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YorkTalks PhD Research in the Spotlight Competition

Posted on 11 January 2017

Feedback on the PhD Research in the Spotlight Experience Qiu, Shuang, PhD student, Centre for Women’s Studies, University of York

The PhD Research in the Spotlight competition is part of the YorkTalks 2017 event and the exhibition run in parallel with the YorkTalks programme of talks. Three finalists had been selected from each Faculty, and there were nine finalists in total. I was luckily selected as one of the finalists of the Social Science Faculty to go through the final on 11 January 2017, held in the atrium of the new Spring Lane Building. We were asked to present for the full day to engage visitors with our research pieces.

Initially, when I received the email about the PhD Research in the Spotlight competition, I was immediately very interested in taking part in this prestigious opportunity. I love to share and communicate with people about my research and experiences whilst on fieldwork in China. My research focuses on Chinese couples living apart together -(LAT) relationships. One aspect that I am curious about, is how do people who cannot meet face-to-face on a regular basis, keep their relationship and maintain intimacy, and potentially question the way in which they ‘do’ intimacy? Although it is in a Chinese context, people all over the world might have had similar experiences in living separately with their partner, albeit, in some countries, this entails getting married. Therefore, the study will be of interest to people who are concerned about gender and relationships, Chinese Studies, and intimate relationship.

In the review session I found it very useful, as the postgraduate research team offered us some tactics to think about in terms of the language we used when presenting our research, and the ways to attract passers-by at the exhibition. It gave me a general idea to think how to design my poster and interact with the lay audiences. However, one of the potential challenges of attending the competition was the audience itself. In contrast to presenting research work to my colleagues and supervisors, this time, the audiences consisted of people who were in academia, such as professors, but also non-specialist people, such as people outside of the field. In addition, since I assumed that the majority of general public would not be Chinese, therefore, some of them might not very much familiar with Chinese culture. How I presented my work in an attractive and easy-understandable way became a challenge for me. Under such circumstances, my supervisor and also our Centre’s director, Professor Victoria Robinson, gave me strong support during my preparation. For example, she suggested some specific quotes from my participants which could be used, in order to give vivid details from my rich data about Chinese people and attract people’s attention. Throughout the whole preparation process, it was an enriching experience to try to make my research accessible and interesting to a lay audience. I think it was a great skill to have gained if you want to work and research beyond academia.

More interestingly, on the day of the event, each finalist had an allocated space to showcase their research throughout the day. When everything has been set up the audience and judges walked around and viewed our research pieces. I enjoyed explaining and discussing my research with the audience, and I really appreciated their interests and feedback on my poster. I recall that some of the observers exchanged their knowledge of my specialist study area with me, and I appreciated that people can show interest in the phenomenon and research on LAT relationships, after I explained the concept of Chinese couples living separately to them. Indeed, some people noted that some of their friends had a similar experience with a LAT relationship but in a different cultural context to the Chinese one. A woman mentioned that her daughter was in a LAT relationship with her husband. Therefore, she would like to know, and if possible, to try to understand her daughter’s feeling when couples are living separately. To be honest, their accounts inspired me and gave me motivation to continue with my research, if the concept of LAT relationships had meaning across different cultures and for diverse groups of people.

Finally, I would like to say this was an absolutely fantastic experience for me, being able to share my research with a wider public including other doctoral students. Talking with a diverse group of people strengthened my confidence and communication abilities. Further, it offered me a great opportunity to meet people, both staff and students, who shared an interest in different aspects of my research issues and questions. I am also grateful, for not only the prize but also the feedback people shared with me, regarding its impact on my future studies at CWS and the University of York.