Former TORCH Graduate Project Coordinators, Adele Bardazzi and Alexis Brown, discuss their experience of managing the AHRC-TORCH Graduate Fund and developing the first Public Engagement Summer School in 2015.
We began developing the AHRC-TORCH Graduate Fund and the 5-day long 2015 Public Engagement Summer School as a part of an internship at the Humanities Division during the summer of 2014, under the direction of Dr. John Miles, Humanities Training Officer. This was a real opportunity to develop two projects from the ground up. No other university had developed a student-led student initiative fund, for students by students. There had also never been a public engagement summer school in Oxford before, despite the fact that many researchers here were doing fantastic work across a variety of disciplines. These projects began as reports developed for the Division, outlining our plans and designs for how they might be implemented. We then had the wonderful opportunity to see these projects through to completion as Graduate Project Coordinators in the autumn of that year.
This was when the real challenge began: how were our designs going to stand up against the test of students expectations and the reality of implementation? We first had to develop training for the Student Peer Review College, the members of which would be crucial in reviewing applications and allocating funding. We prepared and delivered a peer review training session in November for interested students, which also included a session on how to put together an effective application. The fund had four streams: a journal, podcast, conference, and public engagement project. We received an impressive breadth of applications from across the humanities, and the Peer Reviewers did an excellent job assessing and providing feedback for each of the applications.
What was truly unique about this process was that it was as much a learning experience for those students reviewing applications as it was for the students who applied, whether or not they received funding. All involved left the process with a much better idea of what made for a successful funding application and sustainable project across a variety of disciplines. We were finally able to fund several exciting projects, including a conference on Arab Nahda in its regional and global contexts and the RightsUp – Global Perspective on Human Rights podcast series, among others.
The AHRC-TORCH Summer School was an equally successful endeavour. It consisted of 5 days of skills workshops, lectures and small group sessions designed to furnish its 20 Oxford humanities participants with the skills to integrate public engagement into their research. Sessions focusing on online skills (WordPress, blogging, writing for different audiences, basic information about website development/coding) and presentation skills (TV, radio and other l presentations) helped prepare attendees to construct and deliver a pitch for their own public engagement project on the final day of the School, with the chance of receiving funding to pursue it in the coming year. We were able to award funding to three outstanding projects, including Ushashi Dasgupta’s generation rent and Dickens project, Lucy Busfield’s palaeography project, and Kanta Dihal’s and Sarah Griffin’s Museum of History of Science podcasting series. Participants reflected on their summer school experience in a video here.
One of the most rewarding aspects of this work, however, has been its sustainability. We very much look forward to seeing what the next generation of Graduate Project Coordinators, Rhea Sookdeosingh and Emily Knight, do with the Summer School and Graduate Fund going forward.