A Summer of Study and (sometimes) Sun

While January saw me plan to have my thesis completed by the start of summer, July arrived with the acceptance that it was never going to happen.  I’d planned lazy days in the sunshine, paddling on the beach with the kids without a care in the world.  The reality was nothing like I’d planned.

Ok, we did have the odd day of sunshine and we did make it down onto the beach (we live in the North of Scotland, so a temperature of 15 degrees has us out on the water in our dookers) but days off were few and far between and the month began full throttle.

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The first week of July (also the first week of the school holidays and Daughter Two’s birthday) was spent at the Design PhD Conference at Lancaster University.  Held every two years at Lica (an amazing design research building you must visit if you’re in the area), this conference provides an engaging forum for PhD researchers from across the UK and this year ran from the 2nd to the 3rd of July.  I first attended the Design PhD conference in 2012 as a new, and very green design phd researcher.  It was my first conference experience and actually my first ‘work trip’ away from home without children (cue mothers guilt in droves and reams of prepared parenting instructions and itineraries left for my other half!).  I met some amazing people, heard about some very interesting research and learned some valuable tips on how to do a PhD.  It was also one of the first opportunities to spend time with the other PhD researchers on the Design in Action project.  When the opportunity arose to attend again, I submitted an abstract and was delighted to be invited to present.

The theme for 2015 was Better by Design: Environment, Society & Self and the paper I submitted was titled ‘Driver of Change or Director of Drivel: Considering Self, Entrepreneurship and Design in a PhD Journey’.

This year I wasn’t organised or early enough to book accommodation on campus (Lancaster University is out of the city centre) and so stayed at the Royal Kings Arms Hotel in Market Street.  A wonderfully central location, very close to both the train station and bus links to the University, the hotel itself is quite traditional but in need of an upgrade.  The staff were welcoming though and the breakfast room is a wonderful space.  More importantly, it’s just a few metres from the delightful Merchants Restaurant and Bar where you can sit outside and enjoy the sunshine.

The two-day conference was busy (you can read the full programme here) with two fantastic keynotes from Dorothy Mackenzie, co-founder and chair of Dragon Rouge who spoke about ‘Envisioning the Circular Economy: the role of design in focusing on future opportunities’ and Sara Parkin, founder director and trustee of Forum for the Future who discussed ‘Sustainability Literacy in Life and Design’.

I returned from Lancaster excited by all the chat and inspired to share more of my research.  The next week I had a few days off and travelled with my other half to attend T in the Park at its new home, Strathallan Castle.  Alas, the sunshine did not hold and the fields quickly turned to mud, but isn’t that what it’s all about?  TITP is definitely what you make it, and what you want to be.  Form no opinion until you have experienced it for yourself and there is something for everyone (even for my parents who attended their first ever T, having received tickets as a christmas present from my siblings and I!).   The venue was smaller and experienced a few teething problems, however it was, as always, an amazing experience and we heard some fantastic live music.  We travelled back up North after the last act on the Sunday night, arriving home at 4.00am with time to have a much-needed shower and grab an hours sleep before I had to be up again to catch the 6.30am train back down south, this time to Sheffield.

Cue a well deserved round of applause for my other half, who did all of the festival unpacking and washing while I picked up a pre-packed suitcase of work clothes and shouted bye as I legged it out the door (smelling decidedly nicer that I did 12 hours earlier)!

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Next stop, Sheffield.  I was delighted to have another paper accepted and be invited to present at the amazing Design4Health Conference in Sheffield.  Running from 13th – 16th July 2015, Design4Health is a biennial conference that brings together designers and creative practitioners with researchers, clinicians, policy makers and users to discuss, disseminate and test their approaches and methods.  It’s an extremely busy conference, with multiple tracks running and a huge variation in the context and content of research being presented, but so interesting and valuable too.  The main challenge is in choosing which presentations to see.  I presented a paper co-authored with colleagues ‘Immersing the artist and designer in the needs of the clinician: evolving the brief for distraction and stress reduction in a new Child Protection Unit’ and was featured in a track with some very interesting research including the work of researcher Peta Bush from London Metropolitan University whose work on The Craft of Wearable Wellbeing was awarded best paper.

Keynote speakers at the conference were: Lucy Lyons, lecturer in drawing research and painting at City & Guilds of London Art School and artist-in-residence at Barts Pathology Museum; Professor Julia Cassim, Kyoto Design Lab, Kyoto Institute of Technology;  Brendan McCormack, Head of Nursing, Queen Margaret University, Edinburgh (I will never forget this presentation, if you have the opportunity to hear Brendan speak then go along ‘Methodological Slut’ will stay with me forever!; Gail Mountain, Professor of Health Services Research, University of Sheffield; Rachel Cooper, Distinguished Professor of Design Management and Policy, University of Lancaster and finally Mat Hunter, Chief Design Officer, UK Design Council.

It was also my first visit to Sheffield and I was amazed by the work undertaken to redevelop the city, the almost seamless merging of the university campus with the town and the fantastic public art thread running throughout.  On the first evening I walked with colleagues to the Kelham Island Industrial Museum, an amazing location and well worth a visit.  We ate alongside at Craft and Dough and I can’t recommend them enough!  A fantastic selection of craft beer to be enjoyed with some amazing freshly cooked pizza and served at large tables to enjoy the company of the other diners.  I stayed at the Hotel Ibis Sheffield City which was great value for money, a central location for access to the city centre on foot and the most comfortable hotel bed I’ve ever slept on (although granted any night away without the kids has the potential to be the best sleep ever, 12 hours uninterrupted sleep anyone?!).

I arrived home from Sheffield absolutely shattered but truly inspired.  It’s one of the more expensive conferences to attend but really valuable so if you have the opportunity (and the travel budget to match) then I urge you to go.

Thanks to Daniel Holstenholme for the pinched twitter pic, I’m looking very engaged in the yellow jacket!

The following week I was on parent duties, with the annual village gala week.  Seven days of fun-packed family activities and some much-needed sunshine too.  Ahhh, it sounds seamlessly merged as I read over the schedule for July but I’ve glossed over the stress, the comprehensive organising and careful planning it entailed.  I needed a few weeks to recover but alas, it was the school holidays.  Who said holidays were meant to be relaxing?

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