Beyond Boundaries 2016: more than just your average postgraduate conference

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By Narelle Ontivero:

  1. How many people does it take to organise a Postgraduate conference?
  2. Five students; and, two convenors.

I’ll be first to admit, the words “Postgraduate” and “Conference”—like the lame attempt at humour above—are not the most smack-bang riveting words we associate with university life. The two words might even bring on an agitated, neck-jerking reflex (remnants of those quiet, grey, lectures that left a few scars during our undergraduate years).

So, let’s be honest, what is this ‘thing’? And, why does it even exist?

Behind its formal veneer and fancy name, the Interventions and Intersections: Postgraduate Conference is an inviting and engaging platform for Postgraduate students and academics in the School of Humanities and Communication Arts to meet; bounce ideas off each other; and, relish the opportunity to scavenge through “free food and coffee”—by far, the holy grail in any student’s vocabulary. But it took a while to figure this out.

Months earlier, I was persuaded by my kind supervisor—and Vitamin-D-deficient skin—to leave the little cave I call an office and talk to real people. The result was a haphazard jolt into the student committee to help organise the 8th Annual WSU Interventions and Intersections Postgraduate Conference! Suddenly, it seemed as though a never-ending stream of fortnightly, then weekly meetings and emails followed.

But, beneath what seemed a slur of conventions and checklists, a new world of academic culture and possibility unfurled. Believe it or not, this academic world is actually a lot friendlier than you think! Being on the student committee unveiled the possibility, engagement, camaraderie, and the willingness to collaborate that is embedded in the life-system of the WSU community. Do you need a speaker? Sure we’ve got one! Think you don’t have a panel? Well you just haven’t met *insert cool or generic name*!

The integrity that ran through the preparatory months in the committee happily filtered through to the conference event. Spread over two days, and interspersed with three heaven-sent meals each day, the two keynote addresses and masterclasses gave us an unsweetened take on the realities of life after PhD [and possible PTSD]; as well as the joys and challenges of interdisciplinary research. Refreshing honesty!

Most importantly, this year’s Beyond Boundaries conference celebrated the quality and innovation of student research. Linguistics, Music, Digital innovations, Literature, Politics—these are just some of the categories addressed by students, that inspired so many conversations, and exchange of ideas, throughout the day. All this contagious enthusiasm culminated in the 3-Minute-Thesis Competition: an electric and exciting competition, in which postgrad students have three minutes to present their 90,000-word thesis to an audience (it’s like the X-Factor of the academic world, celebrity WSU judges included).

The good news is you haven’t missed out on all the fun! There’s another postgrad conference happening next year, and there’s a seat with your name on it. Trust me, even if you think you’ll only be going for the food, you’ll be swept up in the excitement and end up staying for the conversations.

Special thanks go to fellow committee members Dr Anna Pertierra, Dennis Lam, Peter Long, Jo Williams, Janet Saunders and Amanda McNamara—the real backbones of the Conference.

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