Presenting my dissertation at a national TESOL conference: When not even Coronavirus can stop research from being shared!

My name is Beatrice Massa and I recently completed a master’s in TESOL at Swansea University. After graduating in July 2019 with a bachelor’s degree in English Language and Applied Linguistics, I was very lucky to benefit from one of Swansea University’s Centenary Scholarships, which allowed me to continue my education and learn more about teaching English to speakers of other languages, a passion which I developed during my undergraduate studies. 

Although the academic year had started as every other year in higher education (rushing for lectures, spending afternoons in the library working on coursework, revising night and day for exams, singing my heart out at karaoke night), the Coronavirus pandemic definitely changed my and every other student’s learning experience by moving everything on-line and making us believe that human interaction and relationships were on hold. This is why, when Dr Federica Barbieri sent all MA TESOL students an email about an ELT networking event, my social antennae started quivering at the thought of meeting and talking to people (that were not my lovely family), especially if they shared my passion for language teaching.

The networking event was held by the IATEFL ReSIG and was addressed to MA TESOL/ELT students in the UK. The IATEFL ReSIG is a special interest group for ELT professionals that are interested in investigating real language classroom issues and want to share their research with other practitioners. They operate closely with the International Association of Teachers of English as a Foreign Language (IATEFL), the largest international teaching association in the world. The IATEFL was founded in 1967 as a forum for ELT professionals, in order to provide support and professional development to its members, as well as a platform for them to connect and share ideas and experiences.

The event organised by the IATEFL ReSIG is called MA ELT Quick Fire Presentation and has been taking place for the past 5 years at the University of Warwick. However, because of the pandemic, the 2020 edition was held on-line. The conference was created to give TESOL master’s students an opportunity to present their dissertation research to an audience, as the IATEFL annual conference occurs at the end of March and MA students usually have not started working on their dissertation yet. 

The quick fire presentation event occurs in August over the course of a full day, during which twelve speakers from different universities have five minutes (yeah, you read right, five minutes) to present their dissertation, addressing the research area, why they are interested in it, the research questions, and how they plan to answer them. Did I say that all of this has to be explained in 5 minutes? Nevertheless, this did not stop me from applying (if you remember, I was desperate for social interaction). The process is rather straightforward: you have to submit a PowerPoint presentation of your research, which, if it is selected, you will have to talk through during the event.

Having a deadline and working on the presentation helped me collect my thoughts and put my ideas in order. At the time, I had nothing written down, my research consisted mostly of spreadsheets, notes, and lists of things to do (rather long ones too). Therefore, when I got the email saying that I was accepted, not only I felt very honoured because the committee found my topic of interest, but I was also given that burst of motivation the uncertainty of the pandemic had taken away from me.

The event started at 9.30 am and lasted until 4 in the afternoon. The day was divided into four slots, alternating presentations and discussions in breakout rooms. Both speakers and attendees were able to discuss the presentations in small groups, which also allowed us to network more efficiently. This was extremely refreshing, especially since the last time I was able to properly discuss TESOL related matters with other MA students and professionals (with the exception of my supervisor) was back in March, before the lockdown. Presenting my research out loud, getting the feedback from the audience, and answering their questions provided me with a better understanding of what I was working on. I was particularly surprised that not many participants were familiar with corpus linguistics and I was very excited to explain how to create a corpus, which programmes to use for corpus analysis, etc. Overall, this was a great experience, which I felt very lucky to have taken part in.

If you are a current student on the MA TESOL programme or you are thinking of joining the next academic year, I would strongly suggest that you take into consideration participating in this conference, either as speaker or just as a member of the audience. If you get to present your research, I can assure you that you will gain some really insightful feedback that will help you shape your ideas and better understand the direction of your study. If you attend as audience, you will have the opportunity to connect with many other like-minded people and listen to some extremely interesting talks that may inspire your own research. Either way, it will be an experience that will enrich both your professional network and your studies.