As all good ideas usually start out, the idea for this year’s 2017 ADM PhD Conference developed through a conversation over burgers and chips. What did we want this conference to be? Or perhaps more importantly to ‘not be’?

Working at Birmingham City University in the Faculty of Arts, Design and Media we are continually inspired by the type of work that our PhD researchers are producing. The variety and distinction not only of topic ideas, but also the forms that research can take is something that we were particularly keen to reflect through our conference. This meant breaking away from the restrictions of the ‘traditional’ conference format.

An exciting but slightly daunting few months lay ahead of us…

In developing ideas words were floated around such as: ‘routes’, ‘pathways’, ‘margins’, ‘peripheries’, ‘spaces’ and ‘bridges’.

Eventually the ‘Beyond Borders’ conference was named.

Armed with our list of ‘words’ we set out to develop our ‘Call for Proposals’, (actively choosing to use the word ‘proposals’ instead of the usual word ‘papers’ to prompt submissions that went beyond the traditional paper format).

With an aim to facilitate an inclusive conference, we wanted to use it as a developmental opportunity for all ADM PhD students. As PhD students ourselves, we know how difficult it can be to ‘decode’ calls for papers and write an abstract that meets the conference aims. Therefore, we offered a session aptly named ‘Abstract Writing S.O.S’, and also facilitated a drop-in coffee session to give people a space to discuss their ideas.


Before we knew it the deadline for conference proposals was upon us and we met, armed with coffee, to go through the submissions.

We were really happy to receive a high quality of proposals and used the AHRC’s criteria for awarding funding with a peer review panel of 5 to assess submissions. While reading the proposals we were able to start envisioning an exciting conference full of happenings, performances and exhibitions.


And so ensued an intense period of preparation …

Lattes were consumed.

Notes were made.

Conversations were had.

Thousands of pieces of paper were printed, photocopied and laser guillotined to make DIY conference booklets.

A (legal) production line was set up to make over a hundred goody bags.

And we even managed to source a piano.


We found ways to move around normative institutional borders emerging victorious with pizza and icecream for lunch, and vouchers to be spent at one of the Parkside coffee pods.

…….and the day of the conference quickly arrived….

Sitting through Tim Wall’s conference introduction, shortly followed by Geof Hill’s cabaret performance about the possibilities of research, we could see the idea of a non-traditional conference coming to life.

From the fluid room layout, which allowed people to move between conference sessions to an exhibition space filled with video footage of London, art work, a crocheted ‘researchers hat’, museum artefacts and 50 printed publications as an alternative musical space, the ‘feel’ of the conference really reflected the diverse nature of research work that exists within the Arts, Design and Media Faculty here at BCU.

Participants were able to engage with a number of workshops, either crafting spoken stories, weaving borders or helping to re-cover the lost visual history of Ka’bah. In particular, the mess created through these workshops helped contribute to the lively atmosphere that the conference had.

…. and this was all before lunch!

After pizza, icecream and cross-disciplinary networking we had a piano performance, a messy investigation of the permeable boundaries of contemporary painting and a performative presentation exploring the work of Pauline Oliveros.

Sitting in the Eagle and Ball pub at 4:30pm after Jacqueline Taylor’s wonderful conference ‘Epilogue’ we were proud of the conference itself, but in particular we were proud of the PhD research community that the Arts, Design and Media Faculty has at BCU. Throughout the day itself it was inspiring to see researchers from a diverse range of disciplines not only showing off their own work, but also engaging with the work of others, and learning from their ideas and experiences.

This isn’t all that the participants were able to take away either. Throughout the day we were lucky enough to have the contribution of the Riffs Journal, a postgraduate-led journal encouraging ‘experimental writing on popular music’.

Through short sessions titled ‘Setting the scene’, ‘On the edges of the medium’ and ‘Re-locating borders’ the team from Riffs explained their vision… to produce a conference zine in the space of a day. Encouraging all participants to provide content for the zine, and working in an editorial office space next to the conference exhibition the team were able to achieve their vision, and physical copies were delivered to the pub following the conference!

You can view a digital version here …


Conference stuff …

Take a look at the conference booklet here.

Details of the Beyond Borders keynote (a key note) here.

Information about our speakers here.

And our conference programme here.


Oh and if that wasn’t enough, we also have a conference video by one of our PhD researchers Juan Pablo Viteri.

Where now?

Inspired by Beyond Borders we are currently developing PhDfest; a celebration of PhD research at ADM. Aptly, it is the first PGR Studio event planned for 2018, which we hope will kick off the year in style.

In a few weeks The PGR Studio team will also be presenting/performing a conference paper ‘Beyond the Thesis: The pedagogy of ‘stuff’’ at the Provocative Pedagogies: Performative Teaching & Learning in HE conference at the University of Lincoln. If that wasn’t enough, we are in the early stages of developing possibly our most ambitious project to date … an edited book that brings together and articulates all of the happenings in textual form. Something, we hope can capture the wonderful research and PhD community happening at ADM.

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