Lost in Space PhD workshop
12 January 2011
Elizabeth Marozzi, a PhD student at UCL's Institute of Behavioural Neuroscience, describes her involvement in the organisation of the Lost in Space PhD workshop, held at UCL on 2-3 December. Lost in Space was a multi-disciplinary workshop organised solely by PhD students for PhD students.
"It's not everyday while studying for a PhD in neuroscience that you find two architects knocking on your door. However, about a year ago Tim Ireland, a PhD student from the UCL Bartlett School of Graduate Studies, and Emmanouil Zaroukas, a PhD student from the University of East London, got in touch with me and fellow neuroscientist Aleks Jovalekic to ask if we were interested in organising a PhD workshop with them. The idea was to hold a workshop specifically for students studying topics related to space.
"At first the idea of trying to get students from a wide variety of disciplines to come together and talk about space seemed a little improbable. However, after discussing space and the types of research that we do, it became clear that architecture and science have a lot to offer each other. For example, we thought that neuroscientists could offer architects insight into how organisms go about perceiving, mentally constructing and navigating their spatial environment, while architects could help shed light on the processes behind describing and identifying the space around us. Because of this potentially fruitful cross-disciplinary debate, we felt other disciplines might also benefit from a discussion of this kind. While a PhD should of course help you to specialise in your chosen area, we were confident that students would also profit from learning about how others approach space and what sorts of research is currently being undertaken in different disciplines.
"So the race was on to find funding to make a workshop viable and more importantly to find students who would like to attend! We received generous support from UCL Neuroscience, the Cognitive, Perceptual and Brain Sciences Department, the UCL Bartlett School of Graduate Studies and the UCL Graduate School as well as our respective supervisors Prof Kate Jeffery, Prof Philip Steadman and Paul Coates, without this support our event would never have taken place. We sent out numerous invitations to universities and departments across the UK and were astounded by the huge and positive response we received from PhD students studying everything from Zoology to Philosophy.
"Due to the outstanding quality of abstracts we received it was tough to decide which twelve PhD students would present their work as talks and which of the other candidates would present their research at the poster session. Although we were taking a huge risk in having students from completely different academic backgrounds get together and talk about space, we hoped to create a unique multi-disciplinary event, which PhD students may never have experienced before and which they would hopefully find useful and interesting.
"The morning of the event finally came and I awoke to discover a glistening carpet of snow covering London. Although one of our guest speakers could not make it due to the weather, both Dr Luciana Parisi from Goldsmiths University and Dr Jan Wiener from Bournemouth University and all our invited PhD candidates struggled across the UK through the snow and made it to our workshop.
"Everyone was impressed by the outstanding calibre of the talks. I particularly enjoyed a talk by Regina Peldszuz from Kingston University on spatial perception and one's 'sense of place' during deep space missions. I was also extremely interested by the talk given by Sarah Stewart from Leeds University, whose work on Boundary Vector Cells in rodents is close to my own area of research. The poster session, held in the North Cloisters, gave everyone the chance to discuss their work in a more relaxed setting and many ideas presented in the posters were debated throughout the remainder of the event.
"Organising the workshop and being exposed to such varied areas of research was an absolute delight. Afterwards, many students reported that the workshop was an excellent opportunity for them to practice presenting their work in front of a less intimidating audience before going on to present at more formal conferences. We are so glad everyone enjoyed the event and we are now working hard to create an online forum/database (www.lostinspaceworkshop.co.uk) with all the content from the workshop, which will allow discussions of space started at the workshop to continue and prosper.