All 12 entries tagged Conferences

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September 17, 2013

On giving a conference paper, by I. M. Esteemed

This week we are blessed with a guest post from renowned waffler Isengard Matlock Esteemed himself, who has, for a small fee, agreed to share his thoughts on the giving of papers and subsequent throwing of monographs.

The conference season is now drawing to a dignified, signified close, and as such, I have been asked by the Editor to gather together some notes on my extensive experience of presenting. Mine is an illustrious career to which you, dear reader, can only dream of aspiring, but I hope that some crumbs from my Ikea desk will enable you to develop from a conference con to a symposium superhero. Read my words carefully, such a brush with greatness only comes around once in a blue-cheese moon (blue cheese, that’s my first tip, lots of blue cheese).

The art of the conference paper dates since the dawn of man, and possibly before. Archaeologists have recently uncovered a forum in Swindon where they believe monkey-like creatures held a series of academic meetings, including the seminal conference, ‘Tools: The Future for Apes?’. We do know that cave-dwellers would keep the second half of Wednesday free from hunting-gathering duties in order to participate in reading groups, and that pre-historic Slough (at the time a swamp) hosted the first ever international conference on interdisciplinary approaches to paper and papyrus manufacture. At this point I tend to skip over the Romans and the Greeks, who did not really contribute anything except perfecting the sandwich.

Of course, when the time comes to present your own paper at a conference, you should carefully review such histories, preferably in the short and rather relaxing walk between your chair and the lectern. It will also be helpful to keep the following pieces of advice in mind; in fact, you should write them down right now on the back of a receipt or a beer-mat, or send off for my new book, ‘Overcoming The Mind-Numbing Fear That You Might Make a Fool of Yourself in Front of People Who Are Considerably Smarter Than You’, now available at all good book-shops and bus-stops.

Never forget the importance of time-keeping, by which I mean, understand that a time-limit is little more than a barefaced challenge. When the conference organisers say ‘twenty minutes’, what they mean is ‘we don’t think you have more than twenty minutes worth of witticisms’. In this they are undoubtedly correct, but the trick I find (and I can tell this works because the organisers always look so angry that I have uncovered their ruse) is to only start discussing original work (if any) in the last fifty seconds of your paper. Yes, your panel chair may flash cards at you saying ‘five minutes’ and ‘one minute’ and ‘STOP’, but what they mean is ‘five minutes until I fall in love with you’ and then ‘I’m pretty much in love with you’, and finally ‘STOP…in the name of love’. To help them with this problem of the heart, try and act like a strutting peacock, pronouncing the long words very carefully and proclaiming that ‘the best is yet to come’.

As with time limits, abstracts are a formality which it is de rigueur to openly ignore. No-one in the history of conferences has ever attended a paper on the strength of an abstract, apart from a man in the eighteenth century who decided he quite liked the cut of this Isaac Newton fellow’s jib. For this reason, it is advised, neigh, it is essential, that your abstract makes a promise which you cannot possibly keep, usually involving paradigm shifts and a decent PowerPoint, and that the first thing you do as you take the stage is to say ‘oh, the paper’s changed quite a bit since the abstract’.

Actually, no, scrap that. The first thing you should do upon taking the stage is to pick out the most senior person in the room, and then pitch the whole paper at them. If necessary, mention them and their publications by name. If this proves too easy, seek out the second most senior person in the room and recklessly rip them a new pigeonhole. I find the words ‘outdated’ and ‘lacto-normative’ are particularly good for getting across one’s general vibe, funky or otherwise.

Most conference papers will usually be followed by a period for questions, or questions for a period, depending on whether you have stumbled across the American Symposium for Punctuation and Punctuality. By now it is well-established that you only need to listen to the first three words of the question, and then discuss their specific relationship to your research. I was recently asked ‘can you expand on your methodological assumptions regarding post-capitalist state formations in the Arab Spring?’, to which I replied, ‘yes, absolutely, that’s why I always have a second helping of crumpets at high tea.’ Everyone found that very funny, but it was the kind of laughter which looks very frown-y. 

Most conferences will end with post-conference drinks, and if you have had a bad conference, by which I mean you have made intelligent comments and surgically removed the proverbial roll from the metaphorical sausage, then the drinks reception is the time to redeem yourself. It is essential that you try everything on offer, preferably by mixing them in the same receptacle. If other delegates do not appreciate you holding a glass full of white wine, cranberry juice, pretzels and fingers (Ed: surely ‘Fingers’), then they are not worthy of your time. Conferences are also famous for being hotbeds of open debauchery, so I would advise you to proposition, in a ridiculously overblown manner, the nearest piece of furniture. Many academics have over the centuries made their reputation with some well-timed table-mounting.

