Students Lead Global Expansion

The energy and commitment of five postgraduate researchers helped make this year’s White Spaces research network conference a huge success, attracting more than 30 delegates for the three-day event.

White Spaces was founded by Dr Shona Hunter at the University of Leeds to explore ideas of 'whiteness', its relationship to gender and gendering, and white identity and ethnicity. Fostered by the Worldwide Universities Network (WUN), the network has gone from strength to strength. It has members from countries including Australia, Canada, New Zealand and South Africa, and stretches across the disciplines of communication and cultural studies, sociology, critical race theory, feminism, social geography, history and literary studies. WUN partners Sydney, Cape-Town, Wisconsin-Madison and Southampton are leading players in this expanding collaboration.

 "The academic arm of the White Spaces research network has been developing since 2006, and it's grown steadily with the help of WUN" explains Dr Hunter. "In 2007 we ran an inaugural network conference at Leeds, which was a tremendous success. This year we wanted to launch the postgraduate research (PGR) arm of the network, and the idea for the conference was initiated by the PGRs themselves with supervision and mentoring from me as academic lead."

Five PGRs formed the conference's organising committee and worked over a period of nine months to organise the conference. Tasks included making funding applications, putting out calls for papers, budgeting, organising venues, accommodation and refreshments, and advising on travel arrangements. Although the conference was part-funded by a WUN Leeds Fund for International Research Collaborations (FIRC) award gained by Dr Hunter, the students also obtained a range of support from other internal and external bodies.

Say Burgin (School of History), the PGR student who chaired the committee, says:

"It was professionally challenging and really useful - I can see why PGRs are advised to get involved in conference management, as it was very interesting and I learnt many new skills and increased my confidence. It was also a great opportunity for all the delegates to showcase their work and expand their networks."

Dr Hunter is now working on consolidating the practitioner arm of White Spaces which will help strengthen international enterprise and knowledge transfer (EKT) activities. "We've won a number of small external research bids to support our activities, and have also received WUN mobility grants from some partner institutions.

This has resulted in exchanges of staff and students between the WUN partners. Between us we are funding a series of workshops in the UK, Australia and South Africa over 2010-2011. PGR ‘Master-classes’ will be running over the course of 2010-2011 with the first one just completed at Sydney to great acclaim.

"We have plenty of other plans afoot in terms of bids, publications and the further development of EKT and PGR activity via virtual seminars. With help from Leeds Social Sciences Institute (LSSI) and the WUN we've made connections with European funders and hope to soon be in position to successfully apply for a European Council grant, which will enable the White Spaces network to continue to grow and flourish."

This article first appeared in Oct 2010 in the University of Leeds Reporter Magazine.

For more information on the WUN White Spaces network contact Kirsty Mattinson at the University of Leeds.