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The Conference Search and Submission


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The first conference I attended was the MPCA conference last year at St. Louis. It was a fantastic experience, and it helped me realize that, despite the fact that I was still an undergraduate, my research and thoughts were still valued even among groups of long-time teachers and PhDs. Sure, it's a fantastic experience you can add to a resume, and for those who are socialites, it's a great opportunity for networking. I walked away with a ton of email addresses and several business cards, and the mentor I had for the conference said he would be willing to write a recommendation, solely based on our conversations and my presentation that weekend. But, being able to stand side-by-side with people who have been in the business for ages and who have attended more conferences than they can remember was both humbling (as if I needed more of that) and enlightening. 

 

I just received notice that my paper abstract has been accepted to the Northern Plains Conference for Early British Literature. I was delighted at the acceptance as I was not expecting to hear word (especially a positive response) so soon.

I will be attending graduate school in the Fall (hopefully, as I have not heard word from any schools yet), and this semester I have been focusing on trying to submit abstracts and write critical papers. For some conferences, I have submitted abstracts to papers I have already written (such as the Northern Plains Conference). For others, I have submitted abstracts for papers I have yet to write (this was the case with the MPCA conference). 

For those who are looking at submitting for conferences, here are my recommendations. Granted, I am far from an expert, but from my discussions with my professors and with others at the MPCA conference, this is what I have gathered. I cannot guarantee that this advice will work for non-humanities folks, but I imagine it would be very similar. 

The best case scenario is to submit abstracts for papers you have already written. This is not only a good test for how that paper will be received, but it also is less stressful in the long run. In this case, when you are accepted, you merely have to revise the paper, spruce it up, and prepare a presentation. Most conferences expect nothing more than for you to read an excerpt from your paper (or the whole paper, depending on its length), but for the MPCA conference, I opted to do a presentation instead. It also depends on your subject matter. My paper almost demanded visual aids, but most other paper presentations I attended were abbreviated readings. Some were easy to follow, while others were so weighted down with jargon that it was almost impossible to follow along unless you were an expert. Depending on the panel, the papers could vary from less-serious and in-progress presentations to fully-researched theses. 

However, I have found that I enjoy submitting abstracts for papers I have yet to write. This provides more of a challenge, and it allows you to submit to more conferences since you are not limited by the topic. I submit abstracts to conferences for which I have an interest which allows me to practice my researching and writing skills in a variety of areas I might not otherwise investigate. The difficulty comes when you receive an acceptance, you have yet to write the paper, and they have a deadline for you to submit a completed paper. Unless you have the time and the focus to quickly turn over a paper from scratch, try to avoid those conferences who have a deadline. Many of them will post that information along with the conference listing. 

As an undergraduate, and even now as a recent graduate of December, I am intimidated at times submitting abstracts to a professor's personal email. But, the more one practices professional communication, the easier it becomes. I was terribly nervous for my first conference, and whenever I would email my mentor, I tried to remain professional, yet personable. As a result, when I arrived at the conference, the first thing he said to me was that he had never thought I was an undergraduate through my email communications. He imagined I was at least a PhD student, so when he found out I was an undergraduate, he was highly impressed by my professionalism. That was the greatest compliment I could have received. Take a few extra moments to edit and think about emails when you submit your abstracts, especially if you're looking to make a fine impression.

Although there is a lot more that can be said, some final pieces of advice would be to start sooner rather than later. If you can include in your graduate school applications that you have already presented at a conference, it will show you have drive. Also, the best case scenario would be to be able to attend a conference at a university in which you have interest. That would be where the real networking would come into place. However, universities from across the nation generally are represented at any one conference, and though the showing for southern universities would be much lower at a conference held out west, there might still be opportunities for professional development. I now have contact information for professors in London and Hungary. Do I plan to go to school there? No, but developing professional relationships is never a bad thing. And, you never know, you may find use for that contact someday (or develop a good friendship!). 

Long story short, submit quality work, and submit it often. If I can be accepted to a conference, so can you. :)

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Great advice!  I'll also add that, when conferences ask for abstracts, don't fret if your findings or discussion vary a bit from your original abstract.  At the conferences I've been to, they don't print the abstracts in the program.  Instead, they print the title of your presentation.  So, if your findings or discussion vary a bit from the original abstract, as long as they are in line with the topic, you should be ok.

 

Granted, this may vary depending on the conference! I've only presented at two conferences so far, and they were very different from each other!

 

My first presentation was at a round-table session with four other people.  We all ate breakfast together, and it felt like I was talking with old friends!  It was a smaller conference, and everyone was so incredibly warm and welcoming.  I gave everyone at my table a handout to follow through my presentation.

 

My second presentation was at a bigger regional conference!  I presented during an early morning session with three others to an audience of about 15 people.  I used a PowerPoint presentation to provide some examples from my data set (longer quotes from newspaper articles), and I provided handouts to the audience members so they could follow along and didn't have to take as many notes.  It was definitely more formal in that I was standing before an audience rather than sitting in a circle with a few others, but it was just as much fun!  