After this you may be asked to leave, but if not, you should climb to the highest point in the room (usually a waste paper bin) and announce your imminent departure. ‘Fare thee well, dear friends, colleagues and academic flotsam’, you might bellow, ‘my work here is done. Now I must carry this nuclear device clear of the conference centre limits and subsequently emerge, without reason, in Florence’. No-one will get this reference. Thereafter you bake a cake made out of rainbows and smiles, whereupon a single lone voice, echoing from the back of the room, will shout, ‘She doesn’t even go here.’ No-one will get this reference either, and by the time they do, you will have gone to a better place: the library.

i m esteemed

All your blue cheeses are belong to me.

Heed these words well, my disciples, for someday I will pass on the torch of ebullience, and one of you will take my place on the ‘Do-Not-Invite’ list of every major conference. Until then, I will continue to lurk in the academic shadows, emerging only when I am needed, appearing only when a first-time presenter mumbles their opening lines, when an assistant professor is needlessly critical, or when all the crisps are gone in the first five minutes of lunch. Until then, I am truly, sincerely, faithfully yours, I. M. Esteemed.

Good night, and good luck.

July 16, 2012

Multidisciplinary heaven! – by Bernie

So I went to the conference that I mentioned in my last blog, and it was absolutely flipping brilliant. For several reasons... retelling familiar tales

First, I had a couple of days away from home. Now, everyone knows I love my family. However, I also love my thesis. And at certain times of the year, my children's lives become so busy and exciting that I get a bit overwhelmed by all the places I have to go with them and the amount of time this takes from my working week. Which would be fine and manageable, if I hadn't had this health blip and a very short amount of time in which to write the thesis!! So any chance I get to just concentrate on writing, reading or listening to words about midwifery, is like taking a massive breath at the moment.

Second, I got to hear such a diverse range of speakers, and learned lots of things about the history of midwifery and childbirth about which I'd previously had only the most basic knowledge.

Third, I was able to indulge my passion for multidisciplinary learning - because everything that came up in the conference had a resonance with something I've written, done, or thought about. Three of my big themes came up - liminal space, the sociological imagination, and social identity. How cool is that?!

And fourth, I met some brilliant people. I was able to talk over lunch with someone I've admired since I was a student midwife, and I had some fantastic chats with midwifery historians from Italy, Canada and America. It made me so excited about the many potential futures I might have within midwifery, and helped me see how far I've come in the last three years.

So, definitely worth going, I'd say. I'd recommend a conference somewhat outside your PhD area as a way of re-igniting the passion, if it's sagging a bit, or just as a means of seeing what else is in the wider field. Mind you, I still haven't really mentioned it properly to my supervisors - I wouldn't want anyone thinking I'm climbing out of my pit of words just at the moment...

 too many words

November 18, 2011

So maybe conferences aren't that bad…..? – by Anna

So. On Wednesday last week I went to a conference that wasn't that bad!

I say this because we've had quite a bit of talk on here, not least from me, about how pointless/old-fashioned/scary conferences are, so I felt like it might only be fair to give the opposite view too...

I was pretty terrified, TBH. Something about the stilted atmosphere, the 'dicks-on-tables' dynamic of egotistical, competitive academics, the soggy sandwiches....I usually HATE them. I've had some seriously bad experiences, too. (Ask me about the time I was at THE national American conference on Film Studies, due to give a paper in less than 24 hours which I had not yet printed out, and my computer WOULDN'T TURN ON....) I've often considered simply giving up on conferences forever. It kinda seems like a dying form anyway, what with the internet and all...

But then, this conference happened. It was like magic.

First of all, my attitude was different. It probably helped that it was in a discipline outside Film Studies - a discipline that I'd quite like to get involved in (in an interdisciplinary, Film-Studies-related way) once I finish my thesis, but still, I guess maybe because I knew that if it went badly it wouldn't be the end of the world/my career, I was less worried about making the right impression (whatever that is). Instead I decided that it would be an exploratory experience in one way or another and I might as well try, since this would be possibly my only chance to get to know people in the new field...So I talked. To LOADS of people. It was a fairly small conference and I feel like I personally met at least half the total number of attendees, at least briefly. (I wasn't giving a paper - just attending to listen).

