DE-Summer School Report

The Digital Economy Network (DEN) holds annual Summer Schools hosted by different Centres for Doctoral Training (CDTs) within the network. The aim of the Summer Schools is “to bring as many different Centres together at once, as well as to engage the wider Digital Economy PhD and researcher community,” [i]. In July I headed down to Loughborough University’s campus in London for the residential. The Loughborough CDT’s focus is on Embedded Intelligence (EI) however the summer school went beyond this theme. I was looking forward to spending a few days away with my fellow PhD’ers as well as meeting new folks. This post will provide an overview and reflection of the three action-packed days.

The summer school kicked off with a panel that discussed the topic of “aligning skills to jobs for the digital future of the knowledge society”. Many of us as postgraduates have industry partners so that there is a potential ‘real world’ outcome for our research. However, going beyond life as a PhD student and considering a career path, this panel seemed much more focused on the private sector than in academia. There was a lot of emphasis on entrepreneurialism, speed and efficiency. While these qualities are great in most environments, I have concerns that sometimes the keen newcomers may be subject to exploitation. Even though it wasn’t really discussed, an unintended takeaway for me was a reminder that we still have to maintain a healthy work-life balance.

There were a couple of things from the discussion that stuck out for me:

Harald Egner shared some really interesting insights. He was very cognisant that his experience is not one that can be replicated in ‘the knowledge society’. However, something that was transferable was that things change. Technologies and mind-sets, and we have to be open to that. We may not like it but we have to think about how we can make it work for ourselves.

Following the panel, we had a quick-fire networking workshop. This was fast paced but enabled us to quickly iterate our PhD pitches into 1 minute. I met so many people who are doing completely different PhDs to me, many of them around improving efficiency in the manufacturing industry. As someone doing a much more social-science orientated PhD, I had to think carefully about using language that was clear and made sense to a much more technical audience.

There were different strands at this summer school so that we could opt into workshops that were more suited to our research interests. On the first day I chose the Cybersecurity Lego challenge. In a group we had to play a scenario-based game whereby we had to increase our power plant’s cybersecurity over four rounds. This was a great workshop for bonding, since we learned about each other’s backgrounds and skills so that we could solve problems together. Working together and communicating clearly meant that we played the ‘almost perfect game’, so we were pleased with that!

On the second day, we had a whole day of learning something new. I went to workshop on how to use ‘Tableau’. It’s data visualising software that many big companies use all over the world. Since I have no experience in making data look great (apart from making bar charts in Excel) I thought that this would be a great experience to get ‘hands on’ and learn with others.

I sometimes find these kinds of tutorials really difficult because you end up copying what the instructor is doing and you don’t really know why you’re doing that function. However, in the afternoon we were given challenges of visualising the data in certain ways and finding out answers to questions. Turns out I had picked up a lot more than I realised and ended up really enjoying myself. While my data is going to be mostly qualitative, I think there will be opportunities to visualise more quantitative data at some point so I’m quite excited. I can really see how this skill can fit into my PhD, which in itself made the Summer School absolutely worth it!

On the final day I joined a poster making workshop. I haven’t ever made a research poster so I thought it would be a good opportunity to learn about good practices. We were asked to draft up a poster to present in the afternoon. I decided to make mine around my PhD as a whole, since I didn’t have any data yet. It was purple (for Crohn’s and Colitis UK) and had an infographic section that explains what Inflammatory Bowel Disease is. It also outlined my motivation, questions, methodology and outcomes. Top tips that were given to us were: stick to two/three colours; include correct institutional logos and follow marketing styles; remember to include your name and contact details; use infographics to help demonstrate points/data; make clear headings so information flows; and, don’t use too much text. In short, the poster has to be attention-seeking, clear, informative and memorable.

Speaking about it in front of people was pretty terrifying to be honest. Everyone seemed so sure about their research and I still feel like I am just finding my feet. Maybe at the next summer school I will feel more settled in.

Finally, I wanted to add that we had fun! There were also social activities from dinners at the Olympic Park to sliding down the Orbit slide. We also created the official summer school drink: Glushies, a gin and watermelon slushy cocktail.

I would definitely recommend going to a summer school like this one for these reasons:

  1. So that you get used to talking about your work with people outside of your discipline
  2. Meet new people
  3. Learn new skills
  4. Trying new things in a safe environment




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