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Eleonora Piga

07 July 2023, 1:48 UTC Share

Standing on the shoulders of giants

When I hopped on a train to Birmingham from London at 7.30 am, I assumed that the packed carriages were full of UPEN members sharing my excitement for the Annual Conference at The Exchange. Little did I know that an important game of cricket was also happening on that day!

What excited me most about the event was the line up of speakers for the day, people whom I was eager to hear from, to learn about their careers and personal development journey. The academic and policy sectors are both of great interest to me, and as someone that has only just started considering career options, to be able to tap into both is extremely valuable. The venue, the Exchange building part of the University of Birmingham, reflects the duality of UPEN, having been established in the last Century as the Municipal Bank and then recently refurbished to become part of the city’s leading University.

Considering my role as an Intern for UPEN, I imagined I would be too busy with the organisation part to find time to chat with the people attending. Laura had organised a beautiful event and had left little to be arranged there and then, so my tasks for the day involved networking and getting to know as many people as possible. I thought that was an interesting activity, and as a self-appointed extrovert I thought it would be easy, but I found myself being shy around people I knew had a lot more knowledge of policy and academia than me. It then came as a surprise when I discovered that people were instead happy and even eager to talk to others and exchange opinions and knowledge. Truly an attitude fit with the theme of the conference, “the Future of Knowledge Mobilisation”.

Needless to say, I have a lot of research to do; some of the talks were difficult to follow, and I found Google to be a great ally for quick research. Nevertheless, people showed interest and asked questions that sparked further conversations and discussion. Time went quickly and just before lunch time the audience split into three groups for the parallel workshops. Considering my current research in Community Engagement I chose to attend Andy Mycock’s workshop, which turned out to be the most popular one. Afterrunning around to try to find 20 additional chairs, the workshop started and seemed to end too soon, as people were fully engaged with the topics of discussion. As the day went on, I found myself gaining more confidence and even feeling uplifted by the energy in the room. In the end, as people slowly made their way out to catch their trains and head home, we all felt like we truly were a part of something of great value, and I personally felt inspired and eager to help drive change through knowledge.

I have now officially started my role as a Public Policy Intern, and I look forward to meeting everyone again at the next Annual Conference. In the meantime, I will make sure to memorise the glossary of abbreviations and acronyms!

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