Second, I don't know if it was my change in attitude or what, but it seemed like A LOT more open, friendly and talkative a conference than others I've been to. I sort of wonder, actually, if this is because it is in a well-funded social science discipline, not a shrinking, increasingly defensive humanities one. But it was probably also my attitude.

Third, people didn't just read their pre-written, complicated and obscure papers at a hurried and almost incomprehensible clip! Most of the people there weren't even reading. They were actually talking - like, speaking, like a real person - about their work. (Maybe also due to the disciplinary divide?) This meant that I wasn't exhausted and cranky after 8 hours of listening, trying to figure out what people were saying. I already understood what people were saying. Hallelujah!

And fourth, it was seriously productive, both for getting discussions going and for myself personally. We all moved to the pub afterwards and thence to a restaurant for dinner, and there was loads of intellectual ferment going on around me. Maybe partly because people weren't so exhausted and cranky? Anyway it was lovely.

Which leads me to the coolest point of all: a certain Very Important Dude (VID) happened to sit down next to me at the conference dinner. Suffice it to say, I would like nothing more than to do a postdoc at the organisation of which he is the head. I wasn't going to say anything about this - too embarrassing - but this lovely Australian woman sitting on my other side was like 'No Anna, you have to do it! Just tell him!' So I turned around and told the VID that I wanted to do a postdoc with his group, and long story short: he invited me to have an email conversation with him about the possibility, and perhaps to give a talk at his organisation next summer!

OMG. Abject terror. But still.


October 22, 2011

Technological experimentation is FUN – by Ruth

A little while back I wrote about my experiences planning a videoconference as part of what we believe to be the world's first international gathering of researchers in the new field of asexuality studies. With the event - organised by a shiny new research network - rapidly approaching, I can think about little else!

I've ended up taking on the bulk of the technological organisation: becoming familar with the videoconferencing software in the seminar rooms, performing a couple of "dry runs" to test for glitches, looking into employing various screens, cameras and the Creative Wall within the Research Exchange. I think I'm gaining something of a reputation for being a tech guru, but in all honesty I don't really know what I'm doing - at least at first! I figure we have all of this amazing equipment sitting around for a reason, and have set out to employ it productively.

It's a learning experience quite different to my sociology research, but there's something deeply satisfying about it. Maybe it's moments such as that which took place last Monday, when I found myself sitting on the floor of Seminar Room 2 in front of a giant screen and surrounded by five laptops, giggling to myself with quiet glee as I hooked a number of programmes up with one another. Or maybe I just need a bit more fresh air.

As I mentioned in my previous post though, there's no point in doing any of this for the sake of it (unless your idea of fun doesn't really extend beyond my aforementioned inanity, of course). We're using the video-conferencing technology to connect with reseachers in the United States and Canada and to broadcast the event live on the internet, we're using the cameras to capture it for podcasting so that those who were unable to attend can still watch the event, and we're using the touchscreen to project traditional powerpoint presentation and to (hopefully) maintain a live Twitter feed that is visible to participants. Also, all of the above will look really cool. Yikes, my serious face is slipping again.

I'll see about posting an update in a few days to let you know how it went, and what lessons we learned. Even better - why not drop by yourself?

asexuality poster

Some shameless publicity: Spotlight on Asexuality Studies will take place in the Research Exchange from 1pm to 6pm on Monday, 24th October. All are welcome! We will livestream the first part of the event here from 1pm to 3pm.

July 01, 2011

Conferences: posters vs talks – by Ian

Hi all. Most PhD students get to go to two or three medium to large conferences (at least in Chemistry). Most supervisors get the student to submit for a talk. However some then say if you do not get a talk then you can not go (especially if the conference is in the USA).

I guess the idea behind this is that the work will not get as much publicity if only a poster is presented and so it is not worth the money and students time. I strongly disagree however, I have presented a poster at a couple of large conferences in the USA (5000+ people) and with such a large amount of people talks are short and can get easily forgotten compared to keynote speakers.

Posters on the allow you to get direct feedback from both your peers and also senior members of the field. In the talks I have done very little feedback was possible apart from a couple of questions at the end. For example at a poster session I managed to speak to one of the top professors working on similar research for around 15 minutes and then to several members of his group. The feedback can also help generate ideas for further research. Also it gives an opportunity for networking and increasing the amount of citations your papers get.

Use this as an arguement to still be able to go to the conferences you want to attend!

