AcWriMo 2021: ‘Your Project as a Poem’ Winners

‘Science arose from poetry… when times change
the two can meet again on a higher level as friends’.
Johann Wolfgang von Goethe

It feels like AcWriMo (Academic Writing Month) happened ages ago, even though it was only in November. This year, for the first time, we ran a very special competition as part of AcWriMo, asking researchers to transform their research projects into poems.

We were astounded by the range and calibre of the poems received – thirteen in total, representing all three faculties. Each of them had something unique to offer. Memorable, powerful, funny, elegant, profound, educational, enjoyable, clever, evocative, beautiful… – these are just some of the adjectives mentioned when the judging panel were discussing the entries.

We were absolutely delighted that Karenjit Sandhu[i], The University of Surrey’s current poet-in-residence, was able to join us in the judging. This is what she said about the competition:

I have been extremely impressed by all the entries. I was amazed by the way in which the entrants used the poetic form to convey their research. The poems were highly inventive, enlightening and thought provoking. It is evident that this activity has enabled entrants to see their research afresh as they seek innovative ways to present their ideas. Well done to everyone who entered, and a big congratulations to all the winners!  

So… the winners!

Our three top-scoring entries were by

Iain Lee (PGR at the Department of Physics),

Sylvia Solakidi (PGR at the Guildford School of Acting) and

Vanessa Cumper (PGR at the School of Hospitality and Tourism Management).

And a special commendation has gone to our short poem winner

Tamzin Ractliffe (PGR at the Centre for Environment and Sustainability).

Congratulations to all!

Here are the winning poems, together with the short explanations that the authors have provided.


You close your eyes

Fall backwards into space, arrive at a star

Inhale the endless expulsion of energy

Feel the heat intimidate your face, pass through your body

You enter the star

Absorb energy, dispel it as you please

Creating and destroying

Atoms crash and coalesce

I study the star

The coherence has broken

What happened? The star has changed

How has the star changed..


Working thesis title: ‘The effects of a plasma environment on stellar nuclear fusion reactions using an open quantum systems approach’.

Iain:This poem represents the struggles faced when trying to understand nuclear fusion reaction in stars. It is common to model fusion as two atomic nuclei crashing into each other – but what about the environment surrounding these reactions? This poem attempts to take the reader on a short journey, from a journey to the star (which would be an experimentalist’s dream), to becoming the unknown interactions within the star, to my position as a theoretical researcher trying to understand something that technically has a definite answer, but I will never know exactly’.



Follow the water

when you lose your way

     in a city

When this disease hits again

and turns places into strangers

it is time to hesitate

time to look around

time to smell the confusion

                                                                it has the smell of water

I follow the smell

I follow the river

The river cures the confusion

the river guides me

                                                and I will not be lost anymore

Get lost!

A sea out of the reservoir of water images

an intruder sea out of the reservoir of my water images

pastes itself where there was the river

A sea-weed grows in the soil of the city

it becomes strong

it grafts itself into the stem of the riverbank

It is not a riverbank anymore

it is a seafront

the seafront of that city

   of your city

The city is not a stranger anymore

it grows as a grafted plant

it is joined with your city

Is it time to cut the graft

time to cut the weed memory

time to lose myself in oblivion?

Or is it time to follow the sea

time to cut the oblivion

time to lose my way into the grafted city?

(The disease of oblivion?

The disease of memory?)


Sylvia: ‘In 2018, I visited Antwerp for the first time. I have a poor sense of orientation and, as usual, I lost my way in the city and I found myself near the river. Thanks to a coincidence, the river felt as if it had been the sea of Thessaloniki, a Greek city I am very familiar with. I reworked this intense experience in the research paper “Ways of Walking” (Ways of Walking (, in which I elaborate on loss in cities, writing and memory, by using Kenneth Goldsmith’s concept of displacement as my guide. And I also elaborate on loss of love and my beloved ones who are not living anymore’.


Steadfast stoic, historical institutions

Step across the foreboding glacial threshold

Dusty enduring dramatic, contemplation

Drink in the culture, the heritage, the beauty

Befuddling confounding materialistic manifestations

Be in awe of their mighty magnificence

Manipulating factors of embodiment by

Merleau-Ponty, and all of his crew

With their metaphorical, philosophy

Wacky whippersnappers, the lot of you

Cognitive powers of appreciation, in a

Contradictory, paradoxical, circumstance              

Technology, snapping viciously at their heels

Territory, there’s just no space for it anymore

AR, VR, MR, no longer tethered to the ground

Aspects of modernity, viewed through technology

Conceptual parameters drawn in quicksand

Combining communicative and expressive functionality

Organisational oral opportunities, to suppress

Oppressive dictatorship arbitrarily irresolute, silence

Barriers beyond physical boundaries, restrict abilities

Bereft of ordinary every day, social exploration

Surroundings augmented, purposefully accessible

Situatedness extending, beyond physicality

Lacking conscious understanding

Language is free, freeing, freed, freedom


Provisional thesis title: ‘How can Augmented Reality on mobile devices enhance recreational activities for those who are D/deaf in museums and galleries?’ 

Vanessa: ‘My research centres on how augmented reality can facilitate access for people who are D/deaf to arts and heritage. Each segment relates to a section of my research. The first segment refers to the historical stuffiness of arts and heritage. The second discusses Merleau Ponty, embodiment and how embodiment for abled people is different for diverse groups. The third, the use of technology, how rapidly it has changed, in turn changed our society, our interactions, our self-expression and how some are resistant to that change. Finally, I talk about people who are D/deaf, the historical oppression of this group and if people who use oral language took the time to learn visual language, then maybe people who are D/deaf would not be marginalised’.


Resilience thrives

when collectively inspired

Ubuntu prevails


Provisional thesis title:Resilience at work: evaluating the beneficial difference of formal and informal strategies on collective resilience in organisational context’.

Tamzin: ‘Ubuntu is an African philosophy encapsulated by the phrase ‘I am a person through other persons’ and it points to how interconnected our being – and therefore our resilience – is. It is something I have been exploring in terms of my view that collective resilience might be the cornerstone of good work in a good society – work that is sustainable and sustaining, that cares for the other as much as the sel’f.

Thank you, again, to everybody who has shared their poems with us! 

We were touched. We were impressed. We got inspired!

And… we can’t wait until next year’s competition 😊!

Dr Nadya Yakovchuk, Teaching Fellow in Academic Writing, Doctoral College

P.S. Special thanks go to Dr Mike Rose for expertly summarising the judging panel’s comments into the individualised feedback sent to every participant, and to Beau Bell for doing their magic to tweet out all submitted entries (@SurreyDocCol).

[i]Karenjit Sandhu’s debut collection young girls! is out now with the87press. It is a reimagining of the life of Hungarian-Indian artist Amrita Sher-Gil (1913-1941). Through her art Sher-Gil creates a bridge between the east and west. Sandhu’s collection aims to capture the merging of cultures, languages, geographies, and identities. It is for anyone who has ever found themselves caught in the in-between’.