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Conferences in our field - wise to attend if not presenting?


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Hi all!

I've been doing some research about conferences in our field (specifically in rhet/comp), and while I applied to present at a couple of writing center conferences this fall, I know that I missed the deadlines for a lot of the main ones in the field (WPA, MLA, etc.). This is of course fine because I just graduated from undergrad and will be starting my MA in the fall, but I know from previous experiences with conferences that you can learn so much and get a lot of good ideas from attending them (as well as network).

So, I want to attend some conferences anyway, but I don't know if grad students normally do this so early in their careers. Do they (or, rather, we)? I see that the scheduling of MLA and WPA works out so that I could attend these conferences and not miss class/work to do so, but would it be worthwhile? I have the personal funds to be able to attend and not make too large of a hole in my wallet.

More generally, how has everyone else gotten involved in the field's conferences? Can attending some big/popular conferences during my first year (or two or three) help me better prepare to present at them down the road? Should I talk to my undergrad professors/new graduate professors to see which ones they're presenting at so I could have some sort of reference point while there?

I would appreciate any input, advice, anecdotes, etc. Thanks in advance!

Edited by klader
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I went to C's during the second semester of my MA. At the time I knew very little about the field but I had enough teaching experience to follow the conversations that I overheard. That experience helped me choose comp rhet as a field. I went to C's this year as well but those are the only conferences that I've been to. Attending the first time certainly helped me prepare for quasi presenting the next time (I did the Research Network Forum where I workshopped my in progress thesis with PhD students and professors).

Just being there and being exposed to the different ways that scholars expand the scope of the field is valuable and inspirational. If you can afford it, I think it's worth going even if you don't present anything. But the affordability can be an issue for many, especially since universities (not necessarily departments) can be really stingy about funding. I noticed a lot of absentee presenters at this year's conference. Presumably some of them didn't go because they didn't have the funds.

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I presented at ATTW and stayed for Cs as a first year MA. ATTW was really, really valuable. I met so many awesome people who care about the same sorts of things I do. Cs was ginormous and a little harder to network at, but I will admit I didn't study the program beforehand. 

My university has sometimes funded people who chaired at conferences. You could always contact the conference organizer and ask to volunteer, then use that volunteer appointment to apply for funding. Maybe that will make out-of-pocket expenses a little less.

I don't know that sitting in on sessions will help you be a better presenter down the road, though it gave me a much better understanding of what people in R/C are doing.

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During my MA I presented at CCCC (RNF and a workshop), Computers and Writing, and HASTAC (2x), along with some regional stuff

Conferences that don't require a flight can be incredibly affordable. Room with a few people, and contact the organizers about volunteering. I did a games conference with a $300 registration fee for free by working 8 hours at the registration table.

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It's not a bad idea, but I wouldn't spend too much money on it.

 

My first conference, I thought I was so ready.  I asked all the questions (or so I thought).  Made sure to know how long my paper should be (20 minutes).  Ready to roll.  Until I got to the conference.  I thought all of the presenters had had recent strokes or something.  I was amazed that everyone was speaking SO SLOWLY!  It had never occurred to me that one must read a paper in such a way to make it easy to follow by ear (I know I know, common sense, but everyone has one of those common sense lapses, haha).  My paper was 21 pages long.  I could read that sucker in 20 minutes flat (I even timed it, haha.  Bit of a fast talker over here), but it was more than double the length of the average conference paper.  I was lucky in that my panel was on the second day of the conference.  Still, I had to cut my paper by 60% that night.

 

Moral of the story, there are all sorts of things that you won't know about conferences without seeing them in person.  Find a local conference that doesn't cost much, and give it a go.  It'll never end up on the CV, but you can still network and get your feet wet in a low-stakes environment.

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IF you are reading a paper, you are giving a bad presentation. No one wants to sit through dozens of people reading 20 pages papers at a conference.

 

19 hours ago, Tybalt said:

It's not a bad idea, but I wouldn't spend too much money on it.

