The Speed of Fright: Sharing EU Migration Research in a Flash

November 28, 2018

By Rob McNeil

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The joy of academia, for many, is the attention to detail. The sort of attention to detail that allows us to luxuriate over the minutiae and nuances of an issue for hours, days, months, years – sometimes even entire lifetimes.

Most people, of course, don’t have this luxury so, for this year’s ESRC Festival of Social Science, COMPAS decided to try to speed things up a bit. In fact, we decided to get 11 speakers to explain everything you could possibly want to know about the fiendishly complex issue of EU migration in just 72 minutes…

Our plan was to get 11 academics to present their work using the “Petcha Kutcha” or “Speed Geeking” model which involves talking over 20 slides, each of which is shown for only 20 seconds.

The genesis of the event was an effort to condense REMINDER – a €5million project, based at COMPAS but with researchers based all over Europe – into a series of bite-sized chunks. REMINDER is a huge programme of work, analysing the social and economic impacts of migration across the EU, and how migration is discussed in media, politics and wider public debate.

And to add some other perspectives, we also invited speakers from outside the REMINDER project to discuss their research into an array of fascinating, and related subjects.

My own experience of this high speed format began as I over-confidently put together my own presentation – on migration in the media around the EU. I had set aside one afternoon to put something together, and decided to give it a run through to see how well I did against the 20 second slide timer…

The outlook was not good.

I quickly realised that my normal approach to presenting – waffling away cheerfully without notes – was catastrophically ill-suited to the format. I went back to the drawing board with the intention of putting together 20 snappy bullet points and tried again. After a few more tweaks and practice runs I was relatively confident that I could be fairly well on time.

On the big day itself, the various presenters gathered at the Kellogg College Hub on Banbury Road, and, while the room was pleasingly full, I sensed the audience was there to chuckle at the disasters that were sure to unfold as much as to be stunned by our razor-sharp analysis. My impending sense of dread was not helped by the knowledge that the assembled audience was provided with emojis with which to express their delight, astonishment or bemusement at each of the talks they heard.

As the talks began, however, my initial concerns evaporated. Martin Ruhs – a former COMPAS researcher now based at the European University Institute in Florence managed, amazingly, to weave a touch of Viking comedy into his analysis of the fiscal impact of migration around the EU, while remaining magnificently calm, and keeping to time perfectly.

Martin was followed by Dace Dzenovska, who delivered her thought-provoking look at local concepts of emptiness and fullness in the context of migration in Latvia and Lincolnshire – again perfectly to time. Carlos Vargas-Silva, the principal investigator of the REMINDER project and Esther Arenas-Arroyo then whizzed through two analyses of the role of migration in labour markets perfectly to time.

Then it was my turn to talk about migration and the media in the EU.

I could see Carlos – emboldened by his own presenting success – gleefully fiddling with the old-fashioned car-horn he was using to signal “time’s up” for all participants. I knew he was keen to catch me out.

I began my sprint through the slides calmly enough. By 10 slides in I felt I was on a roll, but as I progressed toward the end – to my horror – some sort of primal panic began to set in. I began to hear a strangulated wobble, like a teenage boy whose voice is breaking, undermine my normally mellifluous tones. I soldiered on, but noticed a mischievous gleam entering Carlos’ eyes…

By the last two slides I was still feeling a little flustered, but felt I had regained my composure somewhat. But as I tried to gasp out a final sentence, Carlos began furiously honking his horn to signify that I had overshot. Thankfully the positive emojis suggested that my fight-or-flight presenting panic had not undermined my coherence too much.

As I returned to my chair with a sigh of relief, more excellent (and well-timed) presentations followed (none of which received the honking-wrath of Carlos…). Yvonni Markaki explained European public attitudes to migration; Cinzia Rienzo discussed the labour market outcomes of migrants in the UK; Zovanga Kone illuminated us on the economic integration of refugees in the UK; Marie Godin talked about Brexit and European children living in the Britain; Zach Strain talked about mapping intra-EU migration, and finally (perhaps the pièce de résistance) came ethnomusicologist Tom Western’s audio-visual tour of migrants stranded Athens and the city sounds they have created.

The audience asked incisive and interesting questions, suggesting that the format had worked well. Carlos deflected the difficult ones over to me, of course, but thankfully he didn’t honk when I waffled my answer.

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