There are times when I lament how hard it is to do a PhD: countless hours writing and thinking that I no longer know what I’ve written or think anymore. Or the constant worry that no-one will be interested in my research when, and if, I ever finish this d@%n thesis! But when I feel like that, I try to shake my focus from my #firstworldproblems and start concentrating on what is great about doing a PhD- conferences!
In a nutshell, conferences comprise many of the things I love– 1. travelling, 2. meeting new people, and 3. free food and drinks! Mind you, the food and drinks aren’t really free as they constitute part of the payment for your conference registration- but hey, by the time I get there, I’ve forgotten all about that so back to #3. – free food and drinks!
During my PhD candidature, I’ve been lucky enough to attend two overseas conferences funded by my university. The first conference I went to was EdMedia 2016 in Vancouver, Canada. This was a very large conference of over 1000 attendees, with more than 10 concurrent presentation sessions, for the duration of 3 days. In comparison, I just returned from a very different conference, the European Conference of Social Media (ECSM) 2017 in Vilnius, Lithuania, which consisted of only 60 attendees focusing on 3 streams of presentations: social media for business, marketing, and education.
While I do not like public speaking (and I’m a teacher- go figure!), I enjoyed both conferences and the reception I received was positive, though for different reasons. The EdMedia conference was made up of predominately educators who were interested in the practicalities of what was happening in classrooms, while the ECSM conference consisted of mostly PhD students researching in the field of social media in various disciplines. As my research focuses on international students’ experiences with educational use of social media, both audiences found areas of significance that my research presented and I engaged in stimulating discussions of practical and academic elements (note to self- stop worrying that no-one will be interested in my research!).
As a PhD student, everyone will tell you that academic conferences are an excellent opportunity to network and make yourself known within your field, and I suppose this is true. However, I have never been able to come at it that way because the image of a go-getting networker à la Tom Cruise in Jerry Maguire is just not me. Instead, I’m genuinely interested in meeting new people and finding out about their interesting lives. As such, at both these conferences I met some cool people doing cool things from universities all over the world. Whether or not they learned anything about me and my research feels besides the point.
All in all, going to these conferences allowed me to have a break from the mundane realities of my PhD while still working on it– as I said, travelling, meeting people and free food and drinks! Not that there wasn’t some hard work involved on my side as well. For both conferences, I submitted abstracts and wrote 5000 word papers subject to the peer review process. However, the other bonus of that effort is that if you choose your conferences correctly, there will be some type of conference proceedings publication which will bear your name and the full text of your article in it somewhere!
But the ultimate bonus is that after returning from a conference, I feel re-energised to continue working on the labour of love that is my thesis. Who knows, before too long, I may actually finish all that writing and thinking, and submit the d@%n thing!