Reflections on the 1st PhDs in Transitions conference

Guest post by Mara van Welie, Reinier Verhoog and Susan Mühlemeier 

The 1st PhDs in Transitions Conference on April, 28th and 29th 2016 in Greenwich was an inspiring meeting of PhD students and senior researchers from diverse backgrounds, covering sustainability transitions in the areas of energy, mobility, built environment, water, and sanitation. This new conference format was designed and organized by the PhDs in Transitions network. Thanks to their efforts, we were part of a refreshing two-days meeting in the Hogwarts-like atmosphere of the University of Greenwich.

The core concept of this conference was to focus the first day on senior researchers, providing insights from their current work and long-time experiences for the PhDs – where the PhDs tied in with their questions and remarks. On the second day, the PhDs presented their work and approaches, which then the senior researchers complemented with their experiences, questions and remarks. This concept of providing insights and commonly reflecting on them was perfectly taken over by all participants so that an atmosphere of openness, honesty, criticism, and constructiveness was set up during the two days. In this almost intimate atmosphere, we experienced a lot of new ideas, critical reflections and also valuable suggestions for our further work – from the other PhDs, post docs and profs! It is precisely the small-scale environment, productive exchanges and active participation that differentiate this conference from the larger ones.

Moreover, the organization board soundly managed to integrate researchers from very different fields and theoretical backgrounds. A small grasp from a huge variety of innovative projects:

  • One project focused on the built environment and specifically on the governance and low-carbon investments in the building sector, presenting a very interesting co-evolutionary approach – methodologically and empirically – towards understanding transitions.
  • Another, completely different project focussed on the energy politics in Berlin’s struggle for energy remunicipalisation. This project showed nicely how insights and concepts from geography literature can be used to complement transition studies.

As current PhD students we are happy to see a conference by and for PhDs. We all know the importance of feedback, how satisfying it can be to see interest in your hard work, and how conferences sometimes fail to deliver these essential needs. Due to its unique format the PhDs in transition conference perfectly complements existing conferences, giving PhDs the opportunity to seek the dialogue and input they desire for their ongoing research.

In conclusion, we had two wonderful and productive days in the pristine environment of Greenwich University, complemented with a great dinner in “Café Rouge” and a profound immersion in the british pub culture… A truly enlightening conference.

We salute the organization team: This format has tremendous added-value for PhDs and should be further spread in academia and the transition research network.


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