It seems that Spring is finally upon us: the sun is shining, the birds are singing, and conference season has begun. While there are conferences throughout the year, there are always more in the spring and summer months (fewer teaching commitments, fewer students on campus, better weather…). This year, I’m taking part in a few different events across the season, so I thought I would do a series of blog posts about the conferences and my experiences. First up, the annual College of Humanities PGR Conference at Exeter.
The Conference: Exeter Humanities PGR Conference, 18-19 April 2016, University of Exeter. The (free!) conference is organised annually by a committee of students with support from the excellent Humanities Graduate School Office team, in order to allow Postgrad Research students the opportunity to share their research in a rigorous, but also more friendly, academic environment.
The Challenges: The conference is interdisciplinary: a word that always makes me think “great!” but also feel like this:
The biggest fear I have with an interdisciplinary conference is that I’ll either look stupid, or overly pretentious (and I’m not sure which one is worse). This conference also comes with the challenge of presenting to your friends and peers, as well as to other people you don’t know: this might sound like a good thing, but I would much rather stand up in front of a crowd of people I don’t know, than try to validate myself in front of my very intelligent friends who I have to see again tomorrow.*
My Paper: I took a risk for this conference and presented on something entirely unrelated to my PhD research (much to the chagrin of my supervisor, I think…). Instead, I decided to spend a little bit of time exploring a secondary interest of mine, which is online digital communities, particularly the YouTube community. My paper introduced the concept of the YouTuber and the networks that make up the YouTube community, and approached the content of these YouTubers from a gendered perspective, asking whether or not we can read the content produced by female YouTubers as feminist or empowered. I also took this opportunity to try a more informal, but more engaging (at least I hoped it would be) conference style: I didn’t write out my paper in full, and relied much more on my PowerPoint slides to get my meaning across.
Responses: The risk with Work in Progress papers (I really haven’t worked on this topic for long) is that there are fewer concrete conclusions, which opens up a lot of gaps for people to take issue with. Luckily, none of my questioners were too forceful! I had some tough questions, but they led to interesting discussion and opened further avenues, rather than making me feel inadequate. Overall, I was overwhelmed by the great responses I had, both in the questions and after the panel, to the paper, the potential project, and also to me and my presentation style. I had some really lovely comments from friends, other members of the PGR community, and from academic staff, and it was great to be able to spark conversations and discussions.
What I Learned: That it’s good to have other interests, and it’s OK to talk about something that’s not from the PhD every once in a while; that works in progress are good, and conferences (particularly to other students) offer the chance to explore avenues and possible conclusions that you might not have thought of before; that it’s OK to say “I’ve never thought about that before – I will definitely look into it” if you don’t have a concrete answer yet. I also learned, however, that it is probably a good idea to not launch into a secondary project and present it as a paper a) just before lots of other conferences where you’re presenting different research, and b) on the same day as your upgrade panel. But that’s a story for another blog post.
If you have any similar experiences of conferences, do share in the comments below!
*I should point out that my friends are all brilliant and very supportive. But the fear still remains.