Top 5 Lessons Learned in Edinburgh

Recently, I treated myself to a week in Edinburgh. No, it wasn’t a last-minute getaway or family holiday. I went to attend the Edinburgh Interpreting Research Summer School (EIRSS) organised by Heriot-Watt’s School of Management and Languages. The EIRSS brought together some 30 interpreting researchers, students and practitioners for an intensive course in all things interpreting studies-related (you can consult the full programme here). All those in attendance agreed that the EIRSS was a resounding success and that the organisers did an excellent job of putting together the inaugural edition of what is intended to become an annual event. (For a full review of the EIRSS and a look at the event’s photo album, click here.)

Photo credit: EIRSS

Photo credit: EIRSS

While I am not entirely sure my readers would be interested in learning about the virtues of qualitative vs. quantitative research or hearing about the best apps for bibliographical reference management, I do think there are a few things that I learned at the EIRSS that are of interest to the broader interpreting community. I’ve decided to choose the five main lessons I will be taking home from Edinburgh to share with readers today.

1) Interpreting Studies has come of age. Looking around the room in Edinburgh, it became quite clear to me that Interpreting Studies (IS) is alive and kicking. Some may insist on continuing to consider it a subdiscipline of Translation Studies, while others may agree with Pöchhacker that it is a full discipline it in own right. As I see it, it doesn’t really matter what you call it. As one EIRSS attendee quite aptly commented, “We’ve been saying that Interpreting Studies is young for 40 years, and it’s about time we acknowledged that it has grown up.”

Of course, the fact that IS is able to stand on its own two feet doesn’t mean it is isolated. There were constant references over the course of the week to crossovers with other fields, including Translation Studies, and one word that was on all lecturers’ lips was “interdisciplinary”. But my impression is that increasingly, IS can engage in interdisciplinary work not as the poor cousin, but as an equal partner.

2) Interpreting academics have their feet planted firmly in the 21st century. Forget dusty library stacks and stuffy academic gowns. Participants at the EIRSS were quite happy discussing the best apps for organising bibliographical references (oops! I said I wouldn’t talk about that – but do check out EndNote and RefWorks if you’re so inclined) and taking notes on their iPads (Evernote and Scrivener seem to be the favourites there). Similarly, lecturers offered tips on everything from annotation software for video transcriptions (ELAN) to online survey tools (SurveyMonkey) and statistical programs (Qualtrics).

Speaking of high tech, I’m ashamed to say that I was one of the few users of pen and paper in the room – for that I blame my old-fashioned consecutive note-taking habits, which were learned Rozan-style way back in the 20th century…

Social media got their turn at the EIRSS, of course. After some hesitation on the first day, the few hardcore tweeters in the crowd, including yours truly, managed to get a modest Twitter feed going (hashtag #EIRSS) and even succeeded in drawing a number of new converts onto what is undoubtedly the superior social network on the planet (Facebook and Pinterest, eat your heart out!).

3) It’s well worth meeting the people behind the names. A quick glance at the EIRSS programme reveals that the organisers managed to put together a star-studded list of lecturers for this first edition. Having previously only met Daniel Gile in person, I have to admit I was more than a little curious about the sort of impression that I would get meeting all these top IS researchers in person. I’m pleased to report that the experience was extremely positive.

At the EIRSS, I had the opportunity to witness great minds at work. Just to name a few: we saw Graham Turner effortlessly connecting the dots between seemingly unrelated phenomena to reveal structure where none was apparent; Daniel Gile grinning like a Cheshire cat as he discussed current trends in Conference Interpreting studies; Jemina Napier making correlational statistics actually sound like fun; and, last but not least, Cecilia Wadensjö’s eye twinkling as she undertook a content analysis of Gorbachev  speaking through an interpreter in a televised interview, naughty jokes and all. I assure you, this last one alone made the trip worthwhile.

Equally gratifying was the opportunity to meet so many up-and-coming researchers in the field, each with their own experiences, insights and research priorities. Which brings me to my next lesson…

4) It’s all about weak ties and long tails. These terms actually came up at one point in the seminar, during a discussion on how to maximize the impact of research. But I didn’t have to look up at the PowerPoint slide to know that the world runs on the strength of weak ties. All I had to do was glance around during the coffee breaks to see colleagues busily building those all-powerful weak links with like-minded people, upon which future collaborations and new initiatives will undoubtedly be built. And I have to confess I did a teensy weensy bit of networking myself (I couldn’t resist!).

5) Where there’s a will, there’s a way. I went to Edinburgh with two main questions in my mind: 1) is it possible to balance a PhD workload with raising a family, and 2) how do academics manage the financial side of things? You know, I’m thinking of the minor details like paying the bills, filling the fridge…

I asked a number of EIRSS participants these questions on the sidelines of the seminar, and the most common reply I got was a shrug, a chuckle, and “Oh, you know, one manages to muddle through somehow.” While this may not be the sort of answer I can take to the bank, it is reassuring to see that yes, generally speaking, PhD students – even those with small children and heaps of other obligations – really do manage to survive, somehow.

Which reminds me, I have a special treat for you for my next post: Jonathan Downie, a PhD student, interpreter, and yes, husband and father based in Edinburgh, has agreed to write a guest piece for me about how he manages his work/life balance. I won’t give away the punch line, but do watch this space for an upcoming article about how one interpreter manages this balancing act…

To conclude, let me just express my thanks to Katerina Strani and Raquel de Pedro of the EIRSS Organising Committee and everyone at the Edinburgh Interpreting Research Summer School for this extremely enriching experience. I have only listed five lessons learned here, but there is much, much more that I’ll take home with me from Edinburgh.

3 thoughts on “Top 5 Lessons Learned in Edinburgh

  1. Pingback: EIRSS 2016 programme updated! | LifeinLINCS

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