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Research nation: Birmingham hosts BISA 2024

مجلة المذنب نت متابعات عالمية:

“So, this is your first time in the UK and you’ve come to Birmingham? Poor you,” went the conversation on the train. Earwigging from down the carriage, I winced, and I have no connection to the vast conurbation that is often proudly referred to by inhabitants as England’s “second city”. But what I’d heard was not an atypical reaction from British people when considering “Brum”, a city often harshly regarded as uneasy on the eye.

The West Midlands (as you might guess, neighbour to the East Midlands I visited a couple of weeks ago) is however, a vast and diverse region, home to almost three million people and a wider metropolitan population of more than four million. The response from the visitor, in the UK from Sweden, was rather more positive than the resident Englishman might have expected. She’d had a great few days, and despite the (predictably) inconsistent early summer weather was already thinking of a return to these shores.

An academic at Lund University, (a Conversation member institution), the visitor had been attending the annual conference of the British International Studies Association (BISA). It’s a big gathering, which draws researchers from across the world, and that was what had lured me to Birmingham as well. I’d only managed a day, in and out, but my experience was similarly upbeat.

Not Paris

Now, let’s be honest, upon arrival at New Street Station, it’s pretty clear Birmingham is not Paris. There’s a mix of buildings, some redolent of an era of manufacturing and mercantile success, many that would incur the wrath of the king. And on slightly gloomy early summer Friday morning, the bustle that once typified even cities that lack a significant tourism draw was absent; seen off by COVID, perhaps never to return.

But there was still movement, and many of those heading to the central Centenary Square by foot or shiny tram were also bound for the BISA conference. And despite Birmingham’s struggles – the city council filed for bankruptcy last year – it feels like it may have opportunities that some other cities do not. For this remains a great place for a conference.

Birmingham: The late, great Telly Savalas loved it, baby.

Birmingham’s status as focal point for international events may have been forged at the National Exhibition Centre, next to the city’s airport, but it is in the heart of the city that a thriving confence hub now lives. There, a cluster of meeting spaces in the stunning city library, symphony hall, and The Exchange, part of the University of Birmingham (yes, another Conversation member), hosted BISA delegates over three days.

Over coffee in The Exchange, Juliet Dryden, director and CEO of the BISA, outlined the scale of the event to me. They’d had almost 1,200 registrations and 330 panels as well as a number of fringe events. I made it to three, but that gave me an insight into the research being carried out across the associated disciplines.

AI and war

I was able to dip in to discussions among the critical military studies group, featuring debate over the concept of “liberal war”, as well as a compelling panel titled Anticipating the Future of War: AI, Automated Systems, and Resort-to-Force Decision Making, which featured papers from Toni Erskine at the Australian National University and Nicholas Wheeler at the University of Birmingham.

After lunch a session on titled Publishing as a PhD Scholar: Dos and Don’ts caught my eye for obvious reasons. Chaired by Richard Devetak of the University of Queensland, there were tips and steers on how and when early career researchers might publish. Naturally, I was keen to hear their thoughts on reaching beyond the academy and having their work appear on platforms such as The Conversation.

Marcus Nicholson, previously a PhD candidate at Glasgow Caledonian University, duly informed the room that he’d written for The Conversation and that this had led to republication in national media as well as interest from broadcasters. Others spoke of how blogging and engagement in academic journalism more broadly had taken them to much wider audiences and enhanced the potential of their research to deliver impact.

It was a quick swing through the West Midlands for me this time, but my colleague Rachael Jolley, one of our international affairs editors, also dropped in earlier in the week, so you may well see publication of articles here that came out of this year’s BISA conference.

So, it was back to New Street Station for the train to London and overhearing the encounter between the Lund researcher and fellow passengers. Like them, the BISA moves on and next year it will gather in Belfast, Northern Ireland. We hope to be there.


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