Academic Conferences: Discussants Discuss

I have spent many years involved with different academic conferences. This has provided ample opportunities for networking and the next phase is giving back and serving as a chair or a discussant on panels. I have had the distinct displeasure of having some terrible discussants and then some wonderful discussants. I remembered each and have channeled the good examples and make sure that I do a few things. This list is a suggestion and certainly is not exhaustive.

1. Give the panelists as much as time as possible to get their draft to me. I’m usually traveling to the conference and I am perfectly fine with reading papers and making comments on the plane. I know that many prefer the papers a week prior; however, I rather have a more complete draft.

2. Explain to the panelists how much time they will have prior to the conference starting, so that they are aware of this prior to the actual conference. Then, reminding them at the panel and having a five minute and one minute warning. This is good to make sure that everyone gets ample time to present. There is nothing worse than the last panelist getting half as much time.

3. Read the paper closely and try to place it within the proper sub-field and make constructive comments and suggestions. This includes offering possible places for publication and other general supportive points. By reading the papers closely, the discussant should also tie the panel together with the preliminary comments to the audience.

4. Show up on time to the panel and make sure that the technology is in working order and that the panelists all have water. These little things are important and the panelists might vary from the seasoned presenter to the undergraduate co-presenting with their mentor.

5. Make your comments and then field the question and answer period with the audience. Thank everyone for coming and then give the hard copy of the papers back to the panelists or email them the copy with track changes or other comments.

An organized discussant can really help the panelists’ conference experience. We go to conferences to network, but the presentations are incredibly helpful to share works in progress or other research with our colleagues. The conference experience should be positive and a good discussant will contribute to this. Let me add that I now really understand certain conference policies about getting faculty to serve as a discussant. The discussant role is a time intensive one and this person should have some expertise if not more than familiarity about the area of research. I welcome other suggestions to my five points.

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Career Advice: Redux

This is an old post that I have tweaked (not twerked) for the start of a new academic year.

You’re in your last year of university and getting nervous as the school year starts, hits the half way point or is ending. But, for the sake of ease, let’s pretend it’s the start of your last year of university. I’m going to make some suggestions for you. And, these are my opinions alone and not endorsed by my employer. This advice comes from my university experience, 16 years of teaching, and years of advising unofficially and officially.
1. Get yourself to the Career Center or the Career offices. Your campus should have an office with extremely competent staff who are there to help you. But, understand that they aren’t there to help you get a job, rather they are there to give you the skills so that you get yourself that job. They will empower you, but it’s all about your own skills and your own file. Have a Career Counselor review your CV or resume.

2. Speak with your departments Undergraduate Advisor. Believe it or not, s/he might have some good advice to give you. The advisor might know of additional job boards in your area of interest.

3. Speak to trusted peers who are in your situation or who have recently graduated. Your peers are a useful resource, too. Ask them if they can introduce you to anyone else–that is you need to network.

4. Confer with other faculty or mentors that you have in the campus community or community at large. Now is not the time to feel shy. You have to reach out and make some effort.

5. If it works for your field (and which fields does it not work for?) get on social media. Yes, join Linked in and establish your profile there and meet others on the platform. Ask people questions—especially those in the industry that you’re interested in.

6. Are you blogging or on Twitter? Will these platforms be useful for you? If so, then do it. But, always be very careful with your digital footprint. Google yourself and see what is out there. That photo of you in residence engaging in naked beer sliding—might need to be deleted! OK, you really don’t have compromising photos, but do take a look and see what photos and status updates you’ve had so that you won’t have a future employer “creep” and find something that they don’t like.

Particular to Victoria, I suggest to students that they not only look at the local job boards (BC Public Service, municipality job boards, and UVIC’s U-Hire, but also VIATEC’s. You never know what you might find in many of these. I also explain to students that they most likely won’t get hired right out of their undergrad as a senior policy analyst. The truth is that you’re going to have to work your way up and this might mean that you’re working in a position that requires data entry, filing, and “gofer” work. You have to cut your teeth in a job and be prepared for this.

If you’re interested in working in Victoria, I suggest that you keep abreast of when there are Chamber of Commerce events (Victoria or Westshore) and attend some of the events to network and meet local members. Note that members of this organization aren’t only local business owners, but government types, elected officials, and just regular people who are interested in the community. Also, attend other local events and get to know the community. This might mean registering with Meet Up and looking for events that will allow you to meet other like minded people. The thought of doing this might make you feel uncomfortable, but you need to get out and meet more people and realize that the limited discomfort can pay off with a mentor, community building, contacts, and possibly a job connection.

