A trip to Exeter for the QRA Postgraduate Symposium

This week I’ve been at the Quaternary Research Association (QRA) Postgraduate Symposium, hosted by the University of Exeter’s Geography Department. This is an informal PhD student-only conference that gives Quaternary postgrads the chance to meet up and do trail runs of posters and presentations in a chilled-out atmosphere. I went along because I’d heard it was a good laugh, to get some more presentation practice and to spend this year’s remaining research training grant.

The conference started with an optional field trip to Dartmoor on Wednesday, led by the incredibly knowledgeable Dr Tim Harrod. Unfortunately for those of us on the fieldtrip, the weather was against us and it tipped it down on and off all morning. This limited our options as we didn’t want to spend too long outside the nice dry minibus and the low cloud meant that we couldn’t see much even when we did venture outside. Still, the misty cloud did lend a nice atmosphere to the landscape, very ‘Hound of the Baskervilles’! Tim more than made up for the inclement weather with his interesting insights into the area’s history, geography and geology. A particular highlight was the visiting the Bronze Age village at Grimspound with its resident Dartmoor ponies. After a tasty pub lunch, the weather improved and we were able to escape the minibus to have a look at the local peat and to climb one of the area’s granite Tors, which was warm in waterproof trousers but worth it for the view from the top. In the evening after the field trip the other delegates arrived and we had our welcome drinks before heading into town for large and surprisingly cheap pizzas at the Old Firehouse, which is apparently an Exeter institution.

Thursday saw the start if the conference proper, which consisted of a range of postgrad presentations and posters as well as a keynote talk by Prof. Dan Charman about career progression post-PhD. We also received a tour of Exeter’s new palaeo fire lab, including a demonstration of burning things in one of their instruments. Everyone loves a bit of fire so this went down very well! Friday was similarly structured, with the last of the postgrad talks followed by the QRA PG AGM. One of the primary aims of this session was to choose a new junior PG rep (congrats to Nottingham’s Jack Lacey) and to choose a venue for next year’s Symposium. I was particularly pleased with the choice of Cambridge as this is my home town and because having Jenny Roberts as chief organiser means that we should have a strong showing of ice and climate/ ocean postgrads. Maybe we’ll even get a look into the ice core rooms in the British Antarctic Survey (if we’re lucky and promise not to touch anything)!

One thing I have to say about this year’s meeting in Exeter is that the food was great. Most of us were staying in some very posh undergrad halls (I couldn’t get enough of the rooms – so much nicer than the prison block I lived in during my 1st year!), which did a particularly good cooked breakfast with nice sausages and even fried bread. I hadn’t had fried bread since I was a kid and had completely forgotten how good it is with baked beans. Then of course there were the pizzas that I mentioned above and the very yummy conference dinner that came with a respectably large amount of wine. And of course there are the obligatory cakey treats during the coffee breaks; we even had a Devon cream tea on Thursday. Honestly it was worth the registration fee, which was very reasonable, for the food alone. Thanks have to go to Nicole Sanderson and the rest of the Exeter team for doing such a fantastic job arranging all of this.

So if you’re reading this in 6 months’ time when the advertisements for the next QRA PG Symposium come out, then I’d definitely recommend that you go along. There will be interesting people, some kind of field excursion, nice food and it is a great chance to air your research in a low-stress environment. See you in Cambridge!


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  1. Pingback: One year down - my first year as a PhD researcher

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