Article by Dr Martin Culliney

I have been attending the SPA annual conference since 2011, when it was held here in Lincoln. I was then a second year PhD student at the University of Birmingham and did my first ever external presentation at that event. I found the environment to be supportive and was very interested in the wide range of topics being presented across the conference. Since having that positive experience first time around, I have returned to SPA conference again in 2012, when it was held at York, and in 2014, at Sheffield. I had no hesitation about submitting an abstract for the 2015 conference in Belfast.

Whilst at the conference, I met for the first time with a colleague from Southampton who I have been working with on the issue of internships. We had been talking about this for some time, but this was the first chance to meet in person, which enabled us to share our views and plan the way forward. Before the conference I was also contacted by a publisher who was keen to receive a proposal for a short book based on this work. Attending external events is an important and effective way of promoting your research, and I would not have received this expression of interest had this project not been mentioned in the conference material.

I attended a session on approaches to teaching quantitative methods, with talks given by staff from institutions benefitting from Q-step funding, including former Lincoln colleague Tina Haux, now at the University of Kent. It was encouraging to see emphasis being placed not simply on showing students how to press certain buttons to execute operations in SPSS, but on explaining the principles behind these methods, and how such analyses would fit into a broader programme of research. I was also happy to see evidence of students pursuing their own chosen topics of interest, and assessments in the form of posters and other tangible outputs. This seemed consistent with the ethos of the successful ‘student as producer’ initiative recently promoted here at Lincoln. It was a useful session for sharing best practice, and illustrated how research and teaching can – and should – overlap.

On the whole this was a productive and enjoyable trip which will prove useful for future teaching and research. It was great to see some familiar faces and also to meet new people. I am looking forward to the European Society for Rural Sociology Annual Congress in Aberdeen next month!