Tuesday, June 26, 2018

Conference season: Encouraging students to jump in

Lately, I've been spending energy encouraging our graduate students to submit their work to academic conferences. Simply saying, "It's good for you and your career" is not a persuasive sell when students have so many other responsibilities vying for their attention and travel can be a financial strain.

Here is a list of reasons attending a conference as a graduate student (or undergraduate!!!) is a good idea. Please feel free to add:
  1. Scope - You will see your academic field as a larger entity. We get used to our bubbles on campus. Your department is your world right now, but go to a conference and you will see how small that viewpoint can be.
  2. Standings - Many times, I have very humble students who don't think they qualify or can compete on a larger stage. I am always so proud when they try, and realize, yes, I am as good (or better) than that student from a Research I institution. I've had undergraduate students rock presentations where they were the only undergrads at the conference. I've had master's students presenting at conferences surprised to meet doctoral students from top universities who reported being too nervous to attempt a presentation. 
  3. Energy and Excitement - You will be surrounded by people passionate about your field. It's hard not to let that enthusiasm motivate you to something bigger. One student was so excited by all of the research he heard, that he exclaimed, "Dr. Maben, research is fun!" I wish he had come to that observation during my class...but it *is* fun to see what others are researching. Sometimes, the reboot is exactly what you needed during the semester.
  4. Real People - I laugh when students tell me that Dr. So-in-so is actually a funny person when you go to conferences with her/him. I myself still fan-girl a bit when I see a researcher I have quoted in publications. Researchers and professors are REAL people. You can meet that citation you've been writing over and over, or get to know your own institution's professors better.
  5. Extra Mileage  - You've gone to a LOT of work to write that paper or conduct that research. Get the most mileage out of it by presenting at a conference and then use the feedback to fine-tune the project for possible publication. In my master's program, I didn't think my work was good enough to present. Dirty secret: Yes, much of your work is presentable. Work with your professors to take a project from class-ready to conference-ready. This is another great way to get individualized help from your professors. Just think, down the road, you might be conducting research together as peers.
  6. Ambassadors - By presenting at conferences, you are showing off your program and school. This is a commodity in the academic world. 
So, now you're interested in going. Let your professors know. They can help identify student-friendly conferences and how to submit a quality product. Your university will likely have money to help send you to conference (see no. 6). I have yet to hear students say that going to a conference was a mistake.

What selling point has worked best in your efforts to encourage (or cajole) students to attend conferences?

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