June 14, 2011

What is feminist research? – by Ruth

I've just returned home from a day of interdisciplinary feminism. Two events were held with contributions from Karen Barad, Myra Hird and Elizabeth Wilson: visiting researchers who work at a feminist intersection of the physical sciences, arts, humanities and so-called social sciences.

I found their respefeminist symbolctive presentations fascinating in terms of their breadth and depth, but also frustrating in their opacity. I ultimately found myself questioning the value of describing such research as “feminist”.

I attended a midday symposium and evening lecture with a gaggle of fellow sociology PhDs. We were impressed with the genuine meeting of disciplines across the scientific “gap”, which contrasted with the usual interdisciplinary work that occurs purely within more obviously related subjects. Here was, for instance, work on the nature of mind that drew quite naturally upon biology, neuroscience and philosophy, and work on the (non)human that spliced sociology and physics. Several of us found ourselves experiencing a quite unprecedented excitement about bacteria by the end of the day.

However, I wondered at the apparently limited appeal of this wide-ranging exploration. There were academics present from the fields of psychology, history, philosophy, sociology and women's studies...but I don't think there was a single representative from Warwick's departments of biology, chemistry or physics. Why was this? Was the event only advertised within particular departments? Do physical scientists not believe that feminism can ever be relevant to their research? This obvious hole in the audience was quite unfortunate given the genuinely exciting and genuinely interdisciplinary nature of the events.

Moreover, I found the idea that physical scientists might be put off by the feminist slant somewhat ironic, as the feminist element itself remained immanent rather than explicit throughout the day. I was disappointed that three widely respected academics were capable of supposedly talking about feminist research for several hours without ever really engaging with the contributions that their work might make to feminism. It's the sort of gap that has been (quite rightly) criticised by my supervisor in some of my recent work: I was surprised that it wasn't questioned in this context.

The sheer complexity of the arguments on display and my own relative inexperience made me feel incapable of asking such questions myself. As I reflected upon this situation during the evening talk, I noticed something that cemented my discomfort with the day. There were three women presenting, and nearly three women for every man in the room; yet the great majority of questions came from men. This phenomena is recognised as extremely common by a number of feminists. It's usually attributed to the impact of male privilege, whereby individuals raised as male within male-dominated societies feel more comfortable speaking out and sharing their views in any given situation.

I feel that feminist works should be reflexive, by which I mean they examine themselves with care and come to recognise their flaws (Barad prefers a metaphor of refraction, but I feel the very complexity of this idea renders it inaccessible in a deeply un-feminist manner!) Today's events were certainly thought-provoking, but for me they didn't engage sufficiently with feminism.

May 23, 2011

Breaking My Bubble – by Lauren

Well, my, don't we look swanky today?! I heartily approve of our fantastic makeover (and, as a scholar of television makeover, I should know what I'm talking about).

Just a quick post, to share with you all that I had a wonderful day last week, one that served as a much-needed reminder of why I'm doing what I'm doing. Amongst all the re-drafting and essay marking, getting bogged down in my own work and teaching, it's been too easy to forget all the things I actually love about being an academic-in-training.

On Thursday, my department held a workshop entitled 'Archives of the Audio-Visual', as part of our on-going Histories of the Digital Future project. It transpired to be an extremely well-attended and engaging event, bringing together academics and research students to grapple with questions of physical and digital archives. Personally, it was incredibly intellectually stimulating and reminded me just how exciting it can be to be in the company of a group of interesting people all working together. Which is also why, I think, the new Research Exchange website is so important - it's exactly that sort of collaborative atmosphere that the good people at the Rex are aiming to foster. It wasn't that I felt 'isolated' beforehand, exactly, but that the event re-ignited that desire to talk and listen to other researchers and about topics beyond my thesis. This can only be a good thing, and I'm really looking forward to working on a more formal report of the day's proceedings.

Has any one else had a similar experience at a workshop, symposium or conference?

Until next time, comrades! Keep talking...

May 06, 2011

Dear Aunt Rex: I'm terrified of public speaking

Dear Aunt Rex,

I'm a second-year PhD student in the humanities but I've never done any conferences. I hate the idea so much. It's not just the public speaking but also the 'networking' or whatever you're supposed to be doing. Everyone says conferences are an essential part of being an academic but is there any way around it?

-Not a networker

Dear Not,

Conferences are maybe not as essential in the humanities as they are in, say, maths, but they're still important and I would encourage you to find a way to do them. They're an important way to stay on top of the latest developments in your field, publicise your own work and meet potential collaborators.