I have seen students take 4-8 months to find work after they graduate and this is pretty common. The students who are willing to take risks or start at the entry level position are the ones who have been the most successful. What are you doing to do?

Lean In Keynote: Blog Her 13

I am at Blog Her 13 in Chicago and this morning attended Sheryl Sandberg’s keynote and then attended the Lean In Circle workshop. Where to start. The keynote was more of a discussion between Lisa Stone, Blog Her, and Sheryl Sandberg, Facebook COO. Sandberg was on the floor taking photos with delegates, signing books, and just meeting people. I had a chance to take a photo and talk to her for a few precious minutes about her book, Lean In. She was gracious with the crowd and was eventually pulled away for the keynote. As I waited in line for my moment with her, I was reminded of my Comic-Con experiences and felt like a fan girl.

Her keynote hit on the points outlined in the book and Stone asked some great questions. She also shared that the Blog Her Visionaries survey was filled out quickly within hours. I am one of these people and was happy to fill out the short survey about the book and movement. What I enjoyed most was how honest Sandberg came across. On the table sat some Lean In branded sheets to write down what you would do if you were not afraid. Sandberg shared her’s: Write a book about feminism. Yes, you read that correctly. She also seemed comfortable with embracing the term, feminism. It is clear that she is a strong advocate for women and men and their success. She made a point to share that some male executives have told her, “You have cost me lots of money.” Why? Because women are asking for raises!

I have previously blogged about her book and the movement. I am registered with the Lean In site and in an Education circle. I will blog later about the Lean In Circle workshop. It was amazing and I am still processing it. I have a page of notes to mull over, as I think about my workshop experience. Overall, I was glad that I woke up early to get a rock star seat at the keynote. And, I got to finally meet Veronica Arreola, Professional Feminist! We had a good chat about the book, too.

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At BlogHer 13

I’m enjoying my second Blog Her. This year’s event is at Chicago, and thus far I’ve been able to enjoy the sights of the city. I walked around for almost two hours yesterday and then participated in the Blog Her 5K today and saw more of the city. I’ve been here before, so it’s great to be back in the Windy City. I’m quite happy to share that I’ve met some other bloggers, who I have first met on Twitter! It’s nice to have the real face to the Twitter handle or blog URL.

I also find it instructive to be surrounded with other people who get social media. This conference is clearly focused on blogging, but many are on multiple social media platforms. It is also comforting to see such a diverse crowd in terms of race and ethnicity. There are clearly lots of so-called Mommy Bloggers and today’s opening keynote definitely spoke to that niche; however, there are other types of bloggers here who self-identify as writers, style bloggers, and have walked away from the Mommy title. To be clear, I am a mom of two kids and I have nothing against mommy bloggers. I do not self identify as such.

The exhibit has been fun. I have only walked through half of it and appreciate the ways in which the vendors can just scan my registration barcode. However, I imagine that my friends who write about security would smirk about the high level of data mining. I actually walked away from the AT&T vendor, when they wanted my cell number. My email and name was not enough to fill out the form. I smiled and said, “No, thank you.” Don’t get me wrong, I like the free swag and have a bag filled with freebies, but I draw the line at sharing my cell number. I do not like getting calls/texts from businesses on my work land line or cell number.

This is my first of a few posts about Blog Her 13. I was comforted to hear the Blog Her team discuss numbers and trends about blogging and their website. Blogging and social media is here to stay and not some passing fad. I’d like a shirt with that sentence! The Blog Her team is doing a great job. I am including a screen shot of my favorite business card, so far. I met the founder Meghan Jordan at the Peoples Party last night.

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Thank you again, Twitter

This is a revised post. Initially I posted this some two years ago giving a shout out or hat tip to Twitter and tweeps. I’d like to add to it. I’ve been on Twitter for more than five years and in this time I’ve found it one of the most dynamic platforms. Sure, I loved all those Mayorships–cough, cough. Wait, I broke up with Foursquare in the Spring. Seriously, Twitter has given me the most engagement and networking opportunities.

Lately I have noticed that I have had some provocative conversations about higher education #higher ed  or #edchat, PhD programs #phdchat or #newPhD or other topics related to work. I am quite thankful to Twitter and the array of people on the twitterverse for these engaging discussions. I have learned from others and frankly, it’s nice to have conversations about things we like or dislike that help remind me of how lucky I am to work at the University of Victoria #UVIC. I have placed Twitter hashtags in the post with the hashtag symbol, #, normally this was the number symbol, but it has been reclaimed!

