My First Conference: Women in Agriculture

Last month, armed with business cards and directions, I attended a conference for the first time as a PhD student. The event was designed for women working in farming to recognise their contribution to a field in which they are typically underrepresented. My aim, apart from enjoying a jaunt to Edinburgh, was to use the opportunity to gauge the response to my forthcoming research and to learn some of the challenges faced by women in farming. For the large part, we were left to our own devices to 'network' before a panel discussion consisting of Prof. Sally Shortall and the stars of the TV show This Farming Life, amongst others. 

What did I learn from the experience?

Networking - A range of people attended from farming organisations to social researchers. Despite initially feeling daunted by the clusters of chatter, the first question that struck me was how to break into these groups of acquaintances. I plucked up courage to home in on someone who also seemed to be alone and after a sweep of their name badge, we got talking and exchanged contact details. Then she introduced me to someone else. This organic process of contact-making snowballed and before I knew it, I was emphasising my connection to Scotland and farming to build a rapport with fellow delegates.

Live Tweeting - Prior to the event, I determined the relevant hashtag and made contact with those who were attending. During the event, via Twitter I shared key messages learned from the panel, visual content and retweeted insightful comments. Not only did this allow the conversation to extend after the event but also acts as an archive of information to refer back to at a later date.

Public Engagement - Akin to a '3 minute thesis' designed to condense an 80,000 word project into a digestable form to non-specialists, explaining my research in an accessible way allowed me to hone my research priorities and impact for the female farmers I was speaking to. I was also able to listen to their experiences in the industry as an anecdotal preamble to my research. One take home point in particular was the diversity of women involved in farming, including career changers and linchpins to diversification projects, which I am keen to draw upon in my research. If I had been planning to conduct research in Scotland, this could have been an interesting opportunity to recruit participants! 

How do you fare with networking? Do you have any tips?