 

One thing to remember at conferences: presentations are so much more fun at conferences because you're presenting on YOUR OWN research that you've spent (hundreds of) hours with already!  That added a layer of familiarity and comfort to the presentation that I never felt during undergrad presentations =)

 

PS - I see you were a philosophy major in undergrad, too!! :D hooray!

Edited by gingin6789
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I would have loved to have that round-table discussion! Small, intimate affairs are sometimes the best opportunities. There were hundreds of people presenting at the MPCA conference, but there were only four people in my panel discussion. It was great being able to work with one another to answer questions asked by the audience since we all had a basic knowledge of our subject area. 

 

I'm excited at the prospect of going to this next conference, but it'll be a 14 hour drive! :) Road trip!

 

And, philosophy represent! Some of my best experiences in undergrad were through our philosophy major, and someday I hope to get a PhD in it as well as English. :)

Edited by engphiledu
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Yes, the round table atmosphere was so warm and cultivating for conversation on everyone's research topics! I really enjoyed it!  Presenting to smaller groups has been such a wonderful experience for me so far =) 

 

I agree with you on the philosophy undergrad experience!  My education and life ended up so much richer as a result of the philosophy program!  Woo!  That is definitely an ambitious goal, and I wish you the best of luck on that! :D

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Thanks for the support, gingin6789! I've really looked up to a professor at my undergraduate university who has several PhD's and Masters. He's our resident degree hoarder, so to speak. When I told him that likely I'll be trying to follow in his footsteps, he told me he was sorry he inspired me so much. lol

As an update, I received a notice that a second abstract has been accepted to a conference! The New Jersey College English Association Conference has accepted my abstract on cross-dressing in Japanese popular culture! Woot woot!

Maybe I will be able to distract myself from waiting on grad school responses by writing/editing papers! 

Edited by engphiledu
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Thanks for the support, gingin6789! I've really looked up to a professor at my undergraduate university who has several PhD's and Masters. He's our resident degree hoarder, so to speak. When I told him that likely I'll be trying to follow in his footsteps, he told me he was sorry he inspired me so much. lol

As an update, I received a notice that a second abstract has been accepted to a conference! The New Jersey College English Association Conference has accepted my abstract on cross-dressing in Japanese popular culture! Woot woot!

Maybe I will be able to distract myself from waiting on grad school responses by writing/editing papers! 

Hahaha that's pretty humble and funny of him to say =)

 

That's so excellent!!! Your paper sounds so interesting!!!  Your presentation should go so well!  

 

Yes, I know my conferences and preparation for conferences really helped in the waiting game!!  :D 

 

When is the New Jersey College English Association Conference? 

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It's at Seton Hall University on Saturday, April 12. :)

I need you around to bolster my confidence! Thank you! I always get so nervous at presentations (for no apparent reason). I think I'm just overwhelmed by how awe-inspiring everyone else is. 

It looks as though your application season went well, according to your signature at least. I wish you well as you make your decision!

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My thesis advisor always told me "Nervous is good; Panic is bad."  It's not a bad thing to be nervous because it shows you're really passionate about what you're presenting!!!  I know what you mean, though.  My area of interest contains a small, tight-knit group (I'm interested in the sociology of reproduction within the larger field of medical sociology.  My thesis advisor made up the title of "the repro mafia" to describe the group), and presenting to at least five big-time members of the group was absolutely nervewracking for me!

 

I just kept looking toward the few people in the audience I knew, and their smiles and understanding nods kept me going!!  

 

Seriously, it's the most comfortable I've ever felt while presenting!  

 

When it's your own research that you've spent so much time with, and when it's an audience who knows the subject matter as well, it all falls into place. =)

 

THANK YOU!!!  I was ecstatic when two of the universities accepted me! I'm happy that I got my acceptances before my rejection.  I awoke to my rejection early on a Sunday morning, and I simply read the rejection letter, texted my boyfriend and family, rolled over, and went back to sleep!  Lehigh and Delaware really set my mind at ease! =) 

 

You have all of your schools to hear back from, right?  I hope they get back to you soon! If it's any help, I heard back from the university with the LATEST deadline FIRST!  I was so shocked cause the deadline was February 1 and I heard back on the 17th! I also heard back from the university with the deadline of January 15 on February 17th as well!!  

Edited by gingin6789
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Yeah, I'm still waiting on all schools. I'm dying a little bit inside each day that goes by without any word. My advisors, recommenders, and professors have tried to reassure me, but they've told me they're anxious as well. Luckily, I'm working in a different department so I can largely avoid their looks of disappointment. 

