Katiuska M Ferrer Portillo is a PhD student in the School of Modern Languages. Her research project focuses on the charting the influences and geography of the Bristolian dialect. She shared her experiences with us as a participant in both the Discussion Series and Showcase Exhibition events in this year’s Research without Borders festival.
Applying to take part
February 20, 2017: busy as I was with the preparation for my father’s visit from Venezuela, I received an email from one of my PhD supervisors suggesting that I should participate in the Research without Borders (RwB) event organised by the Bristol Doctoral College (BDC). I paused for a moment to read the event’s advertising:
“All festival participants will:
• be offered a bespoke programme of training
• meet, connect and collaborate with researchers from across disciplines
• showcase their work to a broad audience of academics, students and the wider public
• have the opportunity to connect with external experts and industry professionals.”
Although I am a mature student with previous experience in a legal background, and I have presented my work in conferences, youth charities, social clubs, community centres, and have further discussed my research on the local press, BBC Radio Bristol and ITV West News, the fact that English is not my native language made me feel somewhat uneasy and that I needed more training to hone my presentation skills. Hence why I decided to apply for both the Showcase Exhibition and the Discussion Series components of the festival.
Training and preparation
As a proud member of the University of Bristol research community, and I am aware of the high academic standard, prestige and recognition enjoyed by our University. However, I was not prepared for the excellence of each one of the speakers who led our training for the discussion series.
Malcolm Love’s ‘Presenting your Research with Impact’ workshop marked a sea change in my presenting style. Thanks to Malcom’s advice, I learnt the importance of: warming up before presenting, dividing presentations in sections, how to apply a story-telling approach even for the most technical talks, and some good tips to calm my nerves – such as chewing gum for twenty minutes before presenting.
After weeks of hard training and thorough preparation, the moment of truth arrived. The RwB week started with the first ever discussion series, ‘Changing perceptions, transforming identities’, and I was the very first presenter in a venue packed to the rafters with 100 people capacity, including my husband, my niece, my two PhD supervisors, lecturers from the School of Modern Languages, and several friends. No pressure there, then!
So, there I was, nervous but with an adrenaline rush, trying to transmit to the audience the importance, usefulness and beauty of my research, while cracking jokes to conceal that the wrong set of slides appeared on screen! Thankfully no one noticed! Yet the training, preparation and my genuine passion for my work paid off. The presentation was a success. People who were unfamiliar with my discipline asked the most interesting questions during the discussion afterwards while we were enjoying our drinks. The experience has led to further interviews for the University of Bristol Facebook series, Bristol Faces; the Science Technology Today website; as well as my collaboration as an article writer for PolicyBristol. Yet the best was still to come.
The Showcase Exhibition on Friday, 12 May kicked off with a vibrant atmosphere full of the energy and enthusiasm, the sort that only ideas, endeavour and hopes of young researchers can produce. Very rarely do science and humanities researchers get the opportunity to amalgamate their work. That day, a combination of vets, mathematicians, sociologists, engineers, physicists, biologists, physicians, lawyers, sociologists, anthropologists, historians, dancers, artists, literature researchers, and sociolinguists like myself, amongst others, had the chance to share their experiences and bridge the gap between academia and our local community. Thanks to the BDC, Colston Hall became this unique melting pot.
As soon as I got to the Colston Hall, I started to set up my stand trying to put up a giant poster to a poster board, when Kitty Webster, one of the event organisers, asked me if I wanted to talk about my work with Made in Bristol TV. Of course, I replied “YES!”, and Kitty told me that the reporter was going to interview me 20 minutes after the opening of the showcase.
I suddenly realised that I had just an hour to set up my stand and prepare my talk!
The RwB presentation skills training proved to be a lifesaver, because it helped me to give a natural and professional interview about my research on Bristolian, with less than 60 minutes of preparation. That was indeed, the most exciting moment of the week for me!
Last, but not least…
Lastly, but no less important, was my interaction with the general public, and the possibility I had to collect data from young Bristolian speakers, a group I was struggling to encourage to participate with my work. That was definitely a rounded day, but all good things come to an end, and after an exciting and diverse round of presentations for the 3 Minute Thesis Competition (3MT), the event finished, but not without a wonderful post show celebration, whereby the winner of the 3MT and the most engaging stands were chosen. I had the opportunity to make friends with engineers, vets, and biologists, a crowd that, as a sociolinguist, I do not normally mingle with, and once again, RwB made that possible.
Thanks to my fruitful experience at the RwB event, I realized that the University of Bristol offers professional spaces like the BDC, where communication skills are a valuable asset, and this defined a breakthrough moment in my professional life, because helping people communicate their work with impact is a career path that I would like to consider in the future.