Iron Age Research Student Symposium celebrates Zoom success

Lockdown conditions did not hold IARSS 2020 (the 23rd Iron Age Research Student Symposium) back from being a success.

Organisers of the event, which was due to take place on 3-4 June 2002 at The University of Manchester, chose to take their outing online via Zoom rather than cancel, with more than 250 registering. This is more than three times as many attendees than the event would have been able to host had it taken place the old fashioned way.

IARSS 2020 was led by four PhD students from Classic, Ancient History, Archaeology & Egyptology in SALC, who worked with IT services to deliver it as a free conference using the popular video-conferencing platform. Jane Barker, Emma Tollefson, Catherine Jones and Matt Hitchcock (studying various aspects of the British Iron Age with supervisor Dr Melanie Giles) enabled 16 research students from across Britain, Ireland and the near Continent to deliver exciting news of their latest research, as well as a keynote lecture and two guest lectures from Early Career Scholars.

This novel format allowed for more attendees, and enabled people to ‘dip’ in-and-out of sessions around their other commitments.

Virtual attendees tuned in from Ireland, Denmark, the Netherlands, Germany and Australia – enabling research students from across the globe to share in the event.

Comments from attendees noted how this format helped people with care responsibilities to participate while home-schooling, or ‘listen in’ on mute, while commercial and professional archaeologists were able to engage in the conference while working from home. Lecturers and researchers, curators from national museums, experimental archaeologists and budding applicants to university all joined in on the discussion: using the ‘chat’ function to send in questions to speakers or share ideas and news in between sessions. This cost-free way of delivering a conference helped to democratise access to this research event, which would otherwise have had a much more restricted audience.

“This was a remarkable feat by my students: one of whom had been ill with Covid-19 and another who was shielding at the time,” said supervisor Dr Melanie Giles. “Undaunted, they used their initiative to deliver a much bigger, interactive event which tripled the audience and created a wonderfully supportive online atmosphere, sharing research ideas together. It shows the creativity and generous spirit of The University of Manchester at its best. I am very proud of them.’

To add to the success of the day, organiser Matt Hitchcock was awarded the Annual Prize of the Later Prehistoric Finds Group, for a paper on his School of Arts, Languages and Cultures-funded PhD, ‘Re-framing Iron Age Shields’.