The first time I heard about the SPA conference, I was not sure whether my research would fit in. My PhD focuses on the practice of community development. It compares the effect of approaches aimed at helping people “navigate the system” to those approaches aimed at helping people “change the system” to see which better advances the well-being of communities facing disadvantage. This has little to do with, what I thought was, the focus of a social policy conference: policy development in traditional areas like housing, labour markets and social security, policy discourse and the welfare state. Yet, the SPA conference was much more diverse than I had expected. For a small conference, it had a wide variety of research areas including migration, equalities, gender, youth and voluntary community sector. Attendants also represented a wide range of disciplines, which I found extremely useful during my session.
The SPA conference was also supportive of postgraduate and early career researchers. It offered a mentor scheme that paired senior academics with postgraduate researchers. This was a great opportunity to meet experts in the field and receive further feedback. In my case, my mentor was extremely supportive, giving me useful tips before the conference and detailed feedback after my presentation. Besides the mentor scheme, the conference also provided dedicated spaces for postgraduate and early career researchers such as welcome breakfasts and lunch forums.
There was one down-side to the conference, though. It was expensive. Fees for SPA members were around £400 (lunch and dinners included) and on the top of that, there was the price of accommodation. There were one-day tickets available, but these were also pricy and limited opportunities to network. I was lucky to get a postgraduate discount, which reduced the price of the conference significantly. If you are thinking of attending the conference next year, make sure you apply as soon as possible, since there are a limited number of tickets available.