Post covid, postgraduate students from the University of Sydney and the Australian National University (ANU) are relaunching an annual cross-institutional student-led conference.
Two of the country’s leading universities, Sydney and ANU, have had a longstanding tradition of collaboration between their philosophy postgraduate students. Previous generations of postgraduates, along with academics from both universities, would come together for an annual conference, colloquially known by the portmanteau acronym SANU. In 2022 SANU was relaunched by enthusiastic students from both Universities, and is one of many ways the University of Sydney and ANU plan to strengthen cross-institutional collaboration.
Currently, both universities run a weekly postgraduate philosophy seminar series. The seminars are an opportunity for postgraduates to present their work to other postgraduates in an informal environment. While such seminar series are invaluable, and form an important part of postgraduate life for individual universities, there is only so much feedback the same group of postgraduates can provide.
From 2-4 December last year, postgraduate philosophy students and staff from both institutions came together in the classroom spaces of the University of Sydney’s historic Quadrangle. The discipline of Philosophy has a long history at Sydney, and a deep connection with the Quad. For those with memories of their undergraduate studies in Philosophy, the Quad is also known in university folklore for Philosophy’s first year lecture – one in which on the existence or non-existence of the Quad’s jacaranda tree is used to explain Bishop George Berkeley’s belief that esse est percipi (“to be is to be perceived”).
The revival of the SANU conference and the bringing together of researchers at the vanguard of philosophical thinking is significant, particularly given that the Socratic tradition, which has lasted for over 2 millennia, is based on conversation and the exchange of ideas. The students and staff from ANU and Sydney were doing what generations of great philosophers have done before them—collaborating.
Students and staff from the University of Sydney and ANU at SANU.
After three days the conference left me with new research contacts, direct constructive feedback regarding my own work, and most importantly a broader sense of companionship with the Philosophy department at ANU.
The palpable level of excitement in the air began with the planning, and built at each stage of conference, culminating in a wonderful vibe that we hope will carry forward in future years. Students have been starved of the kind of intellectual discussion and social engagement with peers that can improve philosophical rigour and research.
The SANU conference of 2022 reveals how important bringing such events back into the academy is for all involved. It's safe to say, that the 2022 SANU Conference is another success story for philosophy at both the University of Sydney and the Australian National University, and is just the beginning of what is likely to be a long and fruitful collaborative partnership between both universities. Interest in SANU becoming an annual event is high.
In 2023 the cross-institutional collaboration experienced at SANU will continue, with plans for our institutional postgraduate seminar series to cross-pollinate, with ANU postrgrads speaking at Sydney, and Sydney postgrads at ANU. Feedback from both students and discussions with academics at other universities – and especially with a university such as ANU, which has an equally rich philosophical tradition to Sydney – can have a profound impact on students’ work and future careers.
Staff and students met over three days and heard from peers on an exciting and wide array of topics, ranging from metaphysics, to cognitive science; from political philosophy to ethics. The level of discussion and good faith argument about such different topics within the discipline at SANU was a testament to the students, and revealed a desire for further cross-institutional collaboration. Delegates were keen participants in thoughtful and inspiring engagement with new and innovative ideas, and conversations continuing well past the allocated question-times, and into the wonderful social events that had been arranged throughout the weekend.
The pandemic impacted opportunities for discussion and debate, and we all learned just how important face-to-face interaction is to the exchange of ideas, and the subtle ways we communicate. For the last few years, in-person events, including cross-institutional conferences have been rare. Although these kinds of events are beginning to come back, they are usually difficult to get off the ground. This was not true for SANU. ANU and Sydney philosophy postgraduates had enthusiastic support of their home institutions, and the organisers anticipate continuing enthusiasm and support in future years.
The organisers did an amazing job facilitating a relaxed atmosphere and some great philosophy!
After such a successful collaborative event, organisers, Wendy Xin and Brigitte Everett of the University of Sydney, and Aidan Ryall of the Australian National University, have already commenced plans for further collaboration for 2023 and on into other future years. It’s a no brainer to organise other similar events for postgraduates at both universities.
Story co-authored by Brigitte Everett and Wendy Xin
(PhD Candidates in Philosophy at the University of Sydney)
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