First, grab a cup of tea, coffee, water or whatever you enjoy drinking. This is going to be interesting…
Attending academic conferences I believe is a tradition for researchers. So when the opportunity to participate in BAICE 2022 came up, I was keen to be a part of it. Not just as a delegate but also as a volunteer. Through the planning process, I quickly became aware of all the moving parts necessary to ensure that the conference was successful. From abstract selection to individual events, I was intrigued by the level of detail, commitment and care (for attendees) that went into the planning. For instance, my subcommittee handled diversity and inclusion and during one of our meetings, we started discussing breastfeeding! Now, even though I am a mum (and welcomed this discussion) and even though I joined the committee with some experience in conference planning, I certainly did not expect this. Needless to say that when we started discussing toilets, I knew there would be no messing around at the conference (pun intended). Partaking in the planning I must say made me appreciate the usefulness of diversity in any committee.
As the conference drew closer, I started developing cold feet because quite frankly, I wasn’t sure what to expect. On the one hand, the thought of attending my first in-person conference as a PhD student excited me. I thought of learning, presenting, meeting new people, experiencing a new city and seeing all the planning bits come together as a picture but for the exact same reasons, I was equally terrified. My brain wouldn’t stop with all the “what ifs”. Besides, I had received mixed reviews about previous BAICE conferences. Nonetheless, I was determined to make the best of the experience.
You can therefore imagine how I felt arriving in Edinburgh on my birthday (12th September) and being greeted by its stunning landscape and structures. I fell in love with the city instantly. I couldn’t stop taking pictures and recording.
Although I would have loved to go into the main castle, I couldn’t for obvious reasons- The late Queen’s body was travelling through Edinburgh. And though the rites of the late Queen did cause disruptions to my commute, it was equally an opportunity to witness how some of the rites were done- like the canon firing that happened every 2 minutes or so. When I heard the first bang, I ducked (please I can’t shout!) but seeing that I was the only one ducking, I knew there was probably nothing to be scared of.
At the reception later that evening, I met other ECRs and some members of my PhD research group (The RG) from the University of Cambridge for the first time in person (no thanks to Covid). The highlight of the evening was when members of The RG and Bukola Oyinloye gathered in person and virtually to celebrate my birthday. I thought they had forgotten but I was reminded by their gesture that while I may not be with my biological family to celebrate, I still have a family in them. I am grateful for the support and the privilege. At this point, I do not need to tell you more other than that I confidently told a colleague to meet me at The Pollocks. “The what?” My RG friends laughed. They felt sorry for my poor colleague who was about to set out to find The Pollocks.
The conference itself started on Tuesday the 13th. During his welcome address, Professor Tejendra Pherali, said “…BAICE is deeply committed to promoting non-hierarchical, dialogic spaces where voices of scholars from the Global South are brought to the forefront and our early career and doctoral scholars are valued at our conference. We have so many delegates who are attending BAICE for the first time. If you see someone who appears to be somewhat lost or hiding behind the wall because they do not know who to talk to, please do approach them and make them feel at home.” My heart screamed, “He understands!” as I started to feel more at ease. The conference began earnestly with a stimulating address by Professor Jane Naana Opoku-Agyemang. She challenged us to rethink the one-sided power play by the Global North and be more promoting in the Global South if we are to develop sustainable partnerships. She reminded us that scholarship, information and funding are not innocent. There are intentions behind actions but in all of it, we must be sincere because we need each other. Though I wish this was delivered in person, I’m not sure much else could have been done to salvage the situation that necessitated an online address. Thanks to the tech team, we were still able to connect with her despite the glitches and learn from her speech.
As the sessions began running, the real dilemma of choice-making presented itself. Despite pre-selecting the sessions I wanted to attend, I soon found that I wanted to be in more than one session at a given time. This was one aspect I found frustrating given that there were so many interesting abstracts. I wished all the sessions were being recorded. Though I understand the constraints that made that impossible, I hope that we (the BAICE committee) can look into this again in the future. On the flip side, I really loved the mix of presenters across the entire conference. As a PhD student, I observed that presentations by PhD students and ECRs had a good representation. I think this was quite useful for balancing the power hierarchy.
My lovely experience of BAICE was not just in the learning. As you may have noticed, it was a combination of different things. As a member of the planning committee, I was pleased with the final lunch menus (I believe every disappointment is a blessing…). While I can’t say that the cauliflower steak on Wednesday night was a favourite of mine or my table mates (and I’m being nice here), dancing Ceilidh in a fashionable Nigerian Ankara dress with peers and senior academic colleagues who I have only ever known for their research is the memory of the night I would rather focus on. The dance which featured tunes and chaos (stepping on feet and falling over ourselves) was fun to partake in and beautiful to watch. I must say that this was such a refreshing part of the entire BAICE experience.
There were so many aspects of the conference that I was pleased with. The learning and networking that happened during the conference deserve another blog post entirely. Seeing mums engage with the conference freely with their babies, our famous Research Group (The RG) presentation, the Ibali creative session, my presentation, the meeting and conversations with Pauline Essah, Rafael Mitchell, Paul Lynch and so many other amazing people, presenting with Bukola Oyinloye, Alice Amegah and Joycelline Alla-Mensah, and the laughs when Margaret Ebubedike joined in and we talked about our desire for “baby girl lifestyle” are all the things that I would have loved to talk about but I can’t because this is fast becoming a book chapter.
Now to the question- BAICE or REPLACE? Would I attend a BAICE conference again or replace the conference experience? I definitely would choose BAICE! As a member of the planning committee and a delegate, are there things that can be improved upon for future conferences? Absolutely! For instance, I would have preferred that we weren’t still looking for session chairs during the conference (though I met so many lovely people through the process). However, we are learning and with each conference, we will improve. To everyone who has given us feedback, thank you. Let’s do it better together. Serving with amazing people on BAICE 2022 Planning Committee (co-chaired by Alison Buckler and Jingyi Li) has been nothing short of a privilege and for this, I am grateful. To Professor Nidhi Singal who told me about BAICE and encouraged me to join, thank you.
So here I am, heading home after the conference and reflecting on my memories of BAICE 2022. Overall, it wasn’t perfect but it was insightful, beautiful and memorable. Although, it took me an additional day to be reunited with my luggage (after the accidental luggage swap that happened on arrival at my destination), still, l I look back with a buzzing brain and a grateful heart.
Now that the conference is over, it is time to take action and put the learning into practice. Let’s transform education positively through reflexive thinking, ethical practices and meaningful partnerships. As Professor Mario Novelli brilliantly said, “Let’s reconnect the alternatives.”