Finding a way to do them will mean, first and foremost, finding a way to NOT hate them! You might consider taking one of the public speaking workshops offered by the Research Student Skills Programme. This can help build your confidence about being in front of people.

If you have a conference paper already written and would like some practice, the Research Exchange Advisers offer a service where you can book time with one of them to deliver your paper and receive constructive feedback. Email

As to networking, my advice is not to think of it as 'networking' at all - this word has become so overwrought with images of slimy, insincere hand-shaking. Think of it instead as interacting with other people who have similar interests and expertise to you, whom you just happen not to have met yet. Talk business with people you sit with at lunch - discuss the things you've heard at the conference, for example. Introduce yourself to people whose papers you liked, and tell them why. Have useful conversations - don't just 'network'. The Research Student Skills Programme (link above) also has occasional Networking workshops and this can help as well.

Remember: being successful at conferences doesn't have to mean gritting your teeth and doing something you hate - it means figuring out what you hate the most about it and finding ways to adapt your experience so that you enjoy it more.

Good luck!

You can ask Aunt Rex a question here.

April 21, 2011

The naked researcher – by Bernie

So the speaking without a shield thing, otherwise known as the naked researcher thing, went well.  I was talking about a journey through identities, and the fact that my study echoes my own PhD experience (the bit about identity transition or acquisition, and our perception of self).

As I said in an earlier blog, this was a big step for me, as I've always had that academic shield to protect me, but in fact I got more feedback from this presentation than I ever have before.  People wanted to talk about their own identity transitions, much of the time relating to stepping back from the NHS practice frontline and into academia, or management, or some other parallel universe.  And several people wanted to know whether I thought doing a PhD was a good and happy thing (my answer to that one was an unqualified and joyful 'yes!').

I think I won the best presentation prize simply because it was such a different sort of presentation from  the others, which were all essentially study reports (and very good, too).  I always had an idea that people like to hear stories, and I think the response I got supports this.  As for the thesis, I now plan to explore the idea of telling midwives' stories alongside my own story, as a reflexive device.  I don't know whether anyone out there knows of Tedlock's 'narrative ethnography' idea, but essentially she suggests that the author might appear as a secondary character in the ethnography, as a means of demonstrating the researcher's place within the study, and the impact this might have had.  What it most definitely is not, is auto-ethnography!!  I like the idea of narrative ethnography, but I still think it will require a leap of faith to believe that whoever reads my thesis will be remotely interested in  my own story.  But I'm going to be brave, and give it a go...

And in other news, my study went past the NHS Research Ethics Committee with no amendments required, and then two days later I've been advised that it shouldn't have needed NHS clearance in the first place.  Yes, I was speechless.

April 18, 2011

Fingers crossed – by Bernie

Well, it's now Mondayafternoon, and the lovely ethics people have had my application since last Wednesday.  I have done as they said, and have glued myself to my phone in case they have any queries, but so far nothing.  I wonder if I can feel hopeful yet?

The proportionate review committee meet tomorrow, but I won't be able to worry about that because instead, I'll be worrying about speaking in front of lots of NHS people.  On that subject, I was putting a Power Point together last night, and that gave me a whole load more stuff to worry about (can you tell yet, I'm a bit of a worrier?).  For example, should I do an entirely sensible presentation, or can I get away with my favourite 'stressed cat' image?  What if the stressed cat just induces a sea of confused faces instead of the hoped-for hilarity?  But then I thought, this talk is about identity, and that cat depicts my midwife self at about the time I left to start the PhD, so I've left it in.

Yes, this cat is stressed

That, by the way, is another first for me - putting an image into a blog.  I'm impressing even my children, now...

And then there's the eternal question of what to wear.  It comes down to who I am tomorrow - am I a relaxed, semi-casually dressed PhD student, or am I trying to convey business-like trouser-wearing woman?  I'm undecided as yet, but it's worth noting that this might be the only time it would be easier to be a man.  Trousers, or... trousers.  Shirt, or... shirt.

I find myself wondering why I'm attaching so much importance to this presentation.  I've done plenty of similar things in the past, after all.  But I know what it is, and it's two things.  Firstly, it's in front of my previous employers.  And secondly, I'm talking about a personal journey.  Those two elements together, make this the most exciting, nerve-jangling, worrysome thing I've done in a long time.

Wish me luck, because by the end of tomorrow I will have exposed myself A LOT (not literally, that would be odd), and I may have ethical approval for the study.  Mind you, I'll be fine, because I'm off to see Kassidy in the evening!

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