Narrative Matters 2010 – Participant Reflections

This was my third experience of making presentations at an international conference. I find all of these experiences enjoyable and rewarding, in both similar and different ways. What is shared among these experiences is the sense of fulfillment through successful dissemination of some of my thinking and work and also through the positive feedback from the audience to my work and presentational performances.

As many PhD students may agree, it is not always easy to find colleagues or peer students around you who specialise in your areas. I could discuss general issues about research methodology and thesis writing-up with others, but I still felt “academically lonely” sometimes because my thinking regarding the topic areas tend to stay in my own mind or between me and my supervisors.

In brief, my Doctoral research focuses on the academic acculturation experiences of students from mainland China studying in UK higher education. I used a narrative research approach to explore this topic. Therefore, my research process has been one in which I explored three main areas: acculturation (usually discussed within the broader field of “intercultural communication”), “Chinese students’ academic experiences”, and narrative inquiry. The three conferences I have attended so far (focusing on “Chinese students’ needs in UK higher education”, “intercultural communication”, and “narrative inquiry” respectively) provided me with exciting opportunities to meet, speak to, and exchange thoughts with like-minded academic people from all over the world.

At the conference “Narrative Matters 2010”, I had my first experience of co-presenting a paper with my supervisor, Richard Fay. The whole process of preparing for, and making, the presentation was both productive and fun: e.g. we performed a “bilingual trick” as a prelude to our main presentation about “undertaking research bilingually” and it worked nicely with the audience.

This conference was particularly meaningful to me in that it helped boost my confidence about undertaking narrative inquiry after receiving some hard criticisms on this aspect in my viva held months ago. I have come to realise that to become an independent academic, it is not enough just to learn to do research. It is also important to learn to position myself confidently in the academic world constituted by a wide variety of views and voices. After all, the aim of doing research is more than producing a research report. You want to contribute to the wider academic circle, which means your work will be read, discussed, and critiqued by others. As a novice researcher who has mostly been immersed in self-study, am I confident and brave enough to confront challenges from other researchers when I step out of my comfort zones? I experienced pains in my viva, and I want to become stronger and braver. Again, I think one thing that helps is to find my “community/ties”, and I find my conference experiences very useful in this regard.

The presentation I made with Richard at “Narrative Matters 2010” was about the implications of undertaking research bi- / multi-lingually (see the presentation slides attached here. In the presentation, I told my story about my developing awareness of this issue as a research student and my research story of dealing with the bilingual issues throughout my Doctoral research. I was glad that the audience found my stories to be “informative / transformative”. One audience’s interest even went beyond the “bi-/multi-lingual” topic to my whole study, requesting an E-version of the complete thesis! Very encouraging and rewarding, and I would really love to do it again!