I am sat at my desk following the activity of the Royal College of Speech and Language Therapist‘s conference on Twitter. There is a great energy being projected from the attendees and the organisers and I can’t help but feel sad that I’m missing out. I have connected with many therapists and researchers via Twitter over the past year, several of them whom I know will be at the conference. It would have been a great opportunity to meet up in person and put faces to names and Twitter handles. Watching the proceedings from a distance does provide me with the opportunity to reflect on my own conference-going experiences of the last month however. I was fortunate to attend both the AAATE (Association for the Advancement of Assistive Technology in Europe) and a Lab4Living one day event in Sheffield. There is much that conference attendance offers an aspiring clinical-academic, but I wonder how the learning outcomes are translated to professional practice and academic development?
The AAATE conference, held in Sheffield in mid-September, gave me the opportunity to share my research plan with professionals working across assistive technologies (AT) in healthcare, from around the globe. During the conference I became much more aware of the research activity of the healthcare community in Sheffield (my academic home) and was also able to connect with people from other countries. There is some really interesting work happening in Canada within the Agewell group looking at using AT to support rehabilitation and ageing. AT encompass connected healthcare, digital technologies, environmental controls, wheelchairs, robotics as well as AAC. The conference was an opportunity for me to view my project through a much wider lens and to understand where there are areas of overlap between research in the field AAC and that happening in areas concerning other AT. I was becoming very focused on the detail of my own research project towards the end of the summer and the AAATE conference was an opportunity to look up and around at the bigger landscape in which I am working. The level of interest in my project during the conference was reassuring, I was asked questions which have helped me reflect and refine aspects of the research and I learnt a lot about developments in the field of AAC specifically and AT more broadly.
I went back to Sheffield the following week to attend a day conference called ‘Intersections of practice’ organised by Lab4Living, which is a collaboration between Art and Design and Health and Social Care at Sheffield Hallam University. This event provided a different perspective on healthcare and health research, more specifically the benefits of co-design. I learnt that the design process is intrinsically collaborative; ideas, concepts, and prototypes evolve through a process of discussion amongst stakeholders, modelling and then remodelling. Presentations from a range of people demonstrated where creativity has transformed aspects healthcare at either an individual, service or an organisational level. I reflected on how a more creative, collaborative approach could improve the way I organise my expert group meetings. The day inspired me to make the group more active in order that we could all get more out of the process of working together and ‘co-designing’ the research project.
Conferences are a fantastic opportunity to network with people, to champion my research project and to understand more about the research field in which I am operating. They are energising and exhausting in equal measure. They have helped me focus on my research and they have blown open a world of possibilities and potentials. I have been able to learn a lot from following the RCSLT conference proceedings on Twitter too. It doesn’t replace the experience of being there in person but Twitter does enable me to catch up on the highlights and participate in some of the discussions from a distance. Conference attendance is for a small and privileged minority, however. I am acutely aware, from years of clinical experience in the NHS, that attending conferences is rarely an opportunity many clinicians enjoy. Much of the content of conferences is concerned with cutting edge research, possibly years away from being a clinical reality. Sometimes having a view on the bigger picture can help provide a context for our existing reality however, and that insight into that context should be available more widely. As a clinical academic, I feel responsible for communicating my conference experience into a form that is useful and engaging for my clinical colleagues. Ultimately, the knowledge, skills and inspiration shared at conferences needs to be translated into clinical practice in order for it to be of value to our patients, clients and service users.
I’d welcome any thoughts on mechanisms for conference transference!