In May a number of us from the Centre of Innovative Ageing attended the International Association of Gerontology and Geriatrics (IAGG) European Region Congress in Gothenburg Sweden entitled ‘Towards Capability in Ageing – from cell to society’. Our delegates ranged from professors to PhD researchers.  We thought it would be interesting to see what two of the latter made of the experience.

Carole Butler is in the final year of her PhD looking at intergenerational activities in care homes.

Maria Cheshire Allen is in the second year of her PhD which focuses on family carers.


The IAGG-ER is a huge international conference. Why did you choose to attend?

Carole – I had funding for dissemination of my research so I was looking for an international conference to present at during my final year. Initially I didn’t realise quite how prestigious the conference was, but my supervisor, Sarah Hillcoat-Nallétamby, encouraged me to apply.

Maria – I’d been to this conference years ago in a previous job and found it stimulating, so I was pleased I got in. At the beginning of the year I wrote a publications and conference plan that was intended to align with where I would be in my PhD. However the application is made months in advance and by the time the conference came around I found that, although I had findings to report, I was presenting something that wasn’t quite finished.  I’m trying to develop the ‘conference knack’ of knowing how to present work in interesting chunks that don’t feel piecemeal.  My supervisor, Norah Keating, calls it finding the ’golden thread’ that runs through your whole thesis.

Carole– I agree. I’m always quite ambitious when applying for conferences and sometimes find I haven’t done everything I aimed to. However, the structure of my PhD has enabled me to present on how I designed the intervention as a stand-alone topic.

Tell us some high and low points of the conference

We thought the tone of the conference was measured, efficient and calm.

Carole – What interested me was that there was such a biological basis as well as psychosocial, and how the two can interact. Dementia is such a large topic with so many aspects. I spoke to a doctor who, despite his medical approach, was interested in my poster because he could see how it could relate to how he dealt with his patients living with dementia.  That was great encouragement.

Maria – For me the most useful aspect of the conference was this emphasis on capability in ageing, which was part of the title of the conference. The Nordic countries are far more in tune with the ideas and concept of ‘capabilities’ than we are, it’s more common and mainstream there to think about things in this way. Capability is a key theme in my research so there was a lot to interest me. Many sessions had a biomedical theme, so had less immediate appeal to us as social researchers. I did find a session on caring – my area of research – to go to.  However, on reflection, I think you might sometimes learn more from sessions on topics you know less about, rather than your own field of research.

Were there any presentations that particularly stood out for you?

We both enjoyed the Symposium ‘Representations of Care Capabilities and Age’. This included a presentation from Ulla Kriebernegg in which she looked at how care homes are represented in the news media, in film and in stories and how these can reflect ageist and sexist stereotypes. This led to a discussion about how to develop ageing as a concept that’s not just about loss, dependency and vulnerability but instead promote a capabilities approach, understanding the choices people have and the capacity to exercise those choices and challenge societal limits.

Also in that Symposium was an interesting presentation about music in dementia care-giving relationships. A medical doctor and a music therapist had carried out research together and reflected on how participants talked about different aspects of their lives depending on who the researcher was.

Carole – I also enjoyed the keynote on ageism from Professor Liat Ayalon which I felt did a lot to raise awareness on the topic. She also talked about the complexity of ageing and how, in order to be relevant and innovative, research has to go beyond a single discipline.

How did your poster presentation go?

Carole –As the oral poster presentation was a new format to me I thought I needed a strategy on how best to approach it and engage people with my poster – I got some useful tips from YouTube – and this really worked for me. I felt it was the best poster presentation I’ve done.  I was geared up to step forward and ask people if they’d like me to talk them through the poster, and many of them were interested.  My oral poster presentation meant that my poster was displayed all day but I also had a 5 minute slot to present, using just 2 slides, which was very good discipline for me.  I was complimented on how clear and concise it was and on the title – ‘Tea for Two Generations’.  I had questions on the sustainability of the intervention and the student experience aspect and several people commented that it was interesting that the intervention was based it on food as a way to connect people.

Maria – Listening to Carole’s experience, I realise I need to think more about what value a poster can have and how to maximise opportunities. Next time I may practice an elevator pitch beforehand and look to have more of a strategy. On the plus side, I did meet the head of Eurocare who said it was important to recognise the gender perspective in the way that I had, so that was something positive to take from it.

Do you think this conference is worthwhile for early career researchers? 

Yes. It’s a chance to have a go and get exposure, as well as some feedback on the work you’re doing. Your poster is a chance to reflect on your own research, and the whole process of applying and writing the abstract is also good for personal development.

Maria – It’s interesting to see what other people are doing, to become aware of emerging ideas and themes. Including it on your CV should also give a boost to your academic career.

Carole – A breakfast get-together was arranged for PhD students attending the conference, which was both enjoyable and interesting. It gave us the opportunity to meet other international PhD students and share experiences.

We met some interesting people, and it was great to find people who wanted to know more about our work. All connections are valuable and undoubtedly we benefitted from both meeting people and being seen at such an event.

The final word from Carole!

I never imagined that I would present at a prestigious international conference, so I felt a real sense of achievement!