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Apologies if there have been threads like this -- I'm finding it difficult to look for specific content as opposed to browsing through the most recent posts. Feel free to send links to threads if applicable.

I will be starting a one-year MA degree in the UK this coming fall. I would love to have a conference presentation or two under my belt by the time I apply to PhD programs in the fall of 2019, but I don't know the first thing about getting myself lined up as a presenter at a professional conference. I do not believe taught MA programs in the UK have any history of guiding students toward conferences or providing funding for them to attend, so I would most likely be doing this on my own. Some of my questions are:

How does one go about finding good conferences to target, and is it realistic for an MA student with no publication history or conference experience to expect to be accepted to present at one? How selective is the process?

When I respond to these calls for papers, am I proposing to present a paper I've already written or one I will be writing? 

What does the practice of networking at conferences actually look like? Networking/professional/personal advertisement/entrepreneur-y areas are my weak spot, and I need to work on being okay with them, but as of now I don't know how to do this without feeling artificial.

Does one have to be actively tied to an institution to present? For example, would I be eligible to submit a paper for a conference in the gap months between my MA and my PhD when I am applying to PhD programs?

I'm aware of some major conferences in Romanticism, but if anyone has specific recommendations, I am in c18/Romanticism and theory.

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48 minutes ago, indecisivepoet said:

How does one go about finding good conferences to target

The University of Pennsylvania has a Call For Papers (CFP) website - you can find it here: https://call-for-papers.sas.upenn.edu/

I've only used it to look for ones that were close to me (US Southeast/Northeast) but, if I recall correctly, I think they offer international conferences as well. Might be helpful to you?

48 minutes ago, indecisivepoet said:

is it realistic for an MA student with no publication history or conference experience to expect to be accepted to present at one? How selective is the process?

Totally. I was accepted to one of the big, int'l conferences in my field as a first year MA with no publication history. I still have no publication history but have been to three other professional conferences (and co-chaired a panel for one.)

I would guess that certain huge conferences are (obviously) going to perhaps be a bit more competitive than others, but if your proposal is exciting and understandable (they're usually pretty short, so try to be super clear about what you want to do), and it aligns with the panel's theme, you shouldn't struggle to get yourself accepted.

When I co-chaired a panel, we tried to get papers that touched on the same broad topics so that the presenters (who were working on different texts) had something in common and could talk to one another. So, if you happen to get rejected from a panel, it may just be that your paper doesn't fit with the others for that particular session. 

48 minutes ago, indecisivepoet said:

When I respond to these calls for papers, am I proposing to present a paper I've already written or one I will be writing? 

 You don't need to have a fully polished paper to take with you - some (most) people I know use conferences to get feedback on a project that is in its early stages. I've taken a couple seminar papers that I knew needed a lot more work and I've taken papers that were (at the time of applying) more of an abstract + lit review + outline. Conferences are great for bouncing ideas off of people in a (relatively) low stakes way. 

48 minutes ago, indecisivepoet said:

What does the practice of networking at conferences actually look like?

Usually, conferences have a meet-and-greet / drinks & food on the first night (or over several nights) and a thing to do (like a round table or another mingling kind of event) during the day - you can go to those and just mingle with people. You can also speak to people who present & attend your session. And you can go seek out other panels that look interesting to you and introduce yourself to people there. I like using the last two approaches since you will be armed with something to talk about (which, for me, makes networking feel less like awkward in-person cold-calling and more like genuine conversation.) 

48 minutes ago, indecisivepoet said:

Does one have to be actively tied to an institution to present?

Nope. I presented at a conference the fall after I'd graduated from my MA program. I was an "independent scholar," if I recall the ID tag correctly. No one cares, IMO. 

**My experience is as an MA in the US, but I'm pretty sure all conferences (generally) work the same. If I'm incorrect, I apologize!

Edited by a_sort_of_fractious_angel

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Everything above is correct. I would add a couple of things. 

First is, if you've never done a major conference before, consider targeting graduate conferences.  The stakes are lower, and the environment is more easy going. They might also be a better use of your resources, since you're more likely to be accepted. The acceptance rates for the major conferences can be very low, and even top flight scholars can get rejected, so if it's very important to you to get the line on the CV think about where your resources are best applied. It isn't going to be important that you have major field conferences on your CV until you go on the job market.

