Jenny Galbraith is currently finishing her PhD at the University of Stirling and is the Policy and Practice Officer for CIH Scotland. Jenny’s PhD research concerns Central and Eastern European migrants’ experiences of life and homelessness in Scotland and her research interests revolve around homelessness, housing and health and migration. In this blog, she reflects on her time engaging with the Housing Studies Association’s as an Early Career Researcher and attending the annual conference.
When I first joined HSA back in 2017, I was in the first year of my Doctoral studies. I presented in the Early Career Stream that year. It was my first presentation outside of my university and my first presentation to people who were homelessness experts (my area of study). Quite simply, I was terrified.
I recall being anxious as I got up to do my presentation. I was first to present and it was in the late afternoon, so I had had all day to build up my fears. I remember registering the sea of faces as I stood up, and despite it being late in the day, the room was full. I remember my hands shaking as I held my notes, willing in vain for it to stop. My mouth went dry with fear, similar to the sensation of eating a lot of peanut butter, and my heart was pounding.
However, despite this, what I remember most about HSA 2017 and this presentation is the supportive faces of everyone present, the interesting questions and discussions that followed, and afterwards people coming up to me expressing their enthusiasm for my research. People whose work I admired also admired mine. It was exhilarating, and for a first year PhD student who was wracked with doubts, it gave me a renewed determination to carry on.
Having now presented at the annual conference every year since 2017, and having been lucky enough to get a bursary to fund my attendance in 2019, I have never found that support to dwindle. Through being a member of the HSA, and attending the annual conference, I have made friends, gained an understanding about areas of housing outside my area of expertise, and been able to have stimulating conversations about my own, and others’, research.
While the PhD is an isolating process, being able to connect with people who are, or have been, in a similar position has made it easier. At my first conference, I met a lovely bunch of people who were in the early stages of their PhDs as well. Every year I go, it is encouraging to hear how much their research has progressed over the year.
As I am now approaching the end of my PhD, at HSA this year I was also able to get advice about many of the options available to me after completion. While it is scary to think about the PhD ending, having a group of people with a range of experiences to discuss options with was invaluable.
Now, having attended many conferences over the years, I have never been to one as accepting and friendly as the HSA. I frequently hear other people also commenting on this, both Early Career Researchers and those more established in their housing careers. The HSA also integrates the ECR stream into the main conference programme. This has allowed me to present alongside experts in my field, which has been invaluable for the array of feedback it generates.
My HSA membership has also allowed me to do other things, such as running the event Doing Housing Research: Methods and Reality at my university last year along with my colleague Emma Harrison. We designed the proposal and were awarded funding via an HSA event bursary. The event brought together practitioners, Early Career Researchers and academics to discuss the realities of conducting housing research. This process gave me further insight into what it is like organising and co-ordinating an academic event, and it was a good learning process that without HSA’s support I would not have been able to have.
So, if I could talk to my past self who was so nervous at presenting and going to a conference, I would tell her not to worry. Engaging with the HSA has been rewarding both professionally and personally, and I wish I had done it sooner.