Conferences and Conferencing

This Spring is extremely busy or perhaps more busy. I have been to four conferences in less than two weeks. I have had ample opportunity to re-connect or meet new people at each of the conferences and I have some advice for networking. This is not an exhaustive list.

  1. It’s great to introduce yourself, but make sure that you pause and listen to the people that you’re meeting.
  2. You’ll need to re-charge after the networking, and it’s important that you self-care and have some down time.
  3. Try to follow up with the new connections that you’ve made. This might be via an email or liking/sharing something that they’ve said on a social media platform.
  4. See if you can meet new people! At some conferences, work colleagues will congregate and the conference is the perfect opportunity to build your networks. You can meet new people and introduce them to others, who you know at the conference.
  5. Learn. Go to sessions that you’re interested in and be open to learning about new topics.

Regroup after the conference and think about how you can share what you have learned with your colleagues.

Friday Fun Facts

I am trying to get back on the Friday Fun Facts bike. My Fun Facts will be about conferencing.

  1. I started attending academic conferences when I was an undergrad. One of my mentors was supportive and shared that I  needed to get used to presenting  my work and the entire conference experience.
  2. My first terrible conference experience was at an APSA. I was a grad student and the discussant was unpleasant to the entire panel. I listened and learned and have taken my discussant role seriously. I am thoughtful and supportive.
  3. Once I earned my PhD, I always made sure that I took a grad student out to breakfast or dinner at a conference. And, I always introduce grad students to my network. I know what it is like to feel like an outsider in the at times clique-ish academic environment.
  4. If I see poor behavior by a discussant at a conference, I contact the conference organizers. I will not be a bystander to someone needlessly being an ass to people. See number 2. I will usually respond to the colleague who is not using a filter.
  5. I have multiple copies of my presentation and travel with my own dongles/connectors. I learned the hard way and have become very agile and ready to present my talk.
  6. I often invite a student or more junior colleague to present with me on a panel or round-table.

Hope these six, fast facts are useful. Share your conference facts! Sharing an image from Twitter. I love this mug.


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.


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!

Revisiting Conferences and Making it Worth It

An academic conference provides the more than the venue to present your work and hear other presentations. It also is a great place to network and make connections, as well as learn from colleagues in the field. This post makes suggestions for a successful conference appearance. I know that the Western is this week and ISA is at the start of April. My hope is that this post will be useful for most.

If you are presenting and need technology (a video data projector), do make a point of making sure that your needs are met. Likewise, always have a Plan B if the technology does not work. This means copies of your slides for you to refer to and handouts of any pertinent slides or related matter is also copied (introduction, findings and conclusion) for distribution. I gave a talk on campus last week and had my iPad, thumbdrive, Slide Rocket and Drop Box versions of the presentation; however, everything worked fine with my iPad.

For graduate students, you should come with some business cards in hand. The standard in my areas of familiarity (Women’s Studies and Political Sciences) are that you can use the university crest and get cards printed. Please note that when you are writing your thesis, you are a candidate (for instance MA Candidate) otherwise you are a Graduate Student. When you have defended your prospectus for you dissertation, you are a PhD Candidate. You cannot put PhD on your card until you have defended or have your PhD in hand. I see that a few people have PhD on their Twitter profiles or blogs and they do not have this degree earned yet. This is misleading and unprofessional to do—don’t do it!

Practice your presentation in front of a mirror or a friendly audience. There is nothing harder to do than to sit by and pay to attention to a terrible or wooden presentation. Don’t stare at your computer. If you must, place phrases in your document that read: scan the room, breathe, smile, look up, etc. This will help you add some semblance of connection with your audience. Speaking of which you could present to one person or have no one in your audience, but this still counts as a presentation for your vitae. Enjoy your presentation!

Make sure that you take time to attend some of the receptions. This is a good place to network or catch up with others. Make sure that you are available to attend some of these events. The conference is not a vacation, but a working series of meetings. Take some time off, but your main job is to use the conference experience to help you share your research and meet people in your discipline. It is worth the time to meet people, too. I have found that some of my publications were thanks to a conference presentation, when an editor was in the audience or another panelist invited the panel to submit a special issue to a journal.

Before your trip you also want to peruse the conference program well so that you can organize your daily itinerary of what you have to do. If your advisor, mentor or other faculty in the department are attending the conference, go to some of their talks. Ask them to introduce you to some people at an event. A good committee member or mentor, will do this naturally, but some people need the little nudge to do so. Also, try and meet other graduate students. These people will provide the cohort of scholars you will see at the conferences and it is worth getting to know them.

The next few things are obvious: have fun, eat, sleep and exercise. Conferences are often 12 hour days and you want to make the most of them, but not work too hard that you return home exhausted or sick. Have a great time, but be careful to not drink too much. You are presenting yourself to others in your field. Likewise, be careful what you say on social media during the conference.

Remember that your first academic conference might appear a daunting experience, but it is not if you plan well and take the time to network and attend conference events. Also, engage with others online via social media–this way you can also meet people prior to the conference and have a meet up.

For the established academic, all of the above is obvious. But, let me add that we need to remember to make time to mentor. I try and take grad students out for a drink, coffee or a meal to chat with them about their progress. These brief meetings make a difference. I know that they did when I was a grad student.