With name badges pinned to our lapels and sweaters, a Durham cohort of students sprang into action at the Laidlaw Scholars Conference at UCL in October 2019. Entering into an environment of hundreds of likeminded individuals hailing from all over the UK, and even as far as America and Hong Kong, the excitement in the air was palpable. It would have been accurate to say that team Durham were buzzing to meet scholars from all over and awe-struck by the appealing architecture of the quad at UCL.
Following talks during the morning, and warm welcome from the Vice-Provost of Education and Student Affairs at UCL, Anthony Smith – we had the opportunity to walk around and take a look at the posters on display. In this museum of sorts, we took advantage of moments to speak to the researchers behind the poster. I found this experience invaluable – particularly as a scholar who finds themselves glancing through academic journals left with questions that I would like to ask the author themselves.
As a scholar who had just completed a summer of social research in Community Gardens across London, I was prepared to feel quite the imposter in the midst of posters, academic talks from scholars who were on the precipice of completing their research and entering the workplace. In reality, networking and befriending other scholars left me feeling energised and inspired by the volume of innovative ideas that other scholars had put forward. From malaria prevention, literary advancement in remote areas of the world to activism, art and healthcare reimagined - I witnessed research driven not only by appreciation by the work itself, but innovation fuelled by conscience and empathy. The 3-minute pitching competition was the perfect platform for these presentations. This stark difference between the research I usually read in class and the research presented at the conference was distinguishing. It was striking to see what my peers had accomplished with the right amount of support, but also the freedom to experiment and create something of their own. Lord Laidlaw’s generous contribution to this program is the driving force behind these initiatives, and in all – it left me very hopeful to see future leaders rise up to create solutions to problems other young people might avoid.
As a woman at this conference I was empowered to hear from accomplished individuals such as Kaitlin Fritz, an entrepreneur, and Susanna Kempe, CEO of the Laidlaw Foundation, where I was could gain insight into how women were emerging as leaders in the workplace, and how gender equality is something that we must work towards. My friends and I were grateful for the experience but also the promise of encouragement and support by the Laidlaw Foundation in our futures. As female students of Durham University, no one could deny that we are privileged and almost heirs to success, should we grasp all opportunities available and work hard. However, with the work of the Laidlaw Foundation in acting as a steppingstone towards careers we might not have considered, such as further research opportunities and also qualifications that we might not have aspired to such as an MBA from London Business School we left feeling inspired.
With a balance of talks as well as interactive activities, the Laidlaw Scholars Conference was indeed an enriching experience that has definitely spurred me on in my career ambitions – one which I hope I will be able to get involved in again next year in Dublin!