In an earlier blog, I outlined what an academic conference is, and my first academic conference experience. In this blog, I talk about my Five (5) approaches to academic conferences. I also highlight some of the general pros and cons of conferences as discussed in many other blogs.
- Use conferences to practice presentation techniques
I used to be one of the most daring girls I knew growing up singing and doing poetry etc. I mean you just name it – I was super active. However, for some reason or the other, I began to retreat into my shell over the past ten years. As a result, I realised that I had difficulties presenting in public especially at events where people knew me. So during my PhD, I began utilising public engagement (conferences, etc.) events as a way of trying various presentation techniques. For instance, I first used a well-structured presentation; then I moved to semi-structured presentations. I even started presenting without powerpoint assistance. For me, it all depends on the type conference and discussion you want to generate. The following chart provides a list of things I do to prepare for my presentations. My nervousness and fear of presentations have decreased drastically. Now I need to focus on active thinking and listening.
- Meet scholars in my field and pose questions that emerged during your own study time
At my very first conference I thought it was much of a fan – superstar phenomenon. I remembered attending my very first academic conference and seeing Clemencia Rodriguez right before my eyes. I had been using several quotes from this scholar since my undergrad years, and I got so shy that I was barely able to ask her some important questions. After a few conferences, I realised that most scholars welcome the idea of discussions about their work at these events. So, I started utilising conference spaces to ask topical questions or matters of grave concern in my field of study. This strategy has proven useful regarding developing my ideas in various parts of my thesis.
- Leads on future work or interesting research that’s relevant to your topic
Conferences typically facilitate multiple panel discussions and keynotes. I think a more important aspect for me was listening carefully for interesting quotes or soundbites that could augment my research. Particularly in a case where the topic was quite close to one of my PhD chapters, one of my broader research interests or something just some fact that was quite new to me. In instances like these, I approached the speakers and asked for further information on their quote, etc. This move would often result in the exchange of business cards or ongoing dialogue via email on the subject that was intriguing. Though this approach sounds like a game of dominoes, the end result is that I would leave the conference with a useful additional resource that has so many implications on the way I think or write about a topic or research.
- Form mutually-beneficial relationships with conference attendees
Before attending a few conferences, I would map out what I intended on achieving. Especially, in cases where my university is funding my accommodation and transportation cost, demonstrating the usefulness of a conference is often a requirement. Some of the times I thought of innovative ways in which I could develop a partnership with some of the conference attendees that have similar research interests. In one instance my colleague and I developed a research seminar that was hinged on the idea of feeding back views from academics. These views were obtained through sound bites provided by academics at one of the conferences I attended. Just having more purpose-driven discussions with academics have allowed for me to partake in subsequent activities alongside these other academics.
- Reflective Retreat
A conference can be quite heavy especially a three-day conference filled with various parallel presentations. So often I’d take some time during the conference to think about the subject, the angles that are being discussed, and determine whether these ideas can provide a useful structure for my own research. Or can I actually think of a similar structure? More significantly, are these new ideas and how do these new ideas disrupt the organisation of my own work? Is this new information relevant to developing my own thoughts?
The graphic below provides general pros and cons of attending an academic conference: