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BSG2011 Plymouth Conference – Selections from the Bursary Reports

Jan Bailey – Keele University

This year I particularly enjoyed the “Connectivity, place and elective belonging: community and later life” and the narrative gerontology symposiums, finding the presentations thought provoking and helpful in terms of my own research. For me one of the most valuable aspects of the conference was the positive approach to ageing taken by everybody, which permeated everything and was encapsulated by the conference theme “Understanding and Promoting the Value of Older Age”.

Attending conference also provides plenty of opportunity to meet with and chat informally with other delegates. This year I was able to catch up with people I had met last year at Brunel and at other events, and find out how they were progressing and share the trials and tribulations of doing a PhD. It is reassuring to find out that other students experience similar difficulties to you and even better to hear how they overcame them.

Ruth Basten – Keele University

For me there were a number of highlights during the conference; I found Andrew Achenbaum’s keynote fascinating. Speaking without PowerPoint, which was both brave and refreshing to experience, I found myself interested and entertained and wanting to learn more about Robert Butler. William Randall, Gary Kenyon and Ernst Bohlmeijer’s symposium relating to issues and interventions in narrative gerontology was very relevant to my own research and having attended very few symposia in the past, I realised that this format enabled the speakers to interact to a far greater extent and I began to see the similarities and differences in these individual’s approaches to research which I may not have discovered had they presented as separate papers.

Wednesday morning’s session within the narrative strand of the conference made me more aware of the many different ways that qualitative methods, especially participant inclusive research, are used throughout the world. It was clear that including members of the local communities as integral members of the research team enabled the research to be relevant to that community to a far greater extent than it could have been otherwise. I made a mental note to discuss this within my own research.

Amy Bennion – Aston University

I had found the conference last year welcoming and engaging and was not disappointed this year either! The conference started with a motivating talk by Christina Victor which highlighted many of the outstanding achievements in gerontology to date. I found myself awestruck and inspired by the achievements of others and encouraged to continue with my ageing work.

I spent much of my time attending papers related to wellbeing and quality of life which gave me a lot to think about for my own research. In addition, I attended many of the papers in the narrative and other research approaches stream. I particularly enjoyed the session on the Wednesday morning which included talks from; Amanda Clarke, Grant Gibson, Liz Lloyd and Laura Hurd Clarke. All were excellent papers reflecting the experiences of older people with chronic pain, older men with Parkinson’s disease, individuals who had lost their independence, and older people with chronic illness’ interactions with physicians.

Another highlight has to be Andrew Achenbaum’s keynote on the legacy of Robert Butler. This talk was incredibly easy to listen to, an impressive feat for one which used no form of visual stimulus or PowerPoint slides. I left the session with clear ideas about areas open for development in future gerontology research; focus on the life course, diversity in old age, distinction between individual and societal ageing, and how ageism changes over time (people are still making ageist comments every day which seem to be openly accepted and unchallenged!)

It would be hard not to talk about the spectacular conference dinner at HMS Drake Royal Naval Yard. It was certainly a night to remember in such beautiful surroundings. We were treated to a wonderful dinner followed by a touching, humorous and fascinating talk from Angela Rippon. The night was a perfect way to celebrate 40 years of the BSG.

Claire Garabedian – University of Stirling

I am in my second year of a PhD in the School of Applied Social Science at Stirling University, and this was my first BSG conference. I enjoyed it very much – in fact, I now identify myself as a social gerontologist! I received some very useful feedback/suggestions from people attending my presentation based on my thesis entitled ‘Effects of Individualised Live and Recorded Music on People with Dementia who are Nearing the End of Life and Their Primary Carers’. These included the importance of transparency and validation and the suggestion that I include another person as an interrater of the extensive video observation data I will be analyzing for this study.

I have chosen to approach the analysis of this complex intervention through ‘Realist Evaluation’ as presented by Pawson and Tilley (2001), so it was particularly helpful to hear Professor Vanessa Burholt present on the mechanics involved in conducting a ‘Realist Review’, as well as hearing how others in related fields and studies have grappled with complex interventions. I also appreciated making contact connections with others who are working with the arts and older people, and I look forward to learning more about the diverse approaches that are currently being investigated.

