Alyce Raybould (PhD, Demography)

PopFest is the annual population postgraduate student conference organised by PhD students for PhD students studying fields related to Population studies. It is an interdisciplinary conference, with students coming from backgrounds such as Demography, Human Geography, Anthropology, Statistics, Sociology, Social Policy, Economics, Public Health, International Development, Computer Science and more. This year, a group of UBEL DTP students from LSHTM (Alyce Raybould, Anushé Hassan and Judith Lieber) together with ESRC-funded students at LSE (Michaela Šedovič and Joe Strong) organised the conference at the London School of Economics and Political Science from 28-30th May with the kind support of the UBEL interdisciplinary fund.

To get the event rolling, we started the conference with a keynote speech from Helena Nordenstedt who travelled from Gapminder in Stockholm. Gapminder is the organisation of the late Hans Rosling, which he set up with the aim of fighting ‘factual ignorance’. He found that due to ingrained biases people tend to answer factual questions wrong at a higher percentage than chimpanzees answering at random. Even as a group of population studies students we were not very good at getting the answers right (for example, most of us out of 3 possible answers, thought 17% of the world’s population live outside their country of birth… the answer was 3%). However, we were comforted that apparently bankers, business experts and academics don’t do much better!

Helena presenting theGapminder infographic as part of her Keynote

Following on from this, Helena and her colleague Maike Winters led us in a workshop ‘Mind the Gap!’, where they taught us how Gapminder finds these facts that suffer particularly from ignorance. By the end of the session each group had generated a couple of ‘ignorance hunting’ questions, which we tested on each other. The winning question that generated the most ignorance was ‘What % of UK nationals live outside the UK?’. The correct answer is 10%, but 80% of us thought it was either 2 or 5%. Gapminder kindly gave the winning group each a signed copy of ‘Factfulness’ by Hans Rosling as a prize.

Helena and Maike from Gapminder leading the ‘Mind the Gap!’ Workshop

We then started our diverse programme of presentations, including sessions on inequality, wellbeing, labour market and employment, health, fertility, sexual and reproductive health, migration, family and households, ageing and education. Thank you to all the students that presented and chaired these sessions. We also held a poster session on the second day with a diverse range of topics including migration, social media, health, fertility and education. Overall, there were 60 registered participants attending from around the UK, Europe, America, Nigeria and Mexico.

On the second day, we also held a panel discussion on “Rights-based approaches in sexual and reproductive health: the role of demographers” chaired by Joe Strong from LSE. Tiziana Leone (LSE), Joanna Busza (LSHTM), Katy Footman (Marie Stopes International) and Carina Hirsch (Population and Sustainability Network) discussed the importance of language when speaking to policy makers, whether needs-based approaches were more effective for promoting policy change and winning grants, and the importance of rights-based approaches as an ethos for guiding research and policy.

The rights-based approaches to sexual and reproductive health panel discussion

On the final day, we started with a workshop led by Alyce and Michaela on how to promote interdisciplinary discussion in population studies. To everyone’s amusement we found that not one person in the room identified as a student of ‘population studies’ at a population studies conference! The majority of the participants identified with the discipline of their supervisors, their previous degrees, theories that appealed to them, or specific research topics. As an exercise in collaboration, we then gave each group a broad research question where each member of the team had to contribute to the project in some way. The students were therefore able to hear a little more about the diverse range of expertise and experience of the other participants.

Finally, after a rather filling pub lunch, Karen Glaser from King’s College London gave a great closing keynote on ‘The Health and Wellbeing of Grandparents Caring for their Grandchildren’.

Karen Glaser presenting her closing keynote

We also had time for a couple of social events, including an evening reception on the LSE rooftop common room, and a guided tour of the barbican estate (the weather just about held) followed by drinks. As the first modern social housing development, it was great to hear a little more about the urban planning and socio-economic considerations of the estate as students interested in population issues.

PopFest participants on a guided tour of the Barbican estate

We would like to say a big thank you to UBEL DTP for supporting this student-run event, alongside our other sponsors. With their generous support, we were able to waive the registration fee for all participants and financially support 12 students to attend the conference. Whilst there was no official theme for this year’s conference, our aim was to make the programme as interdisciplinary as possible. With our sponsors’ support, we were able to gather a diverse group of students from around the world and from many different disciplines, and hear from a fantastic group of speakers with expertise in different population issues. Next year, PopFest will travel to Florence in Italy, not to be missed!