On the subject of "presenting a new paper or one you've already written," I tend to think that every conference paper is a "new" paper because the conference paper is a completely different genre than most other forms of academic writing.  You may have a seminar paper you think would be a good fit for a conference, but remember, you're only going to get about 20 minutes, so you're going to have to hack that seminar paper down by 50-70% or so to make it fit, depending on how long the seminar paper is and how fast you talk. (130 words per minute is a good pace to shoot for). You'll want to massage the language to make sure that it 'listens' better. So you may get the *idea* of your conference talk from a paper you've already written, but it will help you to think of your proposal as a new project.

I would also add, that if your paper addresses visual matter at all, USE SLIDES!  As a film scholar this one gets me. Good god, there's no reason why, at a conference talk in 2018, I should be listening to a person waste 60 valuable seconds of conference paper time describing an image or film clip that that they could have just shown us on the screen. This goes for sound too.  Images should do heavy lifting for you, why use up words when you can show it? (this is with the caveat that you should always contextualize an image you show on a slide, and this will probably require some small amount of description, or drawing the audience's attention to particular details).

I think it's good practice in any case to at least have a slide with the title of your talk, your name/affiliation, and e-mail address.  Lengthy high theoretical quotes are a good cause for a slide as well (and perhaps the only case in which I think it's okay to violate the 'don't just read what's on the slide' rule). Your audience will pick up the nuances of that Deleuze quote a lot better if they can read it along with you. Twenty minutes is a long time, and even experienced scholars can lose focus, changing slides keeps the brain cued to your talk, and engages more of the audience's sensorium, so find a way to use them. That said, make sure you know the tech setup as far in advance as possible, and try to create as many technological redundancies as you can, and have a plan in case the technology fails. I was giving a talk at a major film conference and the audio for some of my major clips failed, fortunately I was familiar enough with the clips in question that I was able to narrate them myself.  I've seen talks absolutely fall to pieces when the tech fails.

Practice your talk, with others if you can, but alone too.  Make sure you are under time, nothing will erode the good will of your audience and fellow panelists more quickly than if you run over. No one will complain or even think twice if your talk comes in at 18 minutes.  Remember, the Q & A will give you a chance to expand on things. Think of the questions you least want to be asked and formulate answers for them, nobody will actually ask those questions, but it's a good intellectual exercise.  

Edited by jrockford27

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All the info presented already is solid, but I will add that it is a good idea to look at the CVs of profs you admire/want to work with to see where they present/ed regularly. For example, there are a few conferences that both of my main MA mentors regularly attend.

Also, ask your mentors on their opinions about certain conferences. I didn't always do that and as a result went to some awful conferences. I have since avoided some negative experiences by consulting said mentors about their experiences at conferences. Conferences can be a great experience, but they can also be an awful experience that turns you off of academia if you aren't careful.

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Yes to all of this. You should also ask people in your field what would be good conferences to target. Most field groups have a large conference that they hold every year where the acceptance rate for papers is lower, but these groups will also list their regional branches that may have more relaxed conferences where it is easier to present. For example, if you were studying the eighteenth century, I would recommend looking at ASECS, CSECS, or BSECS (American Society for Eighteenth-Century Studies, Canadian..., British..., etc.) Presenting a paper at mega-conferences, e.g. MLA, is perhaps not as useful when you're trying to strengthen your work, so focus on conferences that are more geared towards your field. 

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19 minutes ago, kendalldinniene said:

Are there conferences for people who only hold BAs and aren't yet in grad school?  

Yeah! I presented at the Sigma Tau Delta (English Honors Society) International Convention last year and the SoCal Conference for Undergraduate Research. There should be more I think

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1 minute ago, manymusings14 said:

Yeah! I presented at the Sigma Tau Delta (English Honors Society) International Convention last year and the SoCal Conference for Undergraduate Research. There should be more I think

Ok, cool, thank you!

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51 minutes ago, kendalldinniene said:

Are there conferences for people who only hold BAs and aren't yet in grad school?  

Now, you can present at most conferences with only a BA. Most of them have panels for undergraduates or independent scholars (which is actually what you’d be since you have a degree). For instance, I was at SAMLA last year and there was one. You may also try checking graduate conferences. There’s a category devoted to that on the UPenn call for papers site. Or simply see if the call for papers allows independent scholars to submit— a lot of them do. In addition, there’s one here at my school (University of Mississippi) called Southern Writers, Southern Writing, you could submit to. It’s in July, I believe and you can find the group on Facebook. 