It's always better to hear at least one acceptance first, I think! It helps you relax when the other notifications come in. My roommate had an acceptance first, and she heard from another school yesterday (rejection). Even though she wasn't expecting much from the second school, she wasn't torn up about it because, worst case scenario, even if all other schools reject her, she still has that first acceptance. My fiance had two rejections (in the same day!), but by the next day he had gotten an acceptance from a third. We're banking on going to the same school, so I think that's probably what has me most anxious.

One of my schools says on their website that they start notifying on March 1, so at least I have that date to look forward to (or dread). 

Your thesis sounds really interesting, by the way! One of our philosophy professors is like an Alvin Plantinga with a St. Thomas Aquinas obsession, and from your mention in the other forum about Catholic fan-mail, I'd say you two would have gotten along! lol

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Yeah, I'm still waiting on all schools. I'm dying a little bit inside each day that goes by without any word. My advisors, recommenders, and professors have tried to reassure me, but they've told me they're anxious as well. Luckily, I'm working in a different department so I can largely avoid their looks of disappointment. 

It's always better to hear at least one acceptance first, I think! It helps you relax when the other notifications come in. My roommate had an acceptance first, and she heard from another school yesterday (rejection). Even though she wasn't expecting much from the second school, she wasn't torn up about it because, worst case scenario, even if all other schools reject her, she still has that first acceptance. My fiance had two rejections (in the same day!), but by the next day he had gotten an acceptance from a third. We're banking on going to the same school, so I think that's probably what has me most anxious.

One of my schools says on their website that they start notifying on March 1, so at least I have that date to look forward to (or dread). 

Your thesis sounds really interesting, by the way! One of our philosophy professors is like an Alvin Plantinga with a St. Thomas Aquinas obsession, and from your mention in the other forum about Catholic fan-mail, I'd say you two would have gotten along! lol

I seriously doubt they're disappointed in you!!!  Your stats and academic background look really good, and I know so many folks who are waiting to hear back from programs!! This wait is torture, but you will get through!!!  I'm here for you!

 

I understand wanting to go to the same place as your friend, too!!  It's comforting to know that acceptances go out in waves!

 

Keep me updated on what you hear!! =)  Just two days til March 1!

 

Oh, thank you!!! I worked so hard for about a year on my undergrad thesis.  I loved examining the intersection of religion and contraception in the media!  The philosophical intersections are also so interesting to examine!!  Your professor sounds pretty amazing, too!  I also have a feeling we would have gotten along!! :D

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You're such a good virtual buddy! Virtual hugs for you! :D

Seriously though, thank you for all the positive vibes. I really, really appreciate it. The waiting game is a hard one, and I've realized that for a group of people who generally are over-achievers (who else would want to go to grad school, right?), it's particularly difficult. In the same vein, it's even more difficult for a group of over-achievers to be rejected from anything. It's a difficult and emotional game to play. I wish everyone the best, but I also know that there will be disappointment and heartbreak. It's hard to remain positive during this process, and sometimes it's a struggle to remain happy for everyone else. (And this is going a bit off topic), but even though I'm new to the gradcafe, I think that's why this forum is, most of the time, a positive outlet compared to the results postings. The results postings are nice in that you can try and prepare yourself for news before you receive it and see how you "stack up," so to speak. But, there is a real deficit of fulfillment there, too. You see someone who says they were accepted at your dream school, with funding, via email, but your inbox remains empty. So, you post to the results page, "Hey person below me who was accepted at Kick-Awesome University, I need to know more!" Sometimes there is silence, sometimes you'll run across a response in the forum where that person has elaborated. Even still, you may be greeted by silence from the university's end, thus dashing your hopes and dreams. Though you are happy for the person who was accepted, you may be inferior or have a "why him/her and not me" moment. Long story short, the forum aspect of this site helps, more so than it hurts, I think, to provide closure to those refreshers of the results page. After all, you have the opportunity to talk to real people on a communicative level rather than a quantified level (comparing GRE stats, when the letter was received, etc.). That was a dreadfully long diversion but just something that's been on my mind.

On another note, I chuckled the other day (really, it was closer to a guffaw, but I hate to commit to such an intense level of laughter) because, though I still have no word from graduate schools, I received another email about a different conference accepting one of my abstracts. I'm super excited and totally shocked, but it's almost like some great irony. "We really want you to present your ideas at professional gatherings among people who have graduate degrees, but we're still on the fence about whether we really want you to attend graduate school. It's a toss up, really." I will try to maintain that I have patience, though I've really been quite terrible at it lately. lol

 

(Switching topics once more)
I always love hearing about people's theses! It's a wonderful feeling being in the presence of someone when they're really passionate about their topic, and they have all of this knowledge just pouring out of their ears. It's at those times that I feel most human, and I am able to soak in how amazing it is that rationality exists. When it comes to really specific topics, like yours, I always want to ask, "How did you decide to write about that? What interested you in that?" but sometimes the answer is. . . well personal. But, I'd be happy to hear more about that (or anything, really) if you're willing to type it out! lol You're an interesting person, and I love listening to interesting people!

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