Wolfson President Professor Jane Clarke opened the event by urging students to think about the role they can play in academia, and encouraging them to remain curious. She also reminded us of the challenges that lie ahead for Wolfson, with worries of academic fees, falling enrollment of mature students and uncertainty about Brexit.
This annual Wolfson College is organized by students, for students. Chaired this year by myself, Aliandra Barlete (PhD Sociology of Education, 2016), the Event Committee was fortunate to have experience and advice from Wolfson Fellow and Librarian Meg Westbury throughout the six months of preparation for the event.
Masters, PhDs and undergraduate students were able to present their research and listen to feedback on such diverse topics as: education, social anthropology, bilingual cognition and developmental disorders, neurobiology, pure mathematics, criminology, public health, modern British hstory, Parkinson’s disease, nuclear energy, international relations and politics, environmental policy, pharmacology and clinical neurosciences, Human pathogen biology, Radio Frequency Identification, Stem cell/Virology, media studies, plant sciences, molecular biophysics, Japanese literature and Medieval history.
Just before lunch, poster presenters performed the challenging task of giving a Flash presentation to the audience. Think it is easy to present your research in 12 minutes? Can you imagine if it is only 60 seconds?
Apart from the students, WRE also featured two keynote addresses. ‘Living with uncertainty — the joy of bring wrong’ was the topic of discussion by Professor Dame Ottoline Leyser, the first speaker. Professor Leyser challenged us all to embrace being wrong and to learn from our mistakes, as “science is process of testing hypothesis”. However, she added that you need to do so with creativity and imagination. Science is about method, and not about ‘truth’, or outcomes. “Progress is being repeatedly wrong” and accepting failure is part of the creative process which leads to better science.
With a poignant keynote entitled ‘Is the tail wagging the dog?’, Dr. Danny Kingsley brought to the table a subject that is key to all those working in academia: the use of academic publishing as a reward system. She took issue with the trope, “The only thing that counts in academia is publication of novel results in high impact journals.” After describing several practices that perpetuate — and undermine—the academic reward system, Dr. Kingsley gave us an update on the latest attempt to tackle this problem, the Declaration on Research Assessments (DORA). This movement aims to instigate a paradigm shift in the academic reward system with measures such as eliminating the use of journal-based metrics for academic progression, and to reassess research on its own merits rather than on the basis of the journal in which the research is published. An advocate for open-access publishing, Dr. Kingsley updated us on the progress of this effort within the University of Cambridge.
Despite being impacted by the weather and the University strikes, the Wolfson Community made the effort to attend and support the students. It was a day of lively discussion, curiosity and good networking.
The event ended with the certificated Ceremony for all participants, as well as the presentation of the Terry Hart Prizes for best poster and best oral presentations.