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2 minutes ago, Sav said:

Now, you can present at most conferences with only a BA. Most of them have panels for undergraduates or independent scholars (which is actually what you’d be since you have a degree). For instance, I was at SAMLA last year and there was one. You may also try checking graduate conferences. There’s a category devoted to that on the UPenn call for papers site. Or simply see if the call for papers allows independent scholars to submit— a lot of them do. In addition, there’s one here at my school (University of Mississippi) called Southern Writers, Southern Writing, you could submit to. It’s in July, I believe and you can find the group on Facebook. 

Thank you!  I've been looking on the UPenn site but it's a little overwhelming.  I didn't know if I qualified as and independent scholar or not without a graduate degree.  As far as conferences like SAMLA, do you typically have to join the association in order to submit?

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11 minutes ago, kendalldinniene said:

Thank you!  I've been looking on the UPenn site but it's a little overwhelming.  I didn't know if I qualified as and independent scholar or not without a graduate degree.  As far as conferences like SAMLA, do you typically have to join the association in order to submit?

For larger organizations like SAMLA, I’d recommend applying to a panel. That’s the easiest way to get in (that’s what I always do). To answer your question though, no, you don’t have to join to submit. You will, however, have to pay membership dues in order to present/attend the conference. 

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4 minutes ago, Sav said:

For larger organizations like SAMLA, I’d recommend applying to a panel. That’s the easiest way to get in (that’s what I always do). To answer your question though, no, you don’t have to join to submit. You will, however, have to pay membership dues in order to present/attend the conference. 

Thank you so much for all the info, my undergrad institution didn't really push conference submission so I felt totally out of my element trying to get started.

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I just have to say that you don't actually get 20 minutes for the presentation. Most panels are an hour long, and if all 4 people got 20 minutes, we wouldn't have time for questions/answers at the end. You should stay in the 15-minute range because conference panel chairs will cut you off (I've done it before) because it's so rude to take up more time than you're allotted because persons 2-4 won't have enough time for their papers. Roughly 7 double-spaced pages should be enough (8 is often too much if you speak slowly or have to edit yourself as you read), but most panel chairs ask that proposals are around 300-words. This year will be my 5th year chairing panels at SCMLA and the past 4 years, I've been on panels where people are cut off, and had to cut off people, and it's as embarrassing and frustrating as you can imagine. I also remember the names and affiliations of people who have been cut off (if you notice, they are rarely asked back for that panel in subsequent years). 

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1 minute ago, victoriansimpkins said:

I just have to say that you don't actually get 20 minutes for the presentation. Most panels are an hour long, and if all 4 people got 20 minutes, we wouldn't have time for questions/answers at the end. You should stay in the 15-minute range because conference panel chairs will cut you off (I've done it before) because it's so rude to take up more time than you're allotted because persons 2-4 won't have enough time for their papers. Roughly 7 double-spaced pages should be enough (8 is often too much if you speak slowly or have to edit yourself as you read), but most panel chairs ask that proposals are around 300-words. This year will be my 5th year chairing panels at SCMLA and the past 4 years, I've been on panels where people are cut off, and had to cut off people, and it's as embarrassing and frustrating as you can imagine. I also remember the names and affiliations of people who have been cut off (if you notice, they are rarely asked back for that panel in subsequent years). 

This. But I will add that there’s some room for learning if you’re still a student and it’s obvious you weren’t going long because you had no concern for the other panelists. At least, this has been my experience. 

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Just now, Sav said:

This. But I will add that there’s some room for learning if you’re still a student and it’s obvious you weren’t going long because you had no concern for the other panelists. At least, this has been my experience. 

I had a first-year MA student on my panel last year, and he brought 8 SINGLE-SPACED pages. He knew he wasn't going to finish so I had to cut him off (he was 1 out of 4 and took a full 20 minutes before I cut him off), and let's just say he was pissed that he was embarrassed. There is room for learning, but the time for learning isn't WHEN you are presenting, it's when you're practicing (also, he should have had an advisor/mentor tell him not to bring a nearly journal-length paper to a conference). When you're at a conference, you're a scholar and not a student anymore. This is only one example, and it's a super worst-case scenario, but it happens all too often.

