Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Attending Conferences

Borrowed Image
This is our final post of online content from our "Designing Abstracts and Attending Conferences" Workshop in October. We want to begin by pulling a recent quotation from an article in The Chronicle for Higher Education (a highly recommended resource for Eng. Grads):

“I advise students to attend professional conferences for a number of reasons. First, there is the inevitable networking, which helps you not only now but also later in your career. Second, by attending sessions at the conference, students can learn the latest scholarly insights circulating, well before the publication of those ideas (which will take those glacial several years of research and publication that I mentioned). Third, the book exhibits of such professional organizations will let students browse the newest texts and even unpublished page proofs before the material is filtered through the review mill and enters the consciousness of scholars and critics.”
 Chronicle for Higher Education

We want to encourage you to think about conferences no matter where you are in the program. You may not be ready to jump right in, but keep tabs on annual conferences in your field, on themes and CFPs that apply to your work, and any local opportunities to attend conferences. 

How to Choose a Conference: We know that it can be difficult wading through all of the conferences out there, so we recommend first relying on your peers and faculty advisers for guidance. It is certain that your faculty advisers will have some suggestions for conferences that pertain to your field. See our previous post for more suggestions about finding relevant CFPs. However you come across these conferences, we encourage you to consider a few important factors:
1) Your Field - not every conference is created equal. This is where your adviser and peers come in handy; find out if the conference you are looking at is worth the following two factors. 
 2) Time/Deadlines - Consider the date of the conference as well as the deadline for the abstract, and ask yourself "Do I have enough time to work on this? Are the conference dates doable with my schedule?" 
 3) Money - an important factor for any grad student. Check with Connie in the GW English Dept. for current department reimbursement policies. The department will reimburse you up to a certain amount in a given academic year. The rest is up to you (and some conferences offer scholarship opportunities), so plan carefully how much the trip will cost you. 
Preparation Tips:
Square Away Travel Plans: Once you are accepted and you confirm with the conference, fill out the appropriate forms to send the Department Chair (Gayle). If you are traveling internationally, you must register your travel details (flight, duration, etc) with GW (and when you do this GW has you covered for travel insurance). 
Research the Conference Website: These will often have great recommendations for housing as well as important details about the conference fee (how/when to pay it), and the schedule (you may be required to submit certain items by certain deadlines). 
Time Your Presentation: We all speak at different speeds, so adjust your paper length accordingly. It is important and respectful to stay within the amount of presentation time allowed by the conference. 
Get Feedback: Ask your advisers for their feedback on your conference paper - they can give you great insight on the paper itself as well as conference/presentation tips (you may have to bug them, however, so do not hesitate to send them "friendly reminders" in order to hear back before the conference).
Your Panel Chair: Check out the program when you can to see who will chair your panel and who is on your panel. Often, the chair will contact you in advance to ask for bio details or a copy of your paper. You can also send these ahead of time and introduce yourself. Take at least a little time to familiarize yourself with your panel members - read their abstracts if you can (you will likely be asked questions from the audience about how your work and another panel member's work speak to each other).
Make Business Cards: Not all conferences have a strict "business" aspect to them, but many emphasize the importance of networking. I suggest business cards because I have been handed many over the few conferences I have been to, and have had nothing to give them in exchange. Most conferences will set up a listserve or email contact details, but I still recommend printing off some cards to exchange with people you meet. 
Carry copies of your CV, prospectus, and conference paper: Part of this recommendation is to prevent any technology errors that can ruin your experience (not having access to your paper digitally for example). The other part is that you will be making valuable contacts, and if you are on the market, it might be useful to have these items with you.
Bring a Notebook: I recommend having one at least when you are on your panel waiting for your turn to present for a couple reasons. One, it gives you something to do while you are listening to your panel's presentations (this can be awkward). Two, if you jot down notes about your panel members' presentations (or how they connect to yours) it will be much easier to field questions from the audience when they address two or more presentations. 
During and After
Responding to Your Panel: As previously stated, audience members may want you to respond to something someone else said on your panel - so pay attention! 
Criticism means they care – How to Respond to the Audience: We all dread the prospect of audience members critiquing our work or asking us obscure questions that we can hardly process, let alone explain. A few things to remember - it is a good thing that someone is interested enough to say something, and a good response when you do not know what to say is "I have not considered that before, so thank you." You also have the right to ask them to explain their questions. 
Back Up Everything: Bring printed copies and save your items to multiple locations (use dropbox) to avoid stress (also, check ahead with the conference organizers or your hotel about internet options). 
Dress Code: Most conferences will send out information regarding dress code, but if you are unsure you can ask the organizers and/or play it safe with casual business attire (and a possible cocktail/evening item).
Attend Events – Networking: We cannot stress this enough - attend all of the events! Most conferences will have meal times, tea/coffee hours, cocktail hours, etc. These are great networking opportunities and a lot of fun (believe me, sitting in one chair or another for 10 hours is not as easy as it sounds - you will need these breaks). Try not to think of "networking" as a dirty word - see it as creating connections and building relationships. (Note: wear your name tag on your right shoulder, that way when you extend your hand to shake hands, the person can clearly see your name as you say it).
Keep Receipts! In order to be reimbursed for any part of your trip, you need to produce all the receipts related to it, including housing, travel, conference fees, etc. 
Follow Up: It is always polite and nice if you send a thank you note to one of the organizers. You should also keep any promises you made to the people that you met - friend them on facebook, shoot them an email, send them that link or picture, etc. This is where you take the initial "networking" of the conference and cultivate it into valuable relationships. 

We discussed much more than this at our workshop, so if you have any questions, please send us an email. Also, if you have resources, ideas, or suggestions regarding Abstracts/Conferences, please leave a comment below. 
This is a reminder that copies of these handouts and resources can be found outside Rome 751. 

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