Last year, I expressed interest in attending a Life Writing day which was being organised by Professor Elaine Chalus, in which colleagues across the department of humanities at Bath Spa University presented their work in the area of life writing to one another. Immediately it was clear that whether English, History or Heritage based, life writing as an approach crossed disciplinary boundaries and presented opportunities for collaboration and mutual interest between us all.
This initial meeting led to my full involvement in the Life Writing steering group, along with fellow doctoral candidate Annabel Wynne (English) With our organisational skills to the fore, we met to plan the first year of events. Later we were joined by Dr Jackie Collier and Rosie Waine (both historians) This is a great team to work with, as they bring experience, enthusiasm and a tremendous range of knowledge with them.
Two evening events were held, featuring in-house presentations and the opportunity for senior and junior members of the school of humanities to share and discuss research; a valuable and secure forum in which to trial ideas and air current work. To echo the initial 'research day', we also planned a day colloquium on the subject 'Writing Women's Lives'.
The response was overwhelming, to the extent that a two-day conference with parallel panels was what we finally held. This event, which took place on 25th/26th April at Newton Park campus, was a resounding success, drawing scholars from all corners of the UK as well as international speakers from India, Austria, Hungary, France and Ireland.
The range of papers was fascinating, with equally engaging discussions to follow. I found that of all the conferences I have attended, I enjoyed this one the most. This has led me to consider the stage I've reached in the doctoral process.
First of all, I have gained sufficient confidence to appreciate my capabilities. This seems to me as important as the stage of research I've reached. We are all products of our life's experience, and an event like this brings all my own skills together. I know I can organise, communicate, work in a team, encourage others, work flexibly (and add to this certain experiences in catering and customer service) But now I know I can network more comfortably with other academics, talk confidently about my thesis, speak happily in front of large groups, chair a panel effectively, and handle questions from the floor. This is all easier from the perspective of 'member of the organising team' but I think that now I've done it 'at home', it will be a lot easier 'away', too. It feels almost natural.
I am basically a shy person, but have learned to deal with this so effectively over the years that nobody believes me any more! But that helps me to demonstrate to others that anything is possible, and particularly helps me to support my students. And looking around me, it's clear that other people are struggling in similar ways. It's learning from life's experiences which is important, and this one has been altogether wonderful.
Thanks to the rest of the Life Writing team - Elaine, Jackie, Rosie, Annabel (and Georgie, who stepped into the breach at the last minute)