It’s one of the things I’d been told before I started – stay ‘yes’ to every opportunity to present your work and talk about it to academic audiences.
The opportunity came up a little sooner than I expected, just two months into my PhD! Luckily I completed my Masters by Research degree a year and a half ago and I am already working on turning it into a journal article, so I had something to talk about.
I ended up speaking on the subject of monuments to death in videogames. That is to say, digital monuments to real people that exist inside virtual worlds like Warcraft. I am fascinated by the way that these digital monuments both take inspiration and diverge from the non-digital world.
Identifying undeveloped skills
When you do a postgrad degree at Oxford Brookes one of the things they give you on the first day that you turn up is a set of documents relating to skills. There is a training requirement that is part of a British PhD – it is something that the government established about twenty years ago (I think) in response to industry saying that they really valued particular skills that researchers have.
The problem was that many researchers didn’t know that they had these skills. So the training is a method, in part, of both formalising skills and reminding us that we have them.
The main document we are given is one that teaches us how to use the Researcher Development Framework. I knew from using this framework during my Masters that I feel I struggle with public speaking (which is required quite a bit when you’re a researcher) so I wanted to take as many opportunities as possible to practice this.
I’ve worked in teaching, on and off, for years. I started teaching swimming when I was 16. I’ve had various teaching qualifications since then as I worked my way through different parts of the leisure industry and now I support myself through my PhD, in part, by teaching lifeguards. I’m very confident standing up in front of a group of young people and teaching them in this kind of environment, so why do I get ‘the fear’ in an academic environment?
I think some of it is age. When I presented to my classmates during my undergrad I didn’t have any fear. I was ten years older than most of them and I knew what I was talking about each time. In fact, I more or less made up the talks on the spot with just research in my head, key facts written down, and a set of slides.
Overcoming ‘the fear’
Presenting your work to professionals is different. Or at least it feels different to me. It feels much more intense and like there’s room for error. At least in part, I suspect, this is down to the fact that these people might be my colleagues in the future, or even the ones giving me jobs.
There’s also the belief that, in my head, they know far more than me about their subject. I mean that’s not entirely true. After all, I did make a unique contribution to knowledge with my Masters thesis. I do know more than most academics in my institution (perhaps even all of them) about videogames as art.
That’s a funny thing to think about really. The idea that, as a student, you might know more than those people who are employed to research and teach your subject. Some days I can’t get my head around it and it feels utterly mind-bending.
Which is all the more reason to take every opportunity to step out of my comfort zone, demonstrate and consolidate my knowledge, and work on the skills that I’m lacking. It’s the only way to keep on moving up this incredibly competitive industry.