I arrived in Glasgow with rain lashing against the windows of the train, a familiar knot of worry in my chest and google maps open on my phone. This was my first visit to the city and my first EMCRF. It offered the opportunity to meet a whole host of people who I had grown to admire over the past few years. As I left Glasgow station the rain eased, I found my hotel and I took a deep breath.
The next morning, I set out to join the netECR pre-conference brunch. I was barely through the café door when I heard a cheery voice call my name. I was greeted as an old friend, with hugs, smiles and introductions as faces familiar from twitter profiles became real and present people. From that moment I knew that I was going to be okay. I joined netECR during my first year as a PhD student. I had discovered the group through the suicide and self-harm twitter community and I was welcomed warmly. This conference gave me my first real opportunity to deepen the connections I had established and broaden my network further. A hefty pile of pancakes later we walked and talked our way toward the conference venue. Already I felt that I was finding my place in the crowd as I chatted with a fellow PhD student who would be presenting alongside me on day two.
Proceedings were launched with an upbeat welcome from Professor Rory O’Connor who urged us not only to tweet about everything, but also, reassuringly, to ‘look after ourselves and each other’. Three diverse and inspiring talks followed from Dr Donna Littlewood, Dr Amy Chandler and Dr Kevin Hochard. Each in turn sharing their experiences and expertise. Reminding us to involve our participants in all stages of research; to be mindful of the wider contexts within our participants operate; and finally – again – to take care of ourselves as we move onwards into employment.
Over the following day and half, three pairs of parallel sessions gave opportunity for researchers to share their projects. The programme was stimulating, full, and helpfully organised under themes including, ‘Intervention and Lived Experience’; ‘Psychological Processes’; and ‘Epidemiology and Public Health’. Two excellent keynote talks bookended our overnight break. Professor Keith Hawton, closing day one, talked expansively about self-harm and suicide in young people, drawing on his decades of research expertise and knowledge to focus on current statistics and potential strategies toward improving the outlook. Day two started with a professional and personal reflection from Professor Siobhan O’Niell who spoke with warmth, congruence and stark insight about her research in Northern Ireland, and the devastating legacy of conflict that is evident in trauma, mental illness and suicide rates.
Innovative highlights included the live-streaming via twitter, of a wide-ranging and lively panel debate; and a ‘poster-walk’ which gave a platform for poster presenters to share the key points of their work. I am grateful that I was awarded a British Academy Travel Grant to support my costs in attending the conference. This meant that I presented in the British Academy Session: The Sociology of Suicide. I was alongside a wonderful group of researchers. We were able to showcase a range of qualitative research that gave voice to professionals, parents, children and young people who have experience of suicide and self-harm across diverse social contexts and cultures.
For me, the highlights weren’t about individual presenters or keynote talks; rather, they were about the passion, commitment and drive that were evident across all aspects of the conference. It was in the expert knowledge and quality of research that presenters bought to the lectern. It was in the energy that surged during breaks as people mingled, talked and shared; it was in the friendliness and kindness of others as they developed connections and a sense of togetherness. It was in the humanity with which the event was organised – Professor Rory O’Connor dishing out bowls of soup at lunch-time typified the warmth and sense of community that grew around me as the conference progressed.
As I walked away on Friday afternoon I noticed that the knot of worry had untangled itself; instead the experience had woven a warm blanket of belonging around me. There is much here that we can all learn and share as we move forward in our careers, no doubt organising and leading events ourselves, about how to weave warmth, comfort and kindness through the fabric of conference proceedings.
Thank you, especially to Rory O’Connor and his colleagues at the Suicidal Behaviour Research Laboratory for setting the tone; and of course, to the netECR team who embraced that tone as an opportunity to reach out, welcome and celebrate that we are all part of one academic family.
Hilary Causer is a PhD Candidate at the University of Worcester (firstname.lastname@example.org) exploring the impact of student suicide on staff at UK Universities.
Featuring photo by Richard Lundy.