Spaces and places in academia

Words by Chloe Cannell

Chloe Cannell talks to current PhD students Shawna Marks, Paul Chambers and Simone Marangon about the upcoming Gender, Sex and Sexualities (GSS) postgraduate conference, and their involvement as members of the organising committee.

The fifth annual South Australian Postgraduate and Early Career Researcher Gender, Sex and Sexualities conference will be hosted by the University of Adelaide, Napier 102 lecture theatre September 19–20. The aim of this conference is for researchers to share their work across disciplines, such as sociology, creative writing, visual art, anthropology, politics, health science, Indigenous studies and more, in a safe, supportive environment. This year’s theme is “Space and Place: Conceptions of movement, belonging and boundaries”. The theme is intentionally broad to allow academics from multiple disciplines to explore and present ideas of spaces and places and how they can be intersected with gender, race and sexuality.

How was this year’s theme decided?

Shawna: “This year’s theme was decided by the committee as we looked for an overlap in the research from our varying fields. Last year a lot of people talked about spaces, and at the time the Human Rights Commission was looking into sexual harassment in universities. Space can be considered in other places, too, like work, street, or more spiritually — like a connection to country.”

Simone: “We wanted the theme to be open. When we’re early career researchers, we take things very literally, so we all agreed that the notion of space and place can be interpreted in so many different ways. It was a way to make sure that it was super inclusive, and that a lot of different people might reach out to us with their abstracts.”

Why did you get involved with the GSS conference committee?

Paul: “I found the 2017 conference really compelling. I really enjoyed it from the word go. It was really good, because it was a space where anyone could get up and say what they had to say — and a lot of people I think we’re speaking for the first time.

“It was very supportive and I heard perspectives that I had never heard before. I thought next year, if I’m not going to speak at it, I’ll at least help.”

Simone: “I formed some friendships with the people from the committee and it made me realise in the first year of my PhD that what I’m doing is really important. So when they suggested I should join the committee I thought why not.”

Why is there a focus on postgraduate students and Early Career Researchers (ECRs)?

Simone: “It’s meant to be for people who are in the early stages of their academic career like PhD students, and perhaps people who have just come out of their PhD and haven’t presented a lot. I think a lot of the time when you’re first starting out as a researcher, it’s really scary to have to submit an abstract to a conference where you might be going and speaking in the same session as someone who already has a PhD, and has maybe five, ten, 20, or however many, years under their belt. It’s quite intimidating. An environment focused on early career researchers is meant to be supportive and may provide an opportunity to receive constructive feedback on presentations.”

Shawna: “This conference is for postgrad, honours, masters and ECRs because there isn’t much support for these young academics or a space for them to connect with each other. At other academic events, people will grandstand, and ask questions to promote their own work. Or they can be unfriendly or intimidating. The GSS conference aims to be a supportive and non-threatening environment to help those at honours level feel more comfortable presenting, or for postgraduate students to meet people and build connections to avoid isolation.”

Paul: “The regular conferences cost quite a lot of money and they can be quite daunting. It is hard if you’re a poor postgrad student to travel without funding and grants. It’s great to have something ongoing in this city that’s across disciplines, across universities and is quite a grassroots project. There should be a lot more of it.”

Many postgraduate students present for the first time at the GSS conference. How did you find presenting your papers in previous years?

Simone: “It was the second conference presentation I’ve ever done — and the first time I’ve ever presented anything from my honours thesis. It was pretty nerve-wracking, but one of the big reasons why I wanted to get involved with the committee was just how beautiful and supportive the conference atmosphere was.

“It felt as though I was walking into a sort of beautiful utopia where other people were as interested as me in thinking and talking about gender, sex and sexualities. It was a beautiful little haven for all of us to hang out together.”

For someone who’s never been to the conference, what should they expect?

Paul: “Expect a range of views on many subjects that possibly could change your own views on how the world is — so it could be challenging. Expect to be challenged, to be educated, and prepare to have your mind opened.”

Simone: “A really, really supportive and welcoming environment. I found that from the moment I walked in, people were so open and lovely and happy to be there, and be a part of a community of people who are working in areas that are really important, and sometimes undervalued in society, so you should come.”

All are welcome to attend the Gender, Sex and Sexualities conference, whether postgrad, undergrad or just passionate about the theme and intersectionality of the conference.

For more information, to get to know the team, or keep your eye open for registrations, visit or our Facebook page.

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Adelaide University student magazine since 1932. Edited by Nicholas Birchall, Felix Eldridge, Taylor Fernandez and Larisa Forgac. Email us at

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