Virtual PGR Conference 2020 a great success
Dr M Ahmad Syed is a Senior Lecturer in Geotechnical Engineering here in the Department. His current research is on understanding and modelling the impact of climate change on geotechnical infrastructure and on reusing waste material (particularly agriculture) for designing sustainable infrastructure. Dr Syed is also Deputy Director of Postgraduate Research (PGR) with a focus on PGR student experience, and this year he was responsible for planning and delivering the annual MACE PGR Conference.
Due to the Covid-19 crisis, Dr Syed had to quickly adapt his plans to move the PGR conference online. We caught up with him to hear more….
“The PGR Conference is an annual event, running every year since 2013, and so 2020 was the 7th edition! During the PGR conference, our postgraduate research students showcase their research via poster and oral presentations. Academic staff provide feedback on the abstracts, posters and oral presentations, and 4-page long papers submitted by the students.
The event begins with a keynote lecture, usually a recent graduate of MACE (Mechanical, Aerospace and Civil Engineering), followed by several themed sessions during which the postgraduate research students make oral presentations. The associated awards for the ‘best oral presentation’, ‘best poster presentation’ and ‘best paper’ encourages healthy competition amongst the students. Following the day-long event there is an evening social event, at which the award winners are announced.
The event is well-received by the students; it provides them with hands-on training for preparing and attending conferences in front of a rather friendly audience (MACE peers). It is evidence of student vitality. The postgraduate students value the interactions that they have not only with their peers but also with members of the academic staff. The conference provides the students, their supervisors and others a platform for fostering collaborative and interdisciplinary research. This interaction often leads to the development and eventual submission of research grant proposals.
“The event provides our postgraduate researchers with hands-on training in preparing for and attending conferences”
I am very proud to say that despite the lockdown due to the Covid-19 pandemic, the MACE PGR Conference still went ahead, and was successfully delivered online via Zoom. This meant that several changes had to be made to the structure and format of the conference. Considering the health and safety and well-being of everybody involved, the conference was moved to a 100% online format.
The conference sessions were spread across four days rather than one day in order to make it easier for our students to join. Deciding upon the timing of the sessions was pivotal; as we wanted to accommodate students who had left for their home countries (and thus were in different time zones). It was decided to have only two sessions in a day, a morning session followed by an afternoon session. Longer sessions had a virtual coffee break of 10 minutes; and during this, the participants could chat with each other if they preferred!
“I am very proud to say that despite the lockdown due to the Covid-19 pandemic, the MACE PGR Conference still went ahead”
The 2020 PGR Conference took place in May via Zoom. Dr Asad Albostami, a recent MACE graduate, and now an Assistant Professor of Structural Engineering at the University of Petra, Jordan delivered the Keynote Lecture titled ‘My PhD – A Challenging And Rewarding Journey’. Following the keynote lecture there were 62 oral poster presentations by postgraduate research students. The presentations covered the following eight themes:
- Robotics and Bio-Engineering
- Management of Projects
- Laser Processing, Additive and Innovative Manufacturing
- Aerospace and Space Systems Engineering
- Climate Change, Buildings and Extreme Environments
- Modelling and Simulation
- Thermofluids and Computational Fluid Dynamics
- Materials Modelling and Resilient Systems
The biggest challenge was trying to do everything online and assuming the technology wouldn’t fail us (neither me nor the participants!). From a technological point of view, there were several things which could have gone wrong, for example, the internet connection not working; not being able to connect Zoom; the participant not being able to use ‘Screen Share’ to present their work, etc. The organising team overcame these by planning for well in-advance and also providing opportunities for the participants to practise ahead of the event if required.
“This online conference was the first-of-its-kind in the Faculty”
To my knowledge, this online conference was the first-of-its-kind in the Faculty, if not the whole university. I was really pleased with the success of the conference; and for that I want to thank everybody involved in managing and organising it and for supporting the event. And well done to all our students who took part, and congratulations to the PGR Conference award winners!”
Find out more about our areas of research expertise on the MACE website.
Check out the research and impact section of the blog to hear about the great stuff going on in the Department!