples.

Throughout the two days of the conference, there was a great selection of talks and workshops. Since they happened in parallel, I wasn’t able to attend everything. However, I particularly enjoyed Diane R. Pennington’s deeply personal and highly motivational workshop on student wellbeing and mental health. I appreciate that a significant proportion of PhD students experience mental health difficulties during their studies, and it’s good to see this is being addressed by institutions at last.

I also attended Michael Smyth’s cinematographically inspired presentation on how to complete your thesis. He gave us plenty of pragmatic tips on writing up, while introducing us to tenuously related films from the 1950s.

As I near the end of my term as director of the SICSA Graduate Academy, I reflect that the SICSA PhD conference encapsulates what makes SICSA so uniquely compelling. We have a vibrant, friendly community clustered around a diverse range of world-leading research teams.

Here’s to the next decade of adventure, discovery and collaboration at SICSA PhD conferences!