 

My first conference, I thought I was so ready.  I asked all the questions (or so I thought).  Made sure to know how long my paper should be (20 minutes).  Ready to roll.  Until I got to the conference.  I thought all of the presenters had had recent strokes or something.  I was amazed that everyone was speaking SO SLOWLY!  It had never occurred to me that one must read a paper in such a way to make it easy to follow by ear (I know I know, common sense, but everyone has one of those common sense lapses, haha).  My paper was 21 pages long.  I could read that sucker in 20 minutes flat (I even timed it, haha.  Bit of a fast talker over here), but it was more than double the length of the average conference paper.  I was lucky in that my panel was on the second day of the conference.  Still, I had to cut my paper by 60% that night.

 

Moral of the story, there are all sorts of things that you won't know about conferences without seeing them in person.  Find a local conference that doesn't cost much, and give it a go.  It'll never end up on the CV, but you can still network and get your feet wet in a low-stakes environment.

 

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Eh, I think this depends on the field and the conference. Almost every talk I attended in undergrad came from prepared remarks; every conference i've attended in grad school as well. Sometimes you had very capable speakers speak from notes or use a powerpoint as a guide, but they were few and far between. For better or worse, much of the discipline does not agree with you, bhr. 

Edited by echo449
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1 hour ago, bhr said:

IF you are reading a paper, you are giving a bad presentation. No one wants to sit through dozens of people reading 20 pages papers at a conference.

 

 

Literally every conference I have ever been to, regional and national, have all been people reading from the page. There is a way to do it that makes it fun and enjoyable though, which some people have not yet gotten the hang of, but I personally enjoy these conferences which is why I have attended so many even though I was not presenting myself.

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I used to think that people reading from the page were giving bad presentations too.  When it came time for me to actually give a graduate level paper at a conference I realized that it doesn't work not to, at least in my experience.   I think where people go wrong is simply reading things they turned in for a seminar without adapting it into a specific spoken version.  Nothing like hearing someone read a lengthy block quote from Deleuze aloud!

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23 minutes ago, kurayamino said:

Literally every conference I have ever been to, regional and national, have all been people reading from the page. There is a way to do it that makes it fun and enjoyable though, which some people have not yet gotten the hang of

Yep. The problem is not that reading from a paper is inherently bad, but that graduate students (and some faculty!) don't understand that writing for print is different than writing for oral delivery. It's a point that's not stressed often enough, let alone taught. 

Edited by Ramus
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1 minute ago, jrockford27 said:

 I think where people go wrong is simply reading things they turned in for a seminar without adapting it into a specific spoken version.  Nothing like hearing someone read a lengthy block quote from Deleuze aloud!

Beat me to it. 

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9 hours ago, bhr said:

IF you are reading a paper, you are giving a bad presentation. No one wants to sit through dozens of people reading 20 pages papers at a conference.

 

 

And no one does.  That was precisely my point.  With all of one year of MA work under my belt, I had no idea what I was doing at my first conference.  Conference drafts tend to be around 8 or 9 pages and are re-written to be more discursive (ie- points for a stop and expound moment, signposting language, removal of lengthy quotations, etc).  That said, the majority of the presentations at most conferences in our field do involve people reading from a prepared draft.  There are exceptions (I quite liked the SAA's seminar approach, for example), but at this point in my graduate career (ABD, presentations at over a dozen regional, national and international conferences) I feel comfortable in stating that reading papers is still a pretty common standard for conferences in this field.  In fact, the handful of presentations I've seen where the scholar spoke without prepared material drew negative reactions--those presentations came across as lazy and unprepared, and the scholars who gave those talks floundered during the Q and A, as it was clear that they hadn't thought out their project as thoroughly as they should have done.

 

The point, however, is that there are things worth seeing for yourself in a low-stakes environment, because there are always questions you might not know to ask.

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  • 2 weeks later...

Thanks so much for all the additional insight, everyone!

I've presented at two conferences before myself (one more laid back and one more professional), and there were some that read papers, some with PowerPoints, and some who winged it. I agree that going to other conferences would definitely help me get a better idea of what people (faculty and graduate students) are doing for their presentations.

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