School’s (not) out for summer!



Recently back from the Manchester Metropolitan University Summer Institute in Qualitative Research, a heady kaleidoscope of Deleuzean post-qualitative research ponderings. I am (incredibly jet-lagged and) completing a proposal for a 4-person symposium at a forthcoming conference in Australia. While in this conjunction of the summer school and conference worlds, Laura McInerney’s blog in praise of small conferences popped up on Thesis Whisperer. I’m completely ‘with’ Laura on the value of a small conference, and I also love a summer school.

The MMU SIQR was my third summer school experience (attended one on practice theories last year and another on history, ages ago) and it has reiterated for me, the value of this format for doctoral students. Unlike a large (defined here by my standards of x100’s people) conference, summer schools are intimate – usually no more than 150 people, many of whom are doctoral students, and sharing similar interests, if in different disciplinary areas. Being with students from across disciplinary areas is in itself a plus (for me).

I find it fascinating and generative for my own work, to hear about other students’ topics, institutions, and applications of (shared) theoretical orientations. I find that at conferences I tend to spiral in the one world, and sometimes feel that I’m (only) preaching to the converted. While this can be good for confirming you’re on the right track, or give you a sense of where your research sits (for eg, solidly ‘in’ the field, or at its cutting edge), I haven’t found the kind of inspiration and learning that seems to happen in the space of cross-pollination at summer schools.

Perhaps also, it’s the pleasant familiarity of lectures and discussion groups that I enjoy at summer schools. It’s like being an undergrad again, where people tell you stuff, you write it down (or increasingly, I notice, take photos of slides…) and think about it, rather than having to figure it out for yourself in the first instance.

I also love the the talking-ness of summer schools. Formats differ, but at those I’ve attended, there is generally a mixture of plenaries (followed by small group discussion), workshops, and presentations and discussion of doctoral work. These styles of interaction with the material, with other students, and the presenters, means you work with the ideas immediately and intensively, and this often seems to generate strong connections with others, leading to great conversations in break times.

Another thing I love about summer schools is the proximity and access to presenters. Although it can be daunting to find yourself in conversation with an intellectual hero, it’s pretty amazing to try out your ideas, or ask what you’ve always wondered about in person. And think of the name-dropping when you’re back at your institution ; ) !! (They don’t have to know that in meeting the rock-star in your field, you are a little disappointed to find them lacking in charisma, civility and/or interest in anyone but themselves…oh the disillusionment…)

Ok. So this is a quite one-sided argument. I really like summer schools, I find conferences a bit hit-and-miss, I think summer schools lead to more productivity, and I’m yet to find a conference that does much for me.

So, why am I completing a proposal for a 4-person symposium at a forthcoming conference in Australia? Well, it’s a bit like Myer and David Jones (they’re our two big department store chains in Australia…). One has a ‘sale-time that comes but once a year’ (and a ‘clearance’, which is apparently different…but anyway, stay with me), and the other store has sales with a regularity bordering on the ridiculous.

So what I’m saying is that summer schools don’t happen very often – i.e. in ‘summer’ – but there are (depending on your field) many conference opportunities through the year. And the one I’m submitting to is a specialist conjunction of a theorist and my area of research, so it’s a quasi-conference, though not quite a summer school.

But it is in the summer.

Author Bio:Tamara is a Doctoral Student, at Charles Sturt University, Australia. Her thesis explores the work of early childhood educators in practice assemblages. She spends her time writing furiously, attending fabulous summer schools (and occasionally fabulous conferences), and explaining the term ‘poststructural’ to anyone who will listen.