I submitted an abstract for the 2nd British Autoethnography Conference yesterday. Those who follow me on twitter will already know how excited I am about this conference.
This is the fourth conference abstract I have submitted this year. I’m quickly approaching what will be a veritable conference-fest, which will begin in style in a fortnight’s time with the Association of Law Teachers 50th Annual Conference in Cardiff. Then it’s up to Glasgow for the Commonwealth Legal Education Association Conference. A short breather and then I’ll be flying to Turkey for the International Journal of Clinical Legal Education/Global Alliance of Justice Education Conference. I’ve also got a trip to Berlin for the 3rd iLINC Best Practice Sharing Event in the middle of it all – but thankfully my iLINC colleagues haven’t asked me to submit an abstract!
I write all my submitted abstracts/confirmed conferences on a bright yellow post-it note which sits at eye level along the bottom of the pin board above my desk. As I wrote ‘AE, Aberdeen, S(ubmitted), Oct’ on that post-it, my mind turned to why I go to conferences and why I like to speak at them. I’ve had this discussion with early career academics quite a few times recently so I thought I’d write a post for people who are worried about going to conferences or unsure what to do when they get there. Here – in no particular order – are my 5 top reasons to attend and speak at conferences:
1. Meet like-minded people
Chances are that you’ll pick a conference which is linked to something you’re interested in. I love conferences which are all about education, for example, because I know that everyone there is passionate about making a difference to students’ lives. It can be a real buzz to be around people who – put simply – like what you like. Conversation flows easily and you can pick up great tips and ideas (see 3!).
2. Build a network
Conferences are a great opportunity to build your professional network. But you have to put in some work before you arrive so you can make the most of that opportunity. It’s not enough to just turn up and hope that someone will talk to you. Have a strategy. When I was a private practice lawyer and I first started to go to networking events I had a “target list” of people I wanted to speak to. I knew their work and the questions I wanted to ask them. I made sure that I introduced myself and spoke to them, even if for a few minutes. It may sound strange but you can do the same thing at conferences. I make a point, for example, of trying to meet people whose work I enjoy reading. Nobody ever told someone to go away because they said “I really like reading the papers you write”, so don’t be afraid to tell people!
3. New ideas, techniques and research
We might think we know everything. But we don’t. I was at last year’s Association of Law Teachers Conference when the penny finally dropped and I worked out how I could use twitter to enhance my students’ experience of clinic. And that was because I got the chance to listen to Matthew J. Homewood’s (prize winning) engaging paper “Twittery Vision – Using Twitter for Revision Feedback – Win, Win”. I promise you’ll come away from a conference with copious notes, whether it be journal articles you fancy reading, new tools to try or even (if you’re like me) some new words to Google!
4. Get your voice out there!
I called this post 5 top reasons to attend and speak at conferences. I think many new academics see conferences as being a one way street: you are there to listen to the great and the good. Yes, it’s important to learn from others but don’t downplay what you have to say. You have experiences, ideas, techniques and research to share, so (deep breath) go out there and share them. Many people argue that going along to conferences, asking a few questions and talking to new people is enough. I think that’s great, but why not present a conference paper? When you present a paper you give people the chance to learn more about you and your practice. They can ask you questions and really make you think about the direction of your work. You know what? Sometimes they might not agree with what you’re saying. But that gives you an opportunity to practice defending your position. You’ll more than likely have to do it again at some point, so why not start now! And you can always use those dissenting voices as inspiration for an article….
5. To have fun
I’ll be moving house slap bang in the middle of two conferences in a short while. Why do I want to go during what will clearly be a stressful time? Well, for all the reasons above. And to have fun. Conferences are really enjoyable if you embrace all they have to offer. Great company, (usually) super food, interesting conversation, and lots of laughter. Conference dinners in particular can be a real laugh. You get some hear some funny stories, share your (inevitably contrasting) views on the wine and celebrate the work that you do.
Why do you go to conferences? Do you think I’ve missed anything off the list?