Session 1. “Networks, Social Connections, and Social Capital”

On Wednesday, November 28, graduate students and postdocs joined Professor Kate Cagney (Sociology) for a discussion on the values of building and maintaining social connections and networks. Through theories of social capital and illustrative data from local and national research projects examining varied forms of human connectedness, Cagney had us convinced that social connections really do matter and that they can have positive impacts on our mental and physical health, our happiness, and our careers.

This presentation set solid foundations for session 2 in the Conferencing 101 short course that took place on Tuesday, December 4: “What Do You Work On?” Starting Conversation at Conferences led by Michael O’Toole (UChicago Grad.) Conversations at academic conferences help build important professional and personal relationships. You never know—you may be one (conference) conversation away from a job interview, from making a new friend, or a possible scholarly collaboration.

Session 2. “What Do You Work On?”: Starting Conversations at Conferences Tuesday, December 4, 2018.

Many of us can relate to feeling nervous at the prospect of starting conversations with other scholars at academic conferences. Will I come across as interesting and make a good first impression? Will I be able to talk about my work in a coherent way? To help alleviate some of these fears, we welcomed Michael O’Toole (Assistant Director, GRADTalk) to lead an interactive workshop on the topic. Networking at conferences, O’Toole explained, needn’t be anxiety-inducing, especially if you spend a little time pre-planning. For example, before arriving at a conference, think about a handful of individuals with whom you’d like to connect. Can you introduce yourself over email before the conference or even arrange a short meeting? Can you follow up afterwards? For those more spontaneous encounters, prepare brief “elevator pitch” descriptions of your research. To do this, you might think about constructing a list of general research interests, followed by one, two, and three-sentence synopses that encapsulate your research. Avoid opening a conversation with a five-minute soliloquy of your dissertation abstract. As successful conference encounters might open further avenues of dialogue, listen attentively and ask questions about your new contact’s research. The most successful and long-lasting conference connections are those that are made on mutually beneficial grounds. Instead of thinking “what can I get from this encounter?”, you might instead ask “how might this connection enrich the scholarly lives of us both?” To access the workshop handout, click here.
Recap: Session 3. How to Deliver a Compelling Conference Presentation. 
 Thursday, December 6, 2018. 

English Ph.D. and current Humanities Teaching Fellow Michael Dango led a workshop on best practices for conference presentations. From formatting and content to visual aids and delivery, Dango described (and demonstrated) to participants how to make the most of their presentation time. Some key takeaways:

On format: We tend to present faster during the real thing when reading from a paper (because we read faster under pressure) and slower if presenting from notes (because we’re more likely to get stuck on a tangent or improvising). If reading, originally budget 2 minutes per double spaced page, and still try to provide room for improvisation or thinking off the cuff.

On content: In the body of your presentation, provide transitions frequently and explicitly. Go light on references to other critics but be generous in your offerings of context and synopsis.  Think of your entire paper’s goal not only as communicating your argument, but also as generating good questions from your audience. 

On visual aids: If you’re making a slideshow, consider using it less to communicate and more to structure. Slides can be used to signpost and remind people where you are in your presentation, rather than being full of bullet points and small text.  

On delivery: Your tone will set the tone of your audience’s response. If you’re eager to criticize other scholars, your audience will likely be prepared to do the same to you. If you’re more casual, your audience will be more casual in their questions. No need to tell lots of jokes, but if you can, try to convey how excited you are to be “chatting” or “thinking out loud” with your audience, about some topic or text.