When you’re writing your dissertation, it’s often the only thing on which you have time to focus. Attending academic conferences and presenting papers or posters may seem like nothing more than a distraction from your dissertation writing, editing, and formatting. Conferences are stressful: there are so many people to meet. (Some Tufts University graduate students have compiled tips to make conferences less stressful.) Conferences are also expensive, time consuming, and often involve travel. However, if you can afford it and if you have the time, you can learn a lot by presenting your dissertation research at a conference.
Joining the Scholarly Conversation
Conferences are meant to take scholars out of our offices, away from our dissertations, and put us in conversation with one another. If you find dissertation writing, editing, and formatting an isolating process, attending a conference is a great way to combat that feeling. You can connect with other scholars, and see how your dissertation fits in with a larger scholarly conversation.
Presenting at Graduate Student Conferences
Some departments and organizations host conferences specifically for graduate students. These conferences are often small and relatively easy to get accepted. They are usually organized by students. Sometimes, graduate student conferences will ask you to submit a copy of your presentation in advance, so that the session moderators can read them and prepare feedback and responses. While you will likely have to pay your own travel costs to attend a graduate student conference, registration fees are often low, and sometimes free.
Learning Presentation Skills
Because they’re meant for graduate students, graduate student conferences are a great way to polish your presentation skills, and learn how to handle questions during a Q&A. They tend to be friendlier environments than many large conferences. If you don’t have much public speaking experience, a graduate student conference is an excellent way to practice your presentation skills before you try to get into a larger, national conference.
Because graduate student conferences are designed with students in mind, they can be an excellent place to get feedback on your work-in-progress of a dissertation. While you need to make sure that your presentation is polished, professional, and edited, you can use a graduate student conference as an opportunity to hear what other people think of your arguments and ideas. The feedback you get from other conference attendees might shape the direction of your dissertation writing in productive ways!
Meeting Other Dissertation Writers
Graduate student conferences are a great way to connect with other students in your field or across disciplines. If you attend one, don’t just present your paper and then hide in your hotel room: try to meet other students. You may learn research and writing strategies from them that can help with your dissertation! It can also provide some much-needed socialization. Too often while writing our dissertations, it’s easy to hole up and isolate ourselves, which isn’t healthy. Being social, meeting new people, and making friends is more than just a good stress reliever – it’s necessary for emotional and mental health, and can help you recharge.
Presenting at National Conferences
Once you’ve polished your presentation chops at a graduate student conference, try applying for a national conference in your field. Large scholarly organizations have annual, national conferences. Presentations at these conferences may be by scholars at all stages of their careers: graduate students, early-career professors, or senior scholars. As such, it can often be much more nerve-wracking to present at a national conference than at a graduate student conference. However, presenting at national conferences can have huge benefits.
Making a Splash
At graduate student conferences, you will mostly meet other graduate students and dissertation writers. When you go on the job market, the networks and connections that you build at conferences will prove extremely important. It’s much easier to meet people at conferences if you present a paper: often, people will approach you after you present, and ask about your dissertation.
An Important Line on Your CV
Karen Kelsky cautions against presenting at too many graduate student conferences. While they’re great opportunities to practice your presentation skills, she argues, it’s the big ones that really truly count when it comes to a line on your CV. It can be more difficult to have a paper accepted to a national conference, as they tend to get many applicants. As such, having a paper accepted to a national conference is a more desirable line on your CV than a paper that is accepted at a graduate student conference. Gradhacker has some great tips on writing a successful conference proposal.
Dissertation Editor can assist you with editing and formatting your conference proposal, creating a PowerPoint presentation, and even have consultations via Skype with you to practice your presentation! Email us at firstname.lastname@example.org to find out how we can help you with your specific needs.