Wednesday, 20 April 2011

Conference Survival!

I've had such a busy weekend, but the conference I had been working for is now over and I think it went as well as it could have. I presented my paper and it ran well in terms of time and was received with moderate enthuasiasm. The questions asked after I presented were interesting and I feel I was able to answer everything to the best of my ability - albeit stilted! Conferences really are very stressful but enjoyable events. They can be very daunting, so I thought I'd compile some survival tips - things I've found helpful along the way.

1). Prepare.
If you are presenting at a conference, preparation is the key. Ensure you have your paper written in good time and get a friend, family member or even your supervisor to look over the piece making sure it's coherent and understandable. Personally I'm of the simplistic school of thought when it comes to paper presentations. When people use large words I tune out or begin to worry I'm not smart enough - and this deters me from asking questions about the paper. The simpler the better! Timing is also hugely important. In the run-up to the conference, time yourself over and over. Knowing your paper fits well within the time allowed will bolster confidence when you go to present!

2). Pace Yourself.
A lot of students pile massive expectations on themselves to succeed. For my first paper, I wanted to be the absolute best, and then when I ran over time and skipped pages I felt like the biggest failure in the world. At the conference I attended this weekend, I felt very inept for the majority of the time - everyone else seemed more eloquent, more intelligent. I think the key to overcoming these feelings is to Pace Yourself. Expectations to be at Tutor or Final Year PhD level of intelligence and confidence when just starting out in academia are crazy. We all work at our own pace and with hard work and practice; eloquence, intelligence and confidence will come. Case in point: my performance this weekend was 100% better than in January. So, hopefully the next time, my paper and presenting skills will be 100% better again! We can all be our own worst critics. I think it's really important to have faith in ourselves! We will get there, but it's always a work in progress!

3). Always Smile.
Keeping a happy and upbeat facade, even in the face of stress is very important. I think peers will definitely remember a smiley, chatty person over a sour scowl and a person who sits on their own in the room. I always make sure to talk to whoever I'm sitting beside at the conference and find out what they're studying. More often than not, such chats lead to great discussions, interesting suggestions and friendships!

4). Dress Well.
This might sound very shallow, but I think dressing well is an important part of attending a conference. Not only are people more likely to remember you if you wear a colourful dress or smart suit, wearing good clothes gives confidence to the wearer. This sounds incredible girly but I find when I have a manicure I study much better! My hands look so nice, I want to be productive and a good student!:) The same goes with dressing up. Having good, clean, colourful clothes breeds productivity!

5). Don't Drink!!
Oh, alcohol... There's nothing more I love than sitting down with a bunch of friends, drinking wine until late in the night and talking about... anything and everything! This is fine and well with friends - and a vital part of life if you're anything like me! But I would definitely advise against drinking at conferences. These people are your peers and possible employers after postgraduate study is finished. If you go for a job interview and all they can remember is you rolling around the floor screaming Simone De Beauvoir quotes (something I may or may not be guilty of at undergrad level... eek!); the chances of peers taking you seriously are vastly diminished. That said, one or two small glasses of wine at a conference dinner can serve to relax and help conversation flow. I would recommend no more than three small glasses of wine, with water (or soda water) placed between each glass. With a large dinner, this should be fine. The problem with conferences are, all day is spent in a stuffy room, with biscuits consumed every two hours on breaks, possibly allowing your stomach to pretend it's full when in actuality, it's not: therefore, you'll get drunk much quicker. It's really a better idea to stay away from the demon alcohol full-stop and then enjoy a celebratory drink with your actual friends in the days after! :)

Well, I hope that these tips are beneficial to at least one person! I'm glad to have the conference over and done with, but the month of May is going to be extremely busy for me. My Transfer of Status viva is 13th June and at that stage, I must have a chapter submitted, my introduction written as well as a report of progress, presentation and plan as to how I will finish everying by 2013! Eek! I'm looking forward to a LONG holiday after June 13th!!


Peter K Steinberg said...

Glad to hear it went well!

Amen to the survival tips! I'm going a Plathian-themed paper in a Robert Lowell panel this May. I'll definitely keep these in mind as it has been more than 3 years since I've spoken to a group...


Anonymous said...

Your comments are very accurate. I recently presented my senior thesis on Plath and found that other students who did not smile, rushed through their pieces, and did not make eye contact with the audience were visibly insecure with their arguments. Hopefully I did not appear this way myself! Love your site :)

Melanie Smith said...

I like the new look Maeve. Glad to hear the conference ent well.

Anonymous said...

This is honestly one of the most excellent pieces on academic conferences I have ever read. Kudos!

Anonymous said...

I am now working on an abstract for an upcoming conference. This blogpost gave me the little push that I needed.

The Plath Diaries said...

@Peter - Good luck with your paper! I wish that there were more panels over here in the UK concerning writers like Lowell et al. I would love to attend! I'm sure you'll do brilliantly!:)

Thanks everyone else for the comments! Glad the conference tips weren't useless!

Anonymous said...

Sorry, but I find this fairly stupid. You 'tune out' when you hear large words? And they let you *teach* undergraduate students? What exatly do you think qualifies you to teach anybody? If your students used large words, would you tune out then too? Perhaps rather than criticise academics who use large words to expain difficult concepts, you should ask yourself whether this might be your problem, not theirs, and work on expanding your vocabulary.

You say that you've read de Beauvoir - she'd probably fall over laughing at the idea that having a manicure makes one a better student. During her student days she was the queen of the unwashed, but amazingly, also one of the Sorbonne's most brilliant ever students.

As for drinking, each to their own. But I'm not sure why you're offering advice when you've only been to one or two conferences. Drinking is for most people a part of conference culture, and those who don't join in often find themselves a bit isolated, which is unfair but sometimes unavoidable. So it's not necessarily very good advice you're giving, and the mixture of obvious inexperience with an authoritative tone is pretty grating.