If, six months ago, you had told me that an assignment I was writing during my undergraduate degree would eventually send me to China for the weekend, I wouldn’t have believed you. However, that is exactly what I found myself doing last weekend, when I travelled to Beijing Foreign Studies University to present at the 3rd annual Boya Forum 2013 undergraduate conference. I was one of two students from Lancaster University sent there to present at the event, which aimed to celebrate the undergraduate research abilities of students in the areas of English literature, translation studies, media and communication studies, cultural studies, international and area studies and, most relevant to my work, language studies. The participants represented a total of 27 universities, and coming from Lancaster I was from one of only three universities from outside of China; the others being Columbia University in New York and Rollins College in Florida.
The conference ran four concurrent panels of talks at any given time, meaning that in just one day we produced a total of 70 individual presentations. It was an intense day of talks and discussions that ran from the early morning right through into the evening, and my talk was right at the end of the day so I knew I would have a job of trying to keep my audience’s attention. I presented a corpus-based critical discourse analysis of a Parliament debate about the Marriage (Same Sex Couples) Bill, which seems to have been my party trick over the summer (I gave a poster of this at the Corpus Linguistics 2013 conference in July and presented about it at a PhD course in Copenhagen in August). Afterwards I was posed some really interesting questions about my work from both the professor who acted as “commentator” for the session and from other students in attendance. It was a great opportunity to reflect on my work and think about what I might do differently the next time I do a similar piece of analysis. It was also really great to see four or five other presentations from Chinese students who had used corpus-based techniques in their research, and to be able to discuss how our approaches differ.
At the end of the day there was a closing ceremony where the professors from BFSU awarded prizes for the best presentations of the conference, based on the ratings of the commentators from each panel. I was very happy to be one of nine recipients of a “First Prize for Best Presentation” award and an official BFSU jacket to match. I wore it proudly on the journey back to Lancaster.
The organisers of the Boya Forum 2013 undergraduate conference should be proud of what they are doing. As a recently graduated BA student I completely agree that the research potential of undergraduate students, particularly in arts and social science-based disciplines, should be valued and celebrated more. Events like this are a brilliant way of showing undergraduate students that their work is valued beyond the difference between a first and a 2:1. This was the first year of the conference’s short history that students from outside of China had contributed to the event, and it was great to hear that the organisers hope to invite an even wider international presence next year. Though, unfortunately, I will no longer qualify to present at next time, I look forward to hearing about more undergraduate students from Lancaster and elsewhere travelling to Beijing to present at Boya Forum 2014. It certainly was a fantastic experience, and I am extremely grateful to CASS and BFSU for jointly funding my visit.