Beyond Words: Advancing Emotional and Physiological Safety in Conference Settings

Contact: Sian Oram


Department: Health Service and Population Research, IOPPN

Institution: King’s College London

Project timeline: Option 1 – January to March 2024

Option 2 – February to April 2024

Project duration: 13 weeks, full time.

Closing date: 4th December 2023

Expertise required: The student should have knowledge of qualitative methodologies and experience of qualitative data collection and/or analysis. STATA will be used to conduct quantitative analyses. Training in how to conduct analyses and use this software will be provided, if required.

Project description: The research project focuses on enhancing emotional and physiological safety and wellbeing for attendees at academic conferences, with a particular focus on conferences addressing violence and abuse. The project is led by the Violence Abuse and Mental Health Network (VAMHN).

Academic conferences can jeopardise safety and wellbeing in several ways. Power imbalances and hierarchies can create fear of judgement and hinder open communication; conferences may not be inclusive of diverse experiences, backgrounds, or identities, leading to feelings of exclusion and marginalisation; and inappropriate comments and discriminatory behaviour based on gender, race, ethnicity, and other factors can create a hostile environment. The pressure to perform well, coupled with the expectation of scrutiny from one’s peers, can create stress, particularly for academics who experience imposter syndrome. Conferences that focus on sensitive topics such as domestic and sexual violence can present further challenges. Attendees may have personal experiences of violence and abuse, and discussions on these topics may trigger traumatic memories and contribute to distress. Discussions can also evoke intense emotions such as anger, sadness, and frustration. Exacerbating these challenges is that these discussions take place in a public, professional setting, and attendees are often away from home and their usual support networks.

The project’s goal is to develop comprehensive guidelines and recommendations to support emotional and physiological safety and wellbeing in these settings. To achieve this, a mixed methods project is planned. A survey of violence and abuse researchers will explore the impact of attending these conferences on safety and wellbeing; document experiences of perceived good and bad practice; and solicit recommendations for future events. A nested qualitative study will provide richer data on participants’ views and experiences.

Findings will inform future conference planning and programming, most immediately a series of three annual conferences organised by the UKPRP VISION Violence Health and Society Consortium, which co-funds VAMHN.

Description of work involved: The student’s primary responsibility will be to organise, conduct, and analyse qualitative focus group interviews with researchers with previous experience of attending violence and abuse conferences. Ethical approval will be in place prior to the internship. Up to five focus groups will be conducted. Recruitment will be facilitated by the Violence Abuse and Mental Health Network, which has more than 1200 members across academia, policy, and practice, including over 300 early career researchers across the UK. Additionally, the student will clean and conduct basic analyses (e.g., frequencies, percentages, cross-tabulations, chi-squared tests) of survey data, which will have been conducted prior to the internship.

The student’s targets include identifying key themes and patterns from interview data and distilling recommendations; producing a report of qualitative findings; and collaborating on academic papers stemming from their analyses. Additionally, they will create an engaging video summarising findings from the Violence Abuse and Mental Health Network (VAMHN) website, ensuring a wider audience for findings.

Student benefits: This internship offers an opportunity for the student to develop their research and communication skills, expand their professional network, and potentially publish their work. Collectively, these experiences prepare them for a successful transition into their post-PhD fields, providing them with necessary skills and confidence for a career in academia or related fields.

(1) Research skills – The student will deepen their proficiency in qualitative research through the collection and analysis of focus group data, and will additionally develop skills in cleaning and analysing survey data and in the use of statistical analysis software.

(2) Academic writing and communication skills- By contributing to reports and academic papers, the student will enhance their academic writing abilities. Communication skills will also be developed through the production of a video summary, which will require findings to be distilled into concise and accessible language.

(3) Potential for publication – As an active contributor to the research project, the student will be invited to co-author academic papers based on the findings, enhancing their academic portfolio.

(4) Networking opportunities – Through the project’s links with the Violence Abuse and Mental Health Network and UKPRP VISION Violence Health and Society Consortium the student will be supported to engage with academics and professionals from a range of disciplines and sectors.

(5) Collaboration with a larger team – The student will work within a diverse and experienced team of researchers. This exposure allows the student to learn from colleagues, share insights, and engage in collaborative problem solving, enhancing their teamwork skills.