Post 6. Some reflections on…conferences

The spring and summer months are often referred to as the ‘conference season’ among academics as this time of year generally coincides with fewer teaching-related commitments and (for those fortunate enough to have funds), the opportunity to present work at conferences. In the broad discipline areas aligned to physical activity, exercise and health there’s a lot of conferences to choose from to present research, to meet new and existing colleagues and collaborators, and to see what others in the field are doing.

In June I was fortunate enough to attend a few very different conferences, symposia, and research presentations. The first conference was the ISBNPA meeting in Prague in June. This is arguably the biggest international conference that is specific to physical activity, nutrition, and health and I believe this edition attracted around 1200 delegates from across the world. The beautiful city of Prague was no doubt a big attraction for many and the Prague Congress Centre was a great venue for such a big meeting.

 

I took part in a pre-conference workshop on measurement of physical activity and dietary behaviours and also presented some research on cutpoint-free accelerometery metrics (https://osf.io/ve9rq/). These were very enjoyable experiences which stimulated some useful post- talk conversations with researchers whose work I follow but have never had the opportunity to chat to. In my opinion this the best conference I’ve been to for a while in terms of the quality of keynotes, symposia, and free communication presentations. The keynotes from Prof. Greet Cardon (optimizing active ageing: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7e6aI27atGI), Dr. Bruce Lee (systems approaches: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=baNi3WQwa-k), and Dr. Esther van Sluijs (youth physical activity promotion: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OvI4RaIIo78) were really excellent and provided lots of food for thought where my own research is concerned. At the other end of the experience scale the presentations from PhD students and ECRs were also really impressive, reflecting high quality work in a variety of areas. Away from the formal sessions there were lots of opportunities to catch up for social and work-related conversations. Overall, though expensive, this was a really worthwhile and enjoyable large-scale conference.

The following week I attended the GM Active conference focused on physical activity in children and young people. GM Active represents 12 leisure and community organisations across the boroughs of Greater Manchester that are committed to promoting physical activity for health (https://www.gmactive.co.uk/). Greater Manchester and the GM Active group will deliver Sport England Local Delivery Pilots to enhance physical activity opportunities among the least active across the region. The GM Active day was hosted by Jack Shakespeare (https://twitter.com/JShakespearePA) from UK Active Kids (https://www.ukactive.com/ukactive-kids/) and featured talks from various GM Active partners on initiatives taking place to engage and promote physical activity, particularly among the least active young people in these communities. As someone who is used to listening to research presentation this day had a really different flavour for me and it was really interesting to find out about the various and often successful programmes that are being delivered in the region. These programmes also experienced various challenges but it was great to listen to the deliverers and practitioners talk about how they overcame these. A key element was the immersion of the deliverers into the community settings to engage with the young people and implement the sessions (night-time urban golf and tennis anyone?)! I had the graveyard slot to give a research perspective on the issues around partnership and physical activity promotion in youth.

The audience was very different to the ones I’m used to presenting to, but it was refreshing to present alongside practitioners, local authority physical activity specialists, strategic leads, and industry deliverers (e.g., https://twitter.com/PhysActivityEd/status/1141320855806521345). Although our language and view of the issues may differ I think that this was a hugely valuable event to allow different perspectives to be shared and considered and to allow conversations to happen outside of the constraints of the different parties’ usual frames of reference. The additional bonus of this event….it was held in the National Cycling Centre which is an amazing facility if you like cycling. GB cyclists and coaches wondering about the building and some great visual displays of cycling excellence were dotted throughout the venue – I was in my cycling geek element!

Next up was the BHF-sponsored research symposium on Motor Competence in Childhood which was excellently organised by Prof. Mike Duncan (https://twitter.com/MikeDunky) and colleagues at Coventry University. This event was a nice opportunity for PhD students and ECRs to present their work in a friendly and supportive ‘low stress’ environment alongside established researchers including Prof. Duncan, Adj. Prof. Eeo Haapala (https://twitter.com/EeroHaapala) from the University of Jyvaskyla, and Prof. Mai Chin a Paw from VU Amsterdam.

This event was a really nice relaxed mix of content and experience, with lots of opportunities to strike up conversations over lunch and coffee breaks (poster presentations were even integrated into the breaks which gave even more opportunities for PhD students to discuss their work). Edge Hill Researcher Dr Rich Tyler (https://twitter.com/RPOTyler) and PhD student Ash Cox (https://twitter.com/AshCox16) presented some of their work and got a lot out of the experience, particularly having to respond to some tough questions! Ash was especially happy as he won the prize for best presentation of the day! We set off for Coventry at 6am and only got back late so it was a long day, but it was well worth it.

Just after the Coventry event the ICAMPAM conference got underway in Maastricht. I didn’t attend this conference but got lots of updates from Twitter. It’s fair to say that I had massive FOMO during these three days, which it turns out was well justified, such was the range of exciting and innovative PA measurement research presented. Funds for conferences only stretch so far though so missing out on some things is inevitable!

The last presentation I attended was the inaugural Professorial Lecture for my friend, collaborator, and colleague Prof. Zoe Knowles (https://twitter.com/SpExPsych). Zoe did a fantastic job delivering an entertaining, honest, and very much thought-provoking lecture charting her career and work and life philosophy. Zoe’s an innovator and her lecture was no different as it was the first at LJMU to be live streamed, it had an artist creating a live sketch of the lecture as it unfolded, and to cap it all her amazing daughters took to the stage at the end to deliver their own words of appreciation and wisdom. This really encapsulated how our work lives are so closely tied up with our personal and family lives and it was a really nice touch which brought a tear to more than a few people’s eyes!

So, June was a busy month for conferences and presentations. Reflecting on these different events a few take home thoughts are (in no particular order)….

  • Conferences can be expensive but don’t have to be
  • Conferences can be attended but pass you by if you let them – to avoid this engage fully, attend as many relevant sessions as possible, and talk to as many people as possible (most are nice, helpful, and open, and are keen to talk about their work)
  • The conference presentations that we spend hours preparing can be shared and disseminated in different ways post-conference (social media, personal websites, Open Science Framework (https://osf.io/dashboard), etc)
  • Have an open mind to different approaches, methods, and ways of working and try to find out more about the stuff that really piques your attention
  • We never stop learning…I have learned so much from attending these events from established research leaders, PhD students, and from local authority delivers.
    • I think this is the most important reason for attending conference type events and Prof. Greg Welk summed this is up nicely in his ISBNPA pre-conference workshop talk when he said that the more he learned about the topic (in this case PA measurement), the more he realised he didn’t know! To hear this from a leader in the field was really refreshing and sums up how it should be really – the quest for knowledge is never-ending!
  • If travelling by air, pack some spare clothes in your hand luggage…..some colleagues know that I seem to be somewhat cursed by lost airline baggage 🙂 !!

I’m looking forward to doing it all again in August at HEPA Europe in Odense, Denmark, which promises to be another excellent learning experience!

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