Looking back at the State of Australian Cities 2015 conference

Nicole McNamara, a PhD student within the Department of Geography and Planning at Macquarie University, offers her reflections on the week that was at SOAC 2015.

I recently spent a week on the Gold Coast participating in the 2015 State of Australian Cities (SOAC) PhD Symposium, Australasian Early Career Urban Researchers Network (AECURN) Workshop, and the SOAC National Conference from Dec 6th to Dec 11th.

The Gold Coast has changed a lot since I was last here as a kid. The high rise developments seem even higher, the beach somehow longer and the public transport options more plentiful. The Symposium and Workshop days were held prior to the conference at Griffith University’s Gold Coast campus and the transport researcher in me revelled in the ease of jumping on the new light rail line (The G Line) to travel to the campus from Surfers’ Paradise.

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The Symposium itself was a forum for PhD students working on Australian urban issues to meet, share our research, and gain invaluable feedback on our work from our peers, early career researchers, and senior academics all working within the urban space. For me it was also an opportunity to network and practice my skills in the seminar room: how to listen closely to what others are presenting and to give constructive comments on their work. I really enjoyed the time spent working in small groups, sharing stories from our PhD journeys, learning from different mentors, and hearing practical advice on how to make the most of your time as a PhD Candidate to build expertise and experience as an early career academic.

My presentation at the symposium reflected very much where I am at with my PhD research – data collection and analysis and how to get the most out of your data. I asked the seminar group:
  • what did you do with your data (or plan to do with it),
  • how did you structure (or plan to structure) your analysis,
  • how did you (or will you) tie your data back to your literature, and what has and hasn’t worked for you when coding data?

I think that starting a conversation around these messy, often overlooked, aspects of the PhD is important. How do you wrangle your interviews, surveys, diaries, field observations, and seemingly disparate ideas into something coherent and cohesive? Maybe it is okay to ask questions rather than have all the answers at this point in my PhD Candidature.

The SOAC National Conference followed on from the Symposium and Workshop and consisted of two and a half days of concurrent sessions, two AGMs, a couple of book launches, as well as social events. Some highlights were presentations on inclusive urban spaces, public transport’s links to political changes, grassroots responses to climate change, place making, and the role of enthnography in (re)imaging place.

Research Briefing Abstract for the work I presented:
Cycling is growing in Australian cities with regards to planning and participation. This is due to the well-documented health, environmental, social, and economic benefits it presents. Significant research effort has recognised this in developing measures to promote and encourage cycling in cities. However, research and policy has given less attention to understanding cycling practices and cycling experiences in more detail. Mobilities scholars are increasingly interested in challenging what it means to be mobile in contemporary cities. There is a growing body of mobilities research that offers new ways of understanding the content, meaning and the experience of bodies in motion. This body of work focuses on everyday journeys, such as walking, cycling, driving, and commuting by public transport, to highlight the dynamism and multiplicity of contemporary mobilities. Informed by this mobilities work and theories of practice, the project aims to gain a detailed understanding of cycling practices in Sydney in order to develop an understanding of cycling and cyclists as dynamic, and contribute a different understanding of practices as tied up with individual. This paper argues that this detailed understanding will contribute to a new conceptualisation of automobility as ‘autonomous mobility’ and inform recommendations to encourage cycling. This paper first provides a brief background to the research project, before outlining the overarching project objectives, and introducing the research questions. This is followed by a discussion of the research design, drawing on theories of practice and recent mobilities research to justify the use of a hybrid methodology to explore cycling practices in Sydney. Finally, this paper will elaborate on expected outcomes of the research.

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