The dissertation symposium provided a platform for the MSc students to present the topics of their MSc theses to their fellow students. The symposium was structured into two morning and two evening sessions. The presentations were allocated to the sessions according to an overarching theme. Every student presented their dissertation topic within ten minutes, followed by a ten-minute Q&A session, in which their classmates could ask them about their presentations. The symposium was part of the “Academic Communication Skills course”, led by Jasmina Arnez and Diana Batchelor. The MSc students Iris Maxfield, Freddy Legg, Roxanne Russel, and Cindy Fung organised and hosted the symposium. The goal of the symposium was to enhance the ability of students to turn their research into a conference presentation, present their ideas to an academic audience, and react to their questions. The event aimed at fostering the exchange of ideas, thereby further expanding students’ knowledge, and allowing them to obtain different perspectives from the presentations of fellow course mates. More generally, the symposium was supposed to help the cohort prepare not only for a prospective career in academia but also for any other work area in which they would like to disseminate and present their work.

Content

The chosen topics of the cohort were remarkably varied. In the first session, students talked about sentencing issues, the death penalty, procedure, and evidence. The topics related to sentencing included: sentencing in the Bailiwick of Guernsey (Eleanor Curzon Green), sentencing cybercrime (Julius Hommel), and the idea of sentencing guidelines in Hong Kong (Victor Lui). Three students presented on the topic of the death penalty (Emma Rice, Brian Egan, and Caroline Vorce). They based their work on the research they have done for the Death Penalty Research Unit, led by Professor Carolyn Hoyle. Other topics of the first session included the admissibility of scientific evidence in Indian courts (Ashpica Ahuja) as well as the global use of torture and coerced confessions (Roxanne Russell).

The second session focused on policing and community justice. Students presented on topical issues such as the protests in the 2020 George Floyd uprisings, the police, and abolitionist futures (Taylor Fox). Other students presented on the tension between private and public policing (Anna Kahlisch), as well as the evolution of gangs through social media and mobile technologies (Jack Warburton). Presentations also addressed the long-debated problem of war on drugs (Julia Ryland), and the balance between security and liberty (Joel Platt). Besides policing issues, students also spoke about community responses, such as informal systems of justice (Jacob Hill), transformative accountability (Camila Pelsinger), and the topical issue of grassroots responses to COVID-19 hate crimes against the elderly in the United States (Cindy Fung).

The third session addressed two different aspects of conflict. On the one hand, students presented on the topic of ‘crime and the family’. They talked about child criminal exploitation and how this influences perspectives on children’s culpability (Becky Twose), the experience of children with a parent in prison for a sexual offence (Ross Hextall), loved ones of prisoners engaging on Twitter and Facebook (Ariadne Fischer), and the harms of imprisonment in the context of sexual minority families (Freddy Legg). On the other hand, students talked about war, militarisation, and criminal justice. They addressed the counter-terrorism legislative canon which emerged during the Troubles (Eileen Casey), the utility of recruiting ex-military personnel as prison staff (Laura Haas), the impact of wartime sexual violence on masculine identities (Maya Lahav), as well as the challenges of balancing the needs of individuals and societal goals within the workings of transitional justice mechanisms in Rwanda (Katina Dorer).

Similarly, the fourth session also had a dual focus. It included the issues of climate and gender.  In the context of climate, students engaged in discussions on whether the ‘noble deeds’ of climate activism justify criminal behaviour and should therefore mitigate the sentence (Ludivine Delaloye). The panel also touched upon the potential inability of academia to adequately address vulnerable communities when approaching post-disaster crime rates (Iris C. Maxfield) and explicated the importance of seeing environmental crime as a human rights issue (Lara Breckon). Notably, several students decided to engage in the young and important field of green criminology and contribute to its further development. Regarding gender-related issues, students argued that risk assessment should be gender-specific to avoid female offenders being too harshly punished (Sophie O‘Neill-Hanson). They also investigated the roles of female sex traffickers (Louisa Auerbach). In addition, students considered wider feminist perspectives on criminology, including the socio-cultural impact of forced marriage and the influence of motherhood on prosecution decisions (Kitty Cattell). Finally, students talked about the future of feminist criminology, giving this symposium a forward-looking end (Holly Bird).

Experience

The symposium was a unique and invaluable experience for us as we participated in the roles of both listeners and presenters. As listeners, we could hear about the topics and research interests of our classmates and learn how they approached their theses. We were impressed by how diverse and innovative the topics were, especially considering the limited time frame we had. Several students had conducted empirical research, despite the difficult circumstances of the pandemic. We also found it fascinating to learn about criminological issues in different jurisdictions, including Guernsey, Hong Kong, Switzerland, Rwanda, India, Iran, and the Arab Gulf.

The Focus

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Moreover, we benefitted immensely from this symposium as presenters. Most students in our cohort had not presented at a symposium or academic conference before, which made this experience especially rewarding. For non-native speakers in particular, the symposium increased their confidence to speak about ideas, present them in front of an academic audience, and react promptly to their questions. Additionally, we found it helpful to summarise and condense our 15,000-word dissertations into 10-minute presentations. This allowed us to sharpen and clarify our arguments and learn how to communicate our ideas effectively. We found the process of restructuring our arguments, talking about our ideas out loud, and explaining them to an audience useful for detecting weaknesses in our arguments and structuring and adapting them accordingly. The verbal feedback from the audience as well as the written feedback from our course leaders helped us shape and improve substantial parts of our theses. It enabled us to assess our ability to persuade the audience and bring across our arguments convincingly. Although the symposium this year was fully online, we were impressed by how well the event was organised. All sessions were interactive, with many students asking questions and engaging in discussions. In the future, however, face-to-face interactions might increase the number of participants and create an atmosphere that would allow for more in-depth discussions.

Conclusion

Being one of the most remarkable events in the Trinity Term, the symposium was truly a great experience for students who were working on their dissertations. Not only did it encompass various areas that were covered in the course, but it also allowed students to further develop and consolidate their arguments by presenting their thoughts and interacting with each other. Regardless of whether students pursue an academic career or engage in other areas of work, the benefits of this event remain valuable and persist as a memorable part of the course as well as an asset to their forthcoming dissertations.