Saturday 2nd December saw over 200 CHASE DTP Scholars gather at my home institution – the University of Essex, near Colchester, for the twice-yearly Encounters conference.
The Encounters experience began in earnest on Friday evening, in Colchester Castle, with a drinks reception. Almost one hundred of us had the chance to roam the castle and take in the exhibits, or to join a guided tour thereof. Many sparkles were imbibed, before we headed up the street to the Moot Hall, part of the old Town Hall complex, for dinner. All through the evening scholars were networking – aka talking. It was good to meet so many other CHASE scholars and to have time to chat about our research interests and the PhD experience in general.
Saturday morning saw everyone coming together in the Essex Business School building, the new zero-carbon eco building on our campus. Many of you were pleasantly surprised to be greeted by Campus Cat, Essex’ resident feline, who has total access all around the campus and makes full use of that fact. Pebbles is always ready to welcome visitors to the university and Encounters presented him with an opportunity to spread his fame, which he used to maximum effect.
The focus of the conference was Arts and Humanities Futures. Following a welcome by Prof Christine Raines, scholars were invited to take part in breakout sessions according to discipline, in another new building at Essex, the North Teaching Centre. These sessions seem to have been truly productive, with several new research groups connecting. I am sure you will hear about those around your discipline, and I am very pleased, as a creative writing student, to say that we are now in the process of setting up a network of CHASE creative writers.
This was my first Encounters conference, so I was doubly pleased that it was held at my own second home. The folks at Essex Events did us all proud, providing a non-stop supply of food and drink throughout the conference, including lunch in the Hexagon – a building that famously appeared on a postage stamp in the 60s, and to end the day, wine and nibbles in our brand new Silberrad Student Centre.
During the slot for announcements, members of the Student Advisory Group (SAG) were introduced by the chair, Heather McKnight. Please note that the SAG is still looking for members – if you think you might be interested, please email Heather and let her know – she’ll be pleased to tell you about what the SAG does and the sort of commitment you would be making. Also introducing their work was Simon Everett, with his new publishing imprint, Muscaliet Press, which is now open for submissions – check out his website at www.muscaliet.co.uk where submissions are open until the end of January. We also heard from the Brief Encounters Editor, introducing the opportunity of a placement in the coming year.
Announcements were followed by three ‘Showcase’ sessions by current CHASE scholars. Judith Johnson showed us videos and explained about her work with a theatre company specialising in working with adults with disabilities. Sarah Middle gave a presentation on Digital Humanities Research, which got us all thinking and was followed by Max Maher, who gave a presentation about Psychoanalysis, which had my head spinning!
Throughout the day, with thoughts on the future of the arts and humanities, both in the academy and beyond, we were treated to much food for thought as well. As a first-year scholar, I wanted to know all there is to know about placements and training opportunities in CHASE so I attended the session with Steve Colburn in the afternoon, but there were also sessions on the Arts and Humanities in the Digital Age, Resilience, Funding Applications, Kick-starting your PhD, Professional Development, a talk from the Space, Place and Time Collective, or PhD Troubleshooting.
A rousing discussion about the future direction of the Arts and Humanities was chaired by Matthew Grant, and it touched on that spectre in front of all of us at the moment, Brexit, and what effects it may have, whilst the Keynote address was given by Dr Jeremy Krikler, who also told us about the new training course he is directing during December on History and Theatre, which should be of interest to many of us.
In all, we CHASE scholars we treated to twenty-four hours of networking, information, thought provoking, coffee fuelled, Encounters at the University of Essex. Many thanks go to Matthew Grant and his team, and we look forward to the next Encounters in the summer, 2018.
By Ruth Raymner, University of Essex CHASE funded student and SAG rep