I was especially impressed by the extra effort that was made through the ERA branch of BSG to help us ‘upstarts’: the pre-conference workshop led by Frank Whittington and Nora Keating was very informative and also served as a nice way to connect with other postgraduates for the remainder of the conference. The ‘living library’ which occurred on the first day of the conference was also brilliant, and not only provided a great opportunity to meet important social gerontologists, but again also helped to make me feel more a part of the conference as well. In both cases, I was particularly impressed by the willingness of important researchers and academics in the field of social gerontology to take the time to meet with and encourage us.

Jeff Laguna – University of Southern California

This past summer I was provided with an opportunity to present at the BSG annual meeting and I am confident that I would not have been able to attend without a Bursary Award. Since joining the program at the University of Southern California, I have sought to expand my international perspective of the healthcare problems that my research attempts to address. For I have always believed that despite the vast differences in healthcare systems around the world, we are trying to answer the same question: How do we provide the highest level of care to all in this time of great demographic shift? This question led me to seek out international colleagues who study aging populations throughout the world, and ultimately led me to the 2011 British Society of Gerontology Annual Meeting. During the conference, I had the opportunity to reconnect with old friends from last year as well as meet other new researchers who share a similar passion with preparing existing systems for the rapid demographic shift of the aging baby-boomer population.

This year, I also believed that it was my responsibility to expose British researchers to the work that we are doing in the United States as well, as in my experience, there appears to be minimal cross-national collaborative efforts between our two nations. This led my colleagues and me to prepare a symposium on cutting edge American gerontological research. The symposium included collaborators from multiple United States universities and covered the relationship between resources and aging trajectories among United States older adults.

Hannah Marston – University of Waterloo

Attending the 40th Annual BSG conference at the University of Plymouth was an informative three days. Attending the pre-conference workshop organised by the ERA Chair - Christian Beech - enabled both students and academics to share their experiences and advice during their short and long academic careers. The pre-conference event focused both on British and international experiences, communicating methods deemed valuable for enhancing resumes and obtaining employment. The second networking event took the form of speed dating, with several academics across the UK, Europe and Canada, enabling students and post-docs to pose questions relating to personal experience, publishing, grant proposals and employment. Both events facilitated views and opinions to be taken on board and to learn via individuals, who have previously experienced similar processes. I hope this kind of event will occur in the future, facilitating new and existing students to discuss areas which they feel are important to them, and to share both positive and negative experiences.

The conference dinner held at HMS Drake, was an event to be hold. The surroundings were beautiful, and gave everyone an opportunity to network and meet delegates who are based in similar research areas the chance to discuss and forge connections.

Penny Sorensen – University of East Anglia

Attending the British Society of Gerontology Annual Conference was a new experience for me and only made possible by the generous bursary from BSG. Although I had attended various conferences about ageing, I had never had the opportunity to be immersed for three days with so many people interested in the same topic.

Other than the fascinating paper sessions which never ceased to inspire and enlighten, there were two quite diverse highlights for me. One highlight was the wine reception at Plymouth City Museum and Art Gallery. At the end of the first day, we walked across the road to the gallery and the sensory experience as we entered the enormous room, lined with paintings, piano music from the grand piano and the sweet smell of wine was something to behold. The evening provided an opportunity to chat further with delegates, not just about work and academia but also about art, travel and other interesting topics. I noticed that on the wall was a quotation from the artist Charles Ginner (1914): “Each age has its landscape, its atmosphere, its cities, its people”. It reminded me of the way each life-stage is described and the way individuals at various stages in their lives are viewed although I realise that that was certainly not Ginner’s intended meaning – maybe another reflection of my total immersion in all things related to ageing?

Laura Soulsby – University of Liverpool

Over the four years I have attended BSG meetings, BSG’s Emerging Researchers in Ageing group has provided me with opportunities to meet other early career researchers from a variety of disciplines within the field of ageing. This year, I participated in ERA’s Living Library, which was a real highlight of the conference and allowed me to discuss my research with established researchers and learn from their perspectives. I would encourage all early career researchers to engage with ERA.

Thank you again to BSG for such a stimulating conference and for providing me with the bursary which enabled me to attend.

