Any resident of Manchester will be familiar with the worker bee, which you can see adorning municipal installations such as bollards, dustbins, the Council’s coat-of-arms, and the Town Hall architecture – you even see it on a can of Boddingtons Bitter (even though it is no longer brewed in the city). For anyone who wondered why the striped arthropod was so ubiquitous, it is for the same reason that the city centre has so many imposing and ornate Victorian buildings (just walk down Whitworth Street and remember that those buildings were just warehouses!). Manchester was ‘Cottonpolis’, the world’s first industrial city, and the industriousness of its inhabitants is what inspired the adoption of its colourful symbol.

beebollardI’ve spent a lot of June working on a brand new project at the university called REALab (The Lab of the Autonomous Enterprising Researcher). The idea of the project is to provide researchers with training and expertise in project management and consultation, by working with local organisations from the heritage, charitable, publishing, and other sectors. The particular project I have been working on is in conjunction with MOSI (The Museum of Science and Industry), based on Liverpool Street in the city centre. The Museum is one of Manchester’s premier visitor attractions, based on the huge former site of Liverpool Street Station (the oldest railway station still in existence in the world!) and its warehouses, and its mission is, “To explore where science met industry and the modern world began, and to understand the impact that Manchester science, technology and innovation continues to have on all our lives”.

The Museum is well worth a visit for anyone with a spare afternoon in the city, with a fully-operational cotton mill, with regular demonstrations, a fantastic collection of gargantuan and still-functioning steam engines, galleries exploring the importance of Manchester as the home of the world’s first electronic computer, the place where the atom was first split, an impressive collection of historic aircraft, a large interactive and learning area for children, and even a recreation of a Victorian sewer! All for free entry.

Our team of four researchers from across the university have the job of scoping out possible ways in which the Museum can broaden its appeal to visitors, especially among under-represented groups, and how diverse stories can be identified and built into the main galleries as they are redeveloped. We have already had a number of very productive training sessions, and meetings with representatives from the Museum, and it is been a great opportunity to work with researchers from three totally different disciplines to create a piece of work which will hopefully inform the public experience of one of Manchester’s top attractions. The whole scheme leads up to a ‘Dragons’ Den’ event at the end of July, where each group competes for prizes for the best pitch to their external organisation.

All this research has really got me thinking about those busy bees. I think it’s very healthy to have other projects to stimulate your interest and improve your skills whilst doing your PhD, and it certainly will look good to prospective employers, yet it is all extra-curricular to the day-to-day work on the PhD thesis. I have about two-thirds of a chapter written at the moment, and hope to get the rest knocked into shape by the end of this week, in between all the other projects. I guess being busy is just the Mancunion way.


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