Usher Institute

BLOG: How I found myself presenting at a national conference

3rd year online MPH student, Kirsten Duggan, shares the story of how she suddenly found herself presenting at the main German Public Health conference.

photo of Frankfurt skyline

By Kirsten Duggan | MPH student

Since the end of year 2, I had been struggling with finding a topic for my dissertation. Then, one day when I was sitting on the balcony, commenting how this was at that time only possible early in the morning or late in the evening because during the day it became too hot out there, I had it – I was going to do something about climate change and heat.

If you’ve ever been to Germany (or know your geography), we generally have a temperate climate but the city I live in has always been quite warm in the summer and it’s gotten a lot worse over recent years. Therefore, somewhat spur of the moment, I turned on my laptop and emailed my local public health authority, asking if they could use a student volunteer to help with research and if I could get data for a Master’s thesis out of it.

The moment I sent it I already regretted it as it was just a simple message, without any CV attached or anything. However, they got back to me the next day and seemed totally delighted! My guess is that it was partly the “I’m at student at the University of Edinburgh”- bit as everyone I mentioned this to later seemed pretty impressed! Anyway, we soon had a few meetings and discussed different projects.

While some of them fell through due to funding issues, I ended up being responsible for creating the Frankfurt Cool Spaces website which is part of the Climate Change Adaptation Plan of the city. The Cool Spaces Project comprises an online map of public places where people can go if the heat gets too much for them, and accompanying paper maps for different parts of the city. All this meant that I had to find the right people to give me access to online maps of the city and source the places to add to the map (and get the necessary permissions – all of which proved a bit more difficult than expected). Then, all these places needed to actually be put on the map, which required a lot of typing – and patience. However, the project was beginning to take shape.

At this point, the people actually working for the public health department started to submit abstracts for the upcoming national German Public Health conference and suggested I put in something too. So I submitted a poster abstract – and received a phone call asking if I would do a presentation instead! This was beyond unexpected, but of course I agreed. If I had known that it was one of the major presentation of that day (40 min! For someone who had never done this kind of thing before) I would have been a lot more worried, but luckily, I only learned about that later.

Getting the presentation ready was tough, especially as I was also working and writing my Master’s thesis at the same time but I got there and I was so excited! I travelled (on expenses!) halfway across the country and spoke in front of a room full of people (and despite some technical difficulties, it went really well). I was soo nervous and then soo happy and proud. Also, by now, the cool spaces have gone online and the first paper maps are being distributed (and I’m now part of the press releases, another new and exciting thing!).

Anyway, long story short – always remember (especially for the online students) that you’re doing a real course at a proper university and that there is a high probability people will recognise this! I have made useful contacts and perhaps may even start working at the local PH department so if you have an idea of what you are aiming to do I would say to just try and give it go!

Visit the Frankfurt Cool Spaces website