Sussex PDEs 15/09/14 – Before the conference began

Setting and Scene

Lecture theatre, before the first talk begins


35 or so attendees who are slowly filtering in through the doors


Introductions, filling time before the talks begin. Some networking. Collaborative effort to get the projector to work. Later on, some reinforcement of the status of the University and Department.

Act Sequence

As attendees begin to arrive, small groups and clusters form. A group work together on connecting up the projector. After a short while, when everybody who was outside has moved inside and the hour stated on the programme has passed, attendees stop talking and a new arrival (Head of School) stands at the front of the room and speaks for a few minutes.


Introductions range from formal to informal. Mentions of jobs and research set the tone of some conversations as casual but professional. When the introduction begins it is friendly but the emphasis on congratulation and welcoming shows it to be a ceremonial.


Casual register, but with fairly standard grammar and terminology – ‘neutral’ face with some language of academic employment


To begin with, very unstructured and loose. New participants enter conversations easily. Anybody can join in futzing with the projector provided they have a certain likelihood to succeed with it. When the introduction begins, there are no interruptions and near-silence.


The initial conversations are first introductions, catch-ups regarding current and previous jobs and positions, and an undergraduate discussing her experience and changes in the department with postgraduates. The welcome speech is a presentation of the achievements of the department and positive wishes from the higher management of the University.

Many participants seem to know one another from previous conferences. There is mention of one attendee having left a job, and another mentions applying for a job of the same title at the same institution, and wonders whether it is the same job.

An undergraduate talks about her interest in the subject inspiring her to start this degree, but not having studied it yet at University she “[didn’t] know how much [she’d] understand”. A Graduate student commented, “Neither does anybody else”. This suggests that even those working in the same field do not expect to understand the work they see presented.

This group went on to discuss some of the workings of the department, offering a new set of courses subtly different from another set, which one participant suggested was because the University wanted to be seen to be offering many courses.

Points of interest

  • Reinforcement of the status of the department, to a group whose majority was from the University of Sussex
  • Even those working in the same field do not expect to understand the work they see presented

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