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8 minutes ago, victoriansimpkins said:

I had a first-year MA student on my panel last year, and he brought 8 SINGLE-SPACED pages. He knew he wasn't going to finish so I had to cut him off (he was 1 out of 4 and took a full 20 minutes before I cut him off), and let's just say he was pissed that he was embarrassed. There is room for learning, but the time for learning isn't WHEN you are presenting, it's when you're practicing (also, he should have had an advisor/mentor tell him not to bring a nearly journal-length paper to a conference). When you're at a conference, you're a scholar and not a student anymore. This is only one example, and it's a super worst-case scenario, but it happens all too often.

Ohh wow, that’s really rough. I can’t even imagine someone bringing in a single-spaced paper. lol 

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6 minutes ago, Sav said:

Ohh wow, that’s really rough. I can’t even imagine someone bringing in a single-spaced paper. lol 

I felt horribly (imagine my anxiety having to stop someone in front of a room of people checking their watches waiting for me to stop them), but I was 50-50 angry at his mentor who did not tell him a single-spaced paper is batshit. It's not good for any of us if we have mentors who won't tell us the real deal when it comes to conferences and publishing!

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3 minutes ago, victoriansimpkins said:

I felt horribly (imagine my anxiety having to stop someone in front of a room of people checking their watches waiting for me to stop them), but I was 50-50 angry at his mentor who did not tell him a single-spaced paper is batshit. It's not good for any of us if we have mentors who won't tell us the real deal when it comes to conferences and publishing!

That would be awful! That’s one of the things about chairing that always makes me anxious...the what if someone goes over time and I have to step in. I wonder if he even consulted his mentor (or anyone) prior to attending. 

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Just now, Sav said:

That would be awful! That’s one of the things about chairing that always makes me anxious...the what if someone goes over time and I have to step in. I wonder if he even consulted his mentor (or anyone) prior to attending. 

It will honestly make me feel better to say he didn't? ? (just because i don't want to think a mentor would lead someone that far astray) 

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Single-spaced and 8 pages???  That’s painful to hear...

I personally feel as though I rely too much on my paper (looking down and just reading the text), so I’ve recently been focusing on just getting an idea, an example, some questions, and approaches to said questions, and leave it rather colloquial and open in order to keep people from snoozing and hopefully prompt questions and ideas from the audience. This has been successful for me at small and large conferences, but only on cultural or American studies panels, so not sure if other disciplines are more formal and rigid. I started doing this since, in my mind, the panel is more for getting some new hands on your ideas for a paper, not for presenting a polished paper with a nailed down argument. I bring my “more complete” papers, let’s say, to round-tables, which do the paper justice in ways that a panel cannot. NeMLA keeps having me back, at least, and I’ve received very positive and insightful feedback, so I’d like to think this is good advice if your abstract is accepted, @kendalldinniene.

 

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@victoriansimpkins and @Sav no way he consulted faculty, or anyone, right??? I mean the going over time, which ruins the QA, which makes it pointless... I mean the QA is why we do panels... also, SINGLE-SPACED???? How is he going to frantically write in notes between lines 30 minutes beforehand???

Edited by j.alicea

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5 minutes ago, j.alicea said:

I personally feel as though I rely too much on my paper (looking down and just reading the text), so I’ve recently been focusing on just getting an idea, an example, some questions, and approaches to said questions, and leave it rather colloquial and open in order to keep people from snoozing and hopefully prompt questions and ideas from the audience. This has been successful for me at small and large conferences, but only on cultural or American studies panels, so not sure if other disciplines are more formal and rigid.

i do this too. I (likely too often?) bring my digital humanities experience into my presentations on romantic and victorian literature, even if/though some people in my field are definitely much more rigid! I also personally like being in the audience for a more visual presentation, because I lose my train of thought listening to a paper riiiiight around page 5

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to be fair, i was in a panel once with a much older gentleman who was the chair of his philosophy department, and he was very underprepared. his powerpoint had too much text, he more-or-less read straight from it, and he also went completely over time. some people just think they're entitled to the time.

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Just now, mandelbulb said:

to be fair, i was in a panel once with a much older gentleman who was the chair of his philosophy department, and he was very underprepared. his powerpoint had too much text, he more-or-less read straight from it, and he also went completely over time. some people just think they're entitled to the time.

I think that’s definitely the case with some professors!

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