Last week, the Graduate School at the University of Westminster hosted their first festival, which celebrated the variety of work being done by doctoral researchers at the University.

Graduate School Festival poster

The festival comprised of a rich mixture of online workshops, film screenings, live panel discussions, podcasts and competitions. Since its beginnings in 2012, the Graduate School has run a number of annual events spread throughout the year, but this year it decided to consolidate them into one week as a chance to meet, join in conversation together and to show off to greatest effect the brilliant work being done by doctoral researchers at the University. 

The week opened with a workshop led by Hugh Kearns from Flinders University in Adelaide. His books and workshops have become renowned among doctoral researchers internationally as sources of encouragement and advice. Over 50 people joined Hugh for his workshop on ‘The Seven Secrets of Highly Successful Research Students’. Hugh’s warmth and wit was condensed into a single phrase, “doing a PhD is really hard, but you can do it!”, that will stay with lots of the attendees. 

The joys and difficulties of the PhD were also the topic of the closing Q&A of the week, with Dr Orna Rosenfeld in conversation with Mehrdad Borna, a doctoral researcher from the School of Architecture + Cities. Orna graduated with her doctorate in Urban Regeneration and Development from Westminster in 2012 and has since built up an amazing career as an international consultant and policy advisor in housing. She was awarded a British Council Alumni Prize this year for her work, and during the course of the event, she shared her insights into how to lay the ground work for a rich career during the years of the doctoral degree.

The Festival gave a chance to see some fantastic work in progress from doctoral researchers at the Westminster School of Arts through screenings and Q&As, and these live events were accompanied through the week with interviews, podcasts and an exhibition available on the festival website. The interviews explore the experiences of doctoral researchers from backgrounds underrepresented in higher education and the podcasts allow audiences to listen to informal conversations between doctoral researchers on their experiences and their research. The exhibition, ‘Displacement-Assemblage’, is a brilliant way to see some of the work of the Hyphen Collective, spanning film, photography, ceramics and more. A flick-through brochure is also accessible which tells the story of the research of 16 final year students. 

The week also included two competitions, the Three Minute Thesis (3MT) Competition and the Graduate School Bake Off. The 3MT competition was won by Minerva Fadel, from the School of Architecture + Cities, and the ‘People’s Choice’ Prize went to Mara Leite from the School of Life Sciences. Very best of luck to Minerva who will now go through to the semi-final of the national competition. While the participants of the 3MT competition had to communicate the significance of their research to a lay audience in just three minutes, participants in the Bake Off had to bake a cake that represented their research. Many congratulations to Penny Clark from the School of Architecture + Cities who won this for her fantastic creation.

Professor Leigh Wilson and Dr Margherita Sprio, directors of the Graduate School, hosted the festival. Speaking about the event, Leigh said: “The week was a fantastic opportunity to see the amazing range of work that our doctoral researchers do. It was also a way for us all to get together, get to know each other better and get excited about the doctoral work that is being done across the University. We are already looking forward to next year’s festival and being able to do it all again, but in person.”

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