PGN Postgraduate Symposium

Figure 1: Speed-dating ‘icebreaker’ at the Postgraduate Symposium (Opit, 2016)


Postgraduate Symposium at Geographical Interactions 2016

New Zealand Geographical Society Conference

Dunedin, New Zealand

12 pm – 5 pm, Monday 1st February


The 2016 New Zealand Geographical Society Conference opened with a Postgraduate Symposium hosted by the NZGS Postgraduate Network (NZGS PGN). Forty postgraduate students were welcomed from institutions across New Zealand, Australia and Canada. This included mostly doctoral students but also some masters students. Interestingly, more than 80% of attendees identified as ‘human geographers’ and of the Doctoral candidates, 50% were doing a thesis with publications and 50% thesis with chapters.


Postgraduate students were welcomed to the Symposium with a Subway lunch, followed by a speed-dating ‘icebreaker’ and networking opportunity, where students introduced themselves and their research focus.


The NZGS PGN committee facilitated a panel discussion featuring Brendon Blue (University of Auckland, Doctoral candidate) who shared his experiences of doing a thesis with publications; Dr Gradon Diprose (Open Polytechnic) on learnings from an early career Geographer; and Professor Rachel Spronken-Smith (Dean, Otago Graduate Research School) on the PhD experience and publishing. Professor Spronken-Smith also ran a practical publishing workshop. The panellists and workshop shared student experiences, tips and support, as well as providing thinking points and resources for postgrads to develop beyond the Symposium.


Figure 2: Panellists (from left to right): Professor Rachel Spronken-Smith, Dr Gradon Diprose, and Brendon Blue (Opit, 2016)


The Symposium concluded with an informal General Meeting. The Postgraduate Network committee elicited support for the network, new institutional representatives, and discussion around what postgrads would like to see happen and how students can best be engaged moving forward. Based on this discussion the NZGS PGN is committed to:

  • enlivening the NZGS PGN social media presence
  • hosting a webinar series
  • conducting and reporting on a national geography postgraduate student survey
  • intervening in and contributing to the 2018 IAG-NZGS Conference in Auckland
  • strengthening ties between the NZGS PGN and IAG Postgraduate community


The drive for the NZGS PGN hosted 2016 Postgraduate Symposium is recognition of the valuable contribution postgraduate students make to geography, including the national conference. A significant proportion of those postgrads in attendance presented their research at the conference. The NZGS acknowledged and celebrated the high quality of these knowledge contributions with awards for posters and oral presentations. Postgrad students also contributed to discussions, social events, and facilitated conference organisation and proceedings.


Digital age aside, opportunities for postgraduate students from across New Zealand to meet face-to-face remain infrequent and highly valued. For some students this was their first conference and many did not know anyone beyond their own institution. The Symposium enabled students to network; identify people with similar research interests; and provided familiar faces and peer support during conference proceedings. Furthermore, events like the Symposium enable postgrads to develop a sense of place and belonging. Postgrads network, build peer support, develop key academic skills, and make knowledge contributions. Their participation at the conference highlights how postgrads shape New Zealand geographer identities, communities of interest, and academic performances.


For all these reasons and more it is vital we continue to actively support and enable postgraduate students and the NZGS PGN. We applaud the 2016 Conference organisers for the steps they took in this direction, and challenge the 2018 joint-Conference organisers to walk further! There are numerous opportunities to do so, whether it be providing emotional and professional support and development opportunities (e.g. challenging students, opening doors, facilitating introductions & networking, and resourcing student participation) or recognising and enabling student knowledge production and contributions (e.g. fair authorship practices, awarding outstanding performance, active NZGS branches). Perhaps most importantly, making space for and resourcing postgrad-led events and contributions to the NZGS and New Zealand Royal Society. It is crucial we recognise the brilliant diversity of the postgraduate community and their valuable contributions to geography in New Zealand and beyond.


A big thank you to the NZGS PGN committee, and especially to Simon Vale and Jerram Bateman, for all their hard work organising and running a very successful event. Thank you also to the North East Valley Cricket Club, Otago for the free use of their club venue for the Symposium. Thanks to all the postgrad students who came along and made the Symposium and Conference a success. Finally, on behalf of the NZGS Postgraduate Network a big thank you to the New Zealand Geographical Society for providing Student Travel Awards to the conference, and financial support to host the Postgraduate Symposium. Your support enabled New Zealand postgraduate geography students to make space for themselves at the national conference, resourced a rare opportunity for students to meet face-to-face, and contributed to the overall success of the 2016 NZGS Conference.


Figure 3: Postgraduate Symposium attendees North East Valley Cricket Club, Otago.


We look forward to the 2018 IAG-NZGS Conference in Auckland!


Roseanna Spiers, NZGS PGN Auckland Representative

Photos courtesy of Simon Opit, NZGS PGN Auckland Representative