Tuesday, April 04, 2006

Conference #2 (PSA, Reading)

I’m making a bit of a habit visiting Reading these days it seems, but for us it’s a very handy place for a conference. The fact several Reading lecturers live in Oxford demonstrates it’s not too far to travel – indeed, on my way in Monday morning I passed Andrew Williams on Cowley Road, and then between college and the station I passed John Ireland, Tom Stevens and Phil Alderton all coming the other way.

The twenty minute train ride to Reading was uneventful, but on arrival I soon started meeting more people. I was waiting for a bus when I saw a young woman with a similar Reading University map and overnight bag, so asked if she was also going to the conference – of course she was. Then as we waited, Maria Sciara turned up and joined us, so the three of us shared the bus ride, and navigating around the campus adventure.

It didn’t take us too long to find our way, though we did ask a passer-by for directions, so we were soon back in our halls – Windsor – which were typically basic (halls after all) but adequate. Rainbow – from the station – had been joined by another PSA regular Matt (from Nottingham Trent). We were still quite early, but it seemed from the other early arrivals there were already quite a few people who knew each other. Maria, Matt and I went and got sandwiches for lunch, and talked mostly about novels I hadn’t read.

The first talk of the afternoon was on PhD submissions and vivas. Unfortunately the talk followed straight on from another, and they must’ve started early but no one opened the door, so a few of us outside missed the start. It’s all a long way off for me, but it was interesting to take in some of this information now for later. I do already have one tentative idea for a potential external examiner, but I don’t know yet if they’ll be suitable – or willing (apparently examiners only get paid £160, which isn’t a lot of reading a whole PhD and then examining the candidate).

Second talk was on publishing from one’s PhD, either as a book (monograph) or in journal articles. The woman from Palgrave did a fairly good job of putting us off the former, emphasising how difficult it was (not only to get accepted, but stressing the need to completely re-write the material – taking at least a year) and stressing that it’d be on publishers’ terms – accept zero royalties! Previewing one’s findings in journals almost certainly disqualifies you for a book (who’ll buy it then?), but seems a much more popular route, given the importance of RAE assessments. Unfortunately this session was very much focussed on publishing PhD, rather than getting published more generally, but I’ve been to a couple of talks on that anyway.

In the evening we had a wine reception, and dinner, and it was here we were able to carry on conversation with people we’d met over the day. I didn’t see much more of Rainbow or Matt, but I did meet Mark – a former LMH-er now at Cardiff – and another girl from Cardiff (Kirsten? Kristen?) working on constructivism. Strangely they didn’t know each other, though the latter girl did know Miriam and Christian from the BA conference (blog) in December. I was also able to chat with both about Carole Pateman’s appointment in Cardiff, which I heard about in Oxford at the CHSJ conference last week.

In fact, I’d been pleasantly surprised to find a number of theorists around – if not philosophers, then historians or others who didn’t quite fit the ‘political science’ type I expected. Karl and I were bemoaning pol sci at the back of the second session when the girl next to us – Katherine (sp?) – turned out to be another theorists, for example.

The dinner was a pretty good spread, with a selection of main courses, vegetables an impressive salad bar. It seemed to be pretty much all you can eat, although I didn’t have that much – partly because I wasn’t sure I was supposed to be there. We got to chat to Anthony Forster (Head of Bristol Politics, formerly St Antony’s) and Prof Chris Lords (Head of Reading DPIR and formerly PPE at Worcester), who’d been dispensing advice in the talks.

Unfortunately since there were only graduate students around the first night, the Student Union on campus was shut, but a group of ten or so of us made it to the nearest pub (The Queen’s Head), where I met James (working on humanitarian intervention in Newcastle) and Paul (pol sci, Manchester). We were able to talk for quite a bit, mostly swapping undergrad and postgrad experiences. James I’d actually met very briefly in Warwick, although neither of us recognised each other – that only came out later!

It was only one pint that night, since we had to be up early the next day – breakfast was from 8, but with the first talk at 9 the communal showers had to be braved first. I didn’t get a good night’s sleep, because there was one of those glass windows above the door and the corridor lights were on all night. I even ended up moving the bed so as not to face the light, but there was little space to do so.

The early start didn’t particularly agree with me, and nor do fried breakfasts (being veggie), but for those with more appetite – like Karl – there was again plenty of chance to eat one’s fill. The final talk, that morning, was about getting jobs, and this was probably the scariest of the lot. For starters, every time someone gives advice on getting academic jobs, they always seem to preface their remarks with a ‘are you sure you really want one?’ Even if you do, they’re not easy to get: apparently a post recently advertised at Reading apparently attracted 80 applicants, of whom 50 were of sufficient quality!

There was more on widening participation (ethnicity) and ‘group discussions’, but I didn’t attend the remaining talks, preferring to hang around downstairs with some juice and talking more with Maria, James, Paul and Scott (another Mancunian). That brought us on to the main conference proper, and lunch. Again I wasn’t sure I should have it, since my part was over, but I’d been given a meal ticket so I went, for a lentil curry (again, not eating anywhere near as much as I could’ve of the generous spread).

After lunch, my time really was over. As the others moved on to the 2:15 panel, I met my brother, and spent a half hour or so chatting about how he’d been since Xmas and what he was doing over Easter. Since one of his housemates had just left, I probably could’ve stayed with him, and attended the rest of the conference (no one seemed to be checking anything carefully), but instead I decided it was time to return to Oxford. Unfortunately I just missed the bus to the station, but on the bright side just caught a train, by the skin of my teeth, so I was back in Oxford by around 4pm. (And I further brightened my mood by buying a couple of CDs in the spring sales, despite a parcel waiting for me in the lodge).

All in all, the PSA seemed a very attractive and well-attended conference. It was expensive (a large part of why I didn’t stay longer), but there was much more political theory there than I expected. I’ll definitely look into it again next year, when apparently it’s in Bath (thankfully again not too far away).


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