I suppose an academic conference has at least two basic objectives:
- Giving/receiving presented papers.
Below are my first 5 of 10 recommendations for how to make the most out of an academic conference. Many of these thoughts have been developed over the years as a result of talking with undergraduate and graduate student attendees, especially if such students are first-time attendees. So, I propose the below items with them in mind. But maybe there is a little something hear for any onlookers too.
1. Intentionally plan your day but also leave space for being spontaneous and for some worthwhile self-reflection. Try to start thinking about what you want your experience to look like long before the conference arrives. By all means, pay attention to the conference program, but don’t simply let its busy schedule dictate your day.
2. Don’t over-book your day with preoccupation on one of the main objectives. If all you do all day consists of just listening to conference papers, you are probably cheating yourself on the overall experience, or at least setting yourself up for a headache! Both are not desirable. Avoid becoming an academic conference junkie!
3. Before you actually choose which sessions to attend, consider what kind of quality of experience to have each day. I recommend that you factor the following into your schedule (almost in this order of priority)
- Eat good food with new and old acquaintances. Sometimes dinner is the best time for this.
- Quality time to self-reflect about what you are receiving from a presentation. Waiting until you get back home in order to start to “do” something with it might not be effectual.
- Sufficient time to attend the sessions that would be most beneficial to you.
- Worthwhile time to sleep (so that you don’t oversleep the next day!)
- Occasion to relax by yourself or with others.
4. Be choice in your choice when deciding which conference session to attend, perhaps keeping in mind these questions:
- Is it directly related to my intellectual interests?
- Is the presentation by someone who appears to be “in the know” about this topic?
- Will it make me a more resourceful person to ably serve those within my care?
I don’t mean to suggest that all papers that you hear should have all of these characteristics. But I do think these are worthwhile questions to help decide what is of value to you given your limited time. Arguably, one could also make the case that even if someone wasn’t presenting on your direct interests, that scholar such and such is presenting, might itself be worthwhile to hear.
5. Intentionally listen to a presentation with these questions in mind:
- What knowledge (if not insight and wisdom) do I gain about this topic?
- How does the presentation affect my view on the topic?
- What do I discover about the presenter’s tone/attitude/passion by virtue of their oral presentation? How does this experience compare with my experience of reading their work?
In part two, I continue with five other recommendations and a concluding thought. For now, how might these recommendations make a difference in someone’s conference experience?