Yiu-tung Suen – University of Oxford

I want to express my sincerest gratitude to the British Society of Gerontology for the bursary award that has enabled me to attend its 40th Annual Conference in Plymouth in July 2011.

The pre-conference Emerging Researchers in Ageing workshop was well organised and useful. Professor Norah Keating led a thought-provoking discussion on ‘career pathways in and through academia’. With both senior academics and early career researchers in the session, we discussed the joy and challenges of working in academia, with perspectives brought in from a range of countries. Professor Frank Whittington also shared some insightful advice on publishing. Above all, it was good to meet and discuss with other PhD researchers.

The ‘Living Library’ session was definitely a highlight in the conference. New researchers were given a chance to speak for around 3 minutes with each of the top Gerontology researchers in the room, to introduce ourselves, learn about each other’s work, and ask any questions we have in mind. It was particularly delighting to meet a group of highly dedicated academics who were very experienced and inspiring, yet extremely friendly and approachable.

I enjoyed a first-class BSG conference that was well-organised, attended by supportive and welcoming academics, and showcased research across a wide range of interesting topics. I strongly recommend the BSG conference to other PhD students and early career academics, and I very much look forward to attending other BSG conferences in the future.

Julie Udell – University of Portsmouth

I attended the ERA pre-conference workshop entitled ‘career pathways in and through academia’. Norah Keating and Frank Whittington talked us through various career pathways and we had been asked to interview researchers at our own universities so we heard about their experiences too. The workshop was a lovely way to start the three days as it gave me the chance to make some new friends, as well as to become familiar with the conference venue before it got busy.

I also attended the ERA ‘speed-networking’ session which was a brilliant networking opportunity and gave students the chance to have the ear of some experienced researchers for a few minutes. In the spirit of ‘speed-dating’, we had only a few minutes to introduce ourselves, find out our partners field of research and quickly chat about research (theirs, ours or both if you were quick enough!). It was a very intense, but a fun session which left us all feeling tired but exhilarated! I gained some valuable ideas from this session as well as getting some useful contacts for the future.

I attended the conference with my poster, entitled ‘Older people's lived experiences of fall and injury prevention interventions in care homes: An interpretative phenomenological study’. The poster session was smaller than I had expected but this was a bonus as it gave everyone a chance to see all the posters, especially as the posters remained up for the whole conference. As is usual with poster presentations, there was a ‘meet the presenter’ session on the Wednesday. I had not realised that the posters were being judged (too excited by the conference proceedings perhaps!) but I was asked to talk through my poster by two ladies who gave me a gentle grilling about the research (good viva practice!). I was very surprised (and delighted) on the final day when I was presented with the BSG Stirling prize for best student poster!

Naomi Woodspring – University of the West of England

Conferences, in their essence, are representative of the image an organization desires to project. There is a wide and varied flavor to the conference milieu beyond information in the form of keynotes, presentations, and panels. Networking tends to quickly shift one into one's place as conference attendees vie for a chance to engage with keynotes, and others whom they have deemed 'an important contact'. Conferences tend to feel a little difficult, a little strained, and not necessarily the most comfortable of social and professional gatherings. That said, I steeled for my first foray into a professional gathering of colleagues in my new profession or, at least, hopefully new profession. Simply said, the conference atmosphere both subtly and materially, was collegial, warm, and welcoming and, for me, an entirely new conference experience. The willingness of long-time professionals to connect with low-man- on-the-totem-pole PhD students was surprising and impressive.

All this makes me curious about the history of the organization, this branch of gerontology, who and why people have chosen the profession, and the deeper values that are exemplified by the BGS and how they came to be. Organisations can only be reflective of their history and the composition of their members and shared values. It is not only the values the group espouses, but also living those values within the boundaries of the group and as professionals. Over the life of BGS, like all organisations, it has constructed its own culture and narrative. From a number of people at the conference, I heard the story of creating a collegial organization. It was related as a story of difference and a reflection of the history of the Society. This story was told to me with a certain amount of well- justified pride. In an age where eye rolling and irony rule, this was refreshing. It is clear that honouring BGS and the care with which the organisers and members see the conference is an important cultural value.
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