Philosophy, History, & Politics Conference finds success online

Smaller committee navigates challenges of COVID to recreate the event virtually

Each year, students of philosophy, history, and politics have the opportunity to have their research presented to their peers and professors at the Philosophy, History & Politics (PHP) Conference. This year was like all the rest with one extra switch up.

The event, hosted at TRU, traditionally takes place in the Arts and Education building over three days and ends with a Banquet. Due to COVID-19, the PHP conference transitioned and was hosted over Zoom meetings. Despite the obvious technical challenges that came along with this, Chair of the PHP conference Jenna Churchill was very happy with how the end result was.

“Doing everything virtually was a challenge, obviously, because we had to re-learn how to put on this conference. We hired GK Sound to help us run the technical side of things which was really helpful,” she said. “We ran everything pretty much in the same format, where we had two panels going on at the same time, and it worked really well.”

Despite concerns of low turnout due to the new platform, the conference hosted 37 presenters and an estimated 90 viewers from across Canada, which is a match to what the committee expected in previous years when the conference was held in person. 

Undergraduate students from as far away as Dalhouse University, MacEwan University and Mcgill University were able to have their research presented. In a regular year, internal and external presenters are pretty even, but the digital format allowed students from farther away to join in with the event.

“It was definitely nerve-wracking, and us all on the committee were nervous that this was going to flop, but I’m so glad it didn’t because it’s such an important event to so many students and professors. We had about 25 people watching every panel, which is similar to our usual numbers,” Churchill stated.

TRU’s Dr. Tina Block and Dr. Katherine Fierlbeck from Dalhousie were the keynote speakers at the conference. Block presented research on religion and history, while Fierlbeck shared some of her political research on the recent U.S. Presidential Election.

Churchill believes some of the biggest losses for the conference this year weren’t in the conference itself, but the events that fundraise and promote it, such as the Beer Conference and trivia nights. These were also hosted online. 

“Not being able to have the banquet was a sad thing for sure. It’s a super fun event with food and drinks and dancing, and that was a loss this year,” Churchill said.

Another issue that made the conference tougher was the fact that the committee, usually a 12-person affair, only had four members this year. The PHP Committee is seeking applicants for next year’s conference. If you’re interested, email tru.phpconference@gmail.com.

Despite the challenges, Churchill affirms that the conference was an important event for students: “It’s a pandemic, so no matter what it was hard not having the same atmosphere the conference usually brings, but at the same time it was so fulfilling getting to listen to the panels of students. The fact that people submitted their papers at all knowing it was going to be a virtual conference, to have that good response, was a great feeling,” she said.

“In ways it was hard, but even in a pandemic it’s great to know that we can still share what we’re learning and share what we’re interested in, and we’re not just shutting down and giving in to the pandemic.”