Some of the other tags that I’ve followed with great interest: #femlead #saturdayschool #election2012, and the various tags that I use for more courses. Each of these tags has meant connections. Getting to know people across the globe and have conversations about women leaders, history, politics, and then my great students at UVIC. The list is not exhaustive, but what I can remember on an early Monday morning. So, I raise my cup of coffee to Twitter!

Mentoring and Coaching: Post-Graduation

I’ve blogged lots about mentoring and coaching. I’ve differentiated the ways that some students require more hands on approach–ergo the mentoring, and some require less and I view this as more of the coaching strategy. I decided to do something different and buy some stationery and send some of my mentees (will use just that word) a note. I wrote the notes recently, but will send them prior to the Fall term. Now, I’ve sent emails and messages via other social media platforms, but I’m kicking it old school with the note cards.

Some of them will start or continue graduate school in the Fall, and others will join the working world outside of academe. I bought these note cards at the Papery on Fort St in Victoria, BC and chose something that was not too big, so that the sentiment wasn’t a thesis. My intention was to write something supportive, and dispense some advice. Academics tend to live our lives term by term or maybe even school year by school year. Graduate students get used to this, too. After graduation many of my former students note that they miss college and the schedule. Thus, I felt it was appropriate to send the note card just when a school term starts and the graduate might reminisce about their undergraduate days. (I know that many of them do, as I get the emails or Facebook messages telling me that they miss their university days and their old schedules).

Each note card was personalized to the particular mentee and my wishes for them. I gave them well wishes and felt quite emotional as I wrote the cards. I’ve given cards for graduation during the last several years, but these cards of well-wishes were different. I don’t view them as closure to our relationship, as I see the mentoring or coaching as not having an expiration date. And, to be quite frank a few of these mentees are now actually great friends to me, and my family. Now, for any former students who didn’t get a note and are wondering where is there note card–this was a first time project and I sent out several. I will do this again. I really hope the students who get the note cards appreciate them. I’ve only started this and will see how it works.

Post-Conference Thoughts

Last week I attended a national conference and had a great conference experience. This post will speak to things that we junior to mid-career faculty can do better. And, I’ll also have some advice for the advanced graduate students.

1. Walk around ready to engage in small talk with people you don’t know or want to meet. Try to avoid only chatting with your friends and colleagues. While picking up with them is important, you also can serve as a bridge to someone new at that meeting or new to the discipline.

2. Smile and say hello. It sounds simple, but it doesn’t come naturally for everyone. Ask people about their project. Try to be friendly. When Rita Mae Kelly died some years ago, I was quite upset. I didn’t know her well, but I recalled on numerous occasions she approached me and chatted with me for 5-15 minutes asking me about my grad school experience. She went out of her way to make me feel comfortable at the Political Science Meetings. When a session was held for her, I was in the audience crying. I looked forward to her chats. We never exchanged an email, but I was familiar with her work and I have all those memories of our chats that can’t count up to more than 5.

3. Go to the receptions and some of the dinners. It’s good be seen, but also it’s another opportunity for you to meet new people or strengthen old networks. When I walked into the banquet room with 270+ people I made the immediate decision to not look for friends. Instead I walked up to a half filled table and sat down there. As luck would have it, sitting across from me was someone I “met” via Twitter! I ended up having interesting conversations with a retired colleague and an advanced grad student from a UK program.

4. I was glad that I was active on the Twitter tag for the conference. The first morning I had breakfast with an undergrad from another province. We chatted and walked back to the conference site. I was also able to meet some others in real life, who I had previously known on Twitter. Social Media can be useful for the conference. I took notes at the Women’s’ Caucus Luncheon’s Mentoring Session and posted them immediately on Tumbler.

5. I attended lots of wonderful sessions and made a point to speak to one of the presenters. And, I also thanked the chair or discussant for their helpful comments. I paid attention. The panelists in some cases were senior people across the discipline, and in other instances are future colleagues. One of these conversations once led to a publication opportunity.

6. Take business cards. You might meet new people who want to contact you or vice versa. It’s good to have the cards at the ready. I find that I am apt to pass them out more so to advanced graduate students and let them know that I’m just an email or tweet away!

Overall, the conference was a success and from my comments you can glean: be out there!