In this post, two of our current PhD students, Chloe Mills and Tesni Galvin, discuss their experiences of attending conferences and sharing their research. Read on for some excellent advice!
Conferences are a big part of world of research because they’re one of the main methods for communicating research findings, catching up with colleagues, and staying in touch with the most current issues in your field. On top of this, they’re one of the best ways to do one of the most important (yet sometimes dreaded) things in academia: networking! In this blog post we break down what attending a conference entails and reflect on some of the experiences of Swansea students at conferences.
Where to start?
Conferences are often held by professional organisations or societies in all areas of research. Some can be huge, international affairs, while others can be held by smaller, more local research groups. It can be extremely daunting trying to figure out which is the “best” conference, as each discipline will have bigger, main conferences and also a number of smaller ones. So it’s hard to say which are the main conferences in Applied Linguistics because it really depends on your research area. However, one of the bigger ones in the UK is BAAL (the British Association of Applied Linguistics). They host an annual conference and also a number of smaller conferences run by their smaller “SIGs” aka Special Interest Groups.
A good way to dip your toe in is to attend smaller conferences, seminars, or other research-related events. Social media is a great way to keep up-to-date with who’s hosting what – start with your university’s social media accounts, e.g. for me it’s Swansea Applied Linguistics, and then look a little bit further afield to general doctoral pages. For example, in Wales, Cardiff’s Doctoral Academy page will often post upcoming events. It’s through these pages that I’ve seen smaller conferences advertised such as the multilingualism event that fellow PhD student, Tesni Galvin, discusses below. Also, stay in touch with your department and don’t be afraid to ask colleagues if they’ve heard of anything going on that you should attend. My supervisor often sends out helpful links to webinars, seminars, workshops, or conferences that she thinks would be good for me – this is a vital and helpful way to begin to understand what’s going on in your field.
So how do you go about networking, especially as a new researcher? This is where I’d recommend attending smaller conferences at first, because it’s easier to navigate and you see more familiar faces. You’ve got to have a bit of confidence; don’t be afraid to approach people, because in my experience people at conferences are always really friendly, you’re all there for similar reasons, and there will probably be other newbies there. If you can, go with your supervisor, another student, or another colleague, because then they may be able to introduce you to others. Also, attend the poster and coffee sessions because these are always good opportunities to mix in smaller groups and make connections.
Another top tip is to talk to your colleagues to find out if your department or university is hosting any of their own events, and then ask to get if you can assist them. This is how I got involved with helping with the Language Testing Forum 2019. This was such a good experience where I got to help with the organisation of the conference. I also presented a poster on my MA research (thank you #BetterPoster!) and attended the conference dinner which were all great opportunities to discuss my research and meet other researchers. Being involved in the organisation side meant I had a good opportunity to strike up conversations with visiting scholars. It also gave me the chance to understand how a conference works from both inside and outside the event. Presenting my poster was scary, but it was also great because I got really helpful comments and feedback from some of the big names in language testing. Although daunting, it changed the approach I needed to take to refine the research for publication and so was ultimately one of the best things I could have done.
@chloeaamills is currently undertaking a PhD in Applied Linguistics at Swansea University, exploring corpus-based approaches to first language writing.
A Scaffolded Approach
As we know, the pandemic has had a profound impact on all of our lives, including how we carry out our academic studies. As a PhD student, attendance and presentations at conferences are an integral part of our personal and professional development. Before March 2020, virtual conferences were uncommon. However, since the start of COVID-19, they have become increasingly popular and I have attended two online conferences: ‘Cynhadledd Ymchwil y Coleg Cymraeg Cenedlaethol’, and UK Cognitive Linguistics Conference.
Fortunately, I experienced my first international conference before COVID-19 (three years ago as an undergraduate student, at the University of Reading). My colleague Amelia Cobner and I co-presented a poster on our undergraduate dissertation results under the guiding eye of our supervisor, Dr Vivienne Rogers. We attended a great deal of interesting talks and were introduced to a number of Dr Rogers’ colleagues. Co-presenting a poster at EuroSLA 27 was extremely enlightening; we received highly positive feedback, together with a number of valid suggestions and ideas for future work.
Two years on from EuroSLA 27, I have completed my MA Research and have orally co-presented my MA results with Dr Rogers at UniteGen and ISB 20. more recently, I delivered two oral presentations on my own at EuroSLA 29 and ‘Multilingualism and Multi-identities in Wales.’
As nervous as I have been in the past, the journey from presenting at my first conference to my most recent one, has been thoroughly enriching and stimulating. Imagine how delighted I was to be invited to present as part of the Early Research Career panel at the ‘Multilingualism and Multi-identities in Wales’ conference. The scaffolded approach, steered by Dr Rogers, has certainly enabled me to develop my presentation and explanation skills in a friendly and professional environment, as well as learning how best to tackle delivery at conferences. Below are some of my recommended key take home messages and top tips.
- No conference is ‘too’ small. Submit abstracts to conferences held by your department and/or college in your university. Always aim to gain experience presenting and have the courage to submit abstracts to international conferences.
- Be ready to answer anything from the floor and prepare thoroughly because some questions keep you on your toes! I have been asked a wide variety of questions, from very general to extremely technical ones.
- Network, network, network!
Do your best to get involved, and always remember to enjoy yourself!
@TesniGalvin is currently undertaking a PhD in Applied Linguistics at Swansea University, exploring language processing in adult speakers of Welsh.