NARSC 2022, Montreal
In partnership with
By Clara Peiret-Garcia and Rachael Sanderson
In early November 2022, we attended the North American Regional Sciences Conference (NARSC 2022) held in Montreal (Canada). The event is known for being the biggest North American gathering on Regional Sciences research, a discipline that aligns with both our projects. After having attended both the European and British versions of this conference, presenting at its across-the-pond edition felt almost mandatory. Now, a few weeks after coming back and after the experience has finally sinked in, we feel the need to reflect on this journey and share it with a wider audience.
NARSC 2022 was one of those conferences where you wish you could be omnipresent. The amount of outstanding talks going on at the same time was truly remarkable, which meant we had to prioritise. We first focused on those sessions most relevant to our research. Next, we attended those showcasing new methods in which we had a particular interest. Finally, we tried to attend sessions that might lay out of our research scopes, but posed interesting opportunities to be exposed to new fields. Based on these criteria, here are some of the highlights of the conference.
First, we feel compelled to highlight the sessions in which we both took part, focused on left-behind places, and access to opportunities, respectively. The highlights of the ‘left behind’ session was the variety – papers focused on both empirical and theoretical work, which really supported understanding to develop our own PhDs. Regarding accessibility to opportunities, there seems to be a growing interest in the topic, with more and more conferences dedicating sessions specifically to this matter. It is also clear that we are past the point of assessing accessibility for the average individual, with many papers starting to focus on access inequalities and mobility justice, something, we think, is a fantastic step forward.
The conference programme also included special sessions on machine learning. Following the data science training during the MRes year, these sessions were particularly appealing. Their content included included application of basic methods to novel issues (basic, or maybe they were just well explained?), alongside discussion of the latest cutting edge methods for regional sciences. With code being shared openly, there is plenty of scope to identify new ideas that can be carried forward into our own work.
Finally, the session on the topic of housing and proximity felt like finding a hidden gem. The talks were a blend of urban economics and spatial analytics, which felt particularly interesting and thought provoking in terms of the methods applied. Especially fascinating was the work on urban segregation and street network topology, which assessed the relationship between urban design and socioeconomic inequalities in the city.
Reflecting on our experience at the conference led us to think about its most relevant outcomes. Probably one of the biggest takeaways from NARSC 2022 is the connections made with other Early Career Researchers (ECRs). As important as meeting well-established academics is, learning from fellow PhD students’ experiences is extremely helpful and, many times, reassuring. Sharing experiences of self-doubt, pressure and (from time to time) joy, helps us overcome the barriers we encounter along the way, and creates a strong sense of community. From our experience, both at NARSC and other other conferences, the level of understanding and empathy shared amongst ECRs is remarkable. This is also encouraging for future conferences – knowing that you will be seeing people again allows you to gradually build up a network that you can engage with if you have any difficulties. As we explore academia post-covid, a real benefit is the ability to now see people in person, and take advantage of the sharing of problems and ideas.
Presenting in front of an audience is always a nerve-wracking experience. And more so when some of the most knowledgeable authors in our respective fields are listening. It is however remarkable the amount of helpful feedback we always receive. Whether it is an idea on new methods to apply, or a newly available data set, it is always worth going through the excitement/stress prior to presenting. A highlight of this specific conference is the role of discussants in the sessions. Each presenter is assigned a discussant, a fellow presenter in their session, who will be sent a copy of the paper in advance to develop targeted questions. As both a presenter and discussant, this was a valuable experience – the chance to read someone’s most recent research is always rewarding, but the discussant’s feedback combined with the questions of the audience really helped with motivation to finish the work in progress once back in the office.
Finally, it is undeniable that one of the perks of attending conferences is visiting places. And one place you really want to visit is Montreal. The mix between typical North-American architecture and culture blends perfectly with the French influence of many of its neighbourhoods, and the many other cultural influxes that have arrived in the city throughout the years. Definitely the place to be if you enjoy tasty food and unique cafés, including sampling the local poutine, smoked meat, and fantastic bagels.
Overall, NARSC 2022 will go to the remember that time we went to…? conference list. The mix of relevant talks with extremely fun post-conference events will definitely stick with us. So will the connections with the wonderful people we met on the way. Hopefully this won’t be our last NARSC!