A large part of building your professional CV or resume is showing interest in and an updated awareness of your field. An easy way to create this line on paper and introduce yourself to others in your area of specialty is to attend a conference.
There are all kinds, with topics and themes ranging from the broad to almost ridiculously specific. This, of course, makes it seem overwhelming and frankly, a little tiresome to comb through the various calls for paper to find something that fits your interest, level of specialty or education, and will assist you in making connections or finding jobs. However, there are a few basic tips that can help you narrow the search, feel a bit more comfortable when applying, and get out onto the field.
Right off the bat, never feel that you are too inexperienced or too new to attend a conference. If anything, heading to a conference—even if you’re just there to listen and get to know people—is a great way to gain the experience and confidence needed to walk to the front of a room and just talk. Mostly, because, even if you just go to take everything in, you’ll see it’s not as serious as you feared. Nothing can make you feel better about stage fright than watching a respected scholar mispronounce the word “et cetera.”
And on that note, attend conferences as a master’s student. This way, when you decide to submit papers as a PhD candidate, you know the general format of the prominent conferences in your field and can prepare accordingly. Some fields are okay with presenting or reading an unfinished paper, others have specific rules and panel formats. If you go to a few ahead of time you’ll feel more comfortable when it’s your turn to apply.
Feeling nervous and want to test run a presentation? Try to find a more informal conference with mainly student participants. These are usually put on by graduate associations for local students, such as Fordham’s GSA Conference, and are broad conferences welcoming papers from across disciplines. Conferences like this can help you get feedback and also show your professors that you are serious about expanding a certain paper or research topic into a solid presentation (future recommendations anyone?).
Go to the same conferences as your professors and advanced PhDs. If you’re feeling uncertain about what conferences to invest in, ask or emulate the professors and older PhDs in your area of specialty. Sometimes the right fit isn’t as obvious as you may think.
Also, don’t neglect more professional conferences if they’re relevant to your field or your career goals. Conferences that are focused on practical application can be an important element of your presenting as a well-rounded job applicant. Finding the right sort of professional conference can be hard but it is well worth it—they’re usually filled with people who have the authority to hire you.
In short, go to conferences! Test run a few as an attendee and then apply to participate. It’s worth the expense and more often than not you’ll have a great time and gain some confidence.
Dewis Shallcross, GSAS ‘14
Administrative Assistant and Events Coordinator