Leaving on a Jet Plane

My bags are packed, I’m ready to go.
The speech is written, it’s an appropriate length.
I’d hate to forget something important…

Well folks, in approximately an hour and a half I will be off to my first conference of 2012, the Studies in Gothic Fiction conference in San Diego, California.  I will be giving my paper on The Scottish Play (entitled “The Scottish Play”) and enjoying some spring break sunshine while valiantly attempting to forget all the things waiting for me on my desk when I come home.

By now, I’ve developed something of a system for conferences.  There are a few very important items that you simply cannot forget while prepping for them and, since it’ll serve as a sort of checklist for me (though at this juncture if I’ve forgotten anything, I’m kind of screwed anyway), I’d like to share this system with you.


Make reservations at the CONFERENCE HOTEL (not a nearby hotel, not a hotel unaffiliated with the conference) early.  The block of rooms reserved by the conference

prepping for my talk at the 2010 University of Montreal Graduate Conference

inevitably goes quickly, especially during prime conference days (i.e. Friday and Saturday).  There will be a discounted rate for these rooms and, since you’ll likely be sharing a room with at least one colleague, you can generally stay fairly cheaply.

Call the hotel at least a day beforehand and find out how to get from the airport to there

sans a vehicle.  There’s no need to have a car while conferencing; it’s expensive, and too much of a temptation to forsake the networking opportunities and stressful situations for the much preferable sightseeing and relaxing aspect of travel.  Call ahead, be prepared, and make sure you know how much it will cost to get from one place to another.

Put your boarding pass somewhere easily accessible.  This seems like a “duh” but trust me, with all the paper I’m carrying onboard the airplane, one thin slip of it can get lost pretty easily amongst my notes and papers.

Your Paper

REHEARSE your paper.  At least four times.  Time yourself.  Come in at least two minutes under your time allotment.  Try to eliminate speech disfluencies from your presentation (like, uh, and, um).  You will come off more polished and more professional if you can manage to give a succinct and timely performance on conference day.

Don’t just read off the page, actually speak to your audience.  Also, keep in mind that a paper being read aloud to someone is a different medium than a paper the individual herself reads.  We process information differently in this different medium.  Allow for this, adjust your paper accordingly.  There is nothing more tedious than sitting through a paper which hasn’t been re-jiggered for reading.  You want your audience to listen to your ideas, not fall asleep on you.

Print at least one hard copy, have a copy on a jump drive, and pre-load the paper (and your notes) onto your laptop/netbook/tablet before you leave your house.  Redundancy is key here.  I’ve had so many anxiety dreams about giving a presentation only to find that someone spilled something on/ate/incinerated my paper and notes.


Say it with me: I will not wear sneakers to the conference.  Even if they are all black and my pants are a little too long.  PRESENT YOURSELF PROFESSIONALLY, people!  Graduate students already sit at the bottom of the barrel, we don’t need to reinforce this by looking like we stole our suits from our parents’ closets.  Get some nice shoes, have some nice conferencing clothes, and for god’s sake put on some makeup and do your hair.  First impressions are everything and for all you know someone you meet on any given day at a conference will want to give you a job.  Don’t give him a reason not to.

Again, redundancy is key.  Have a backup shirt/pants/clean pair of socks in case the unspeakable happens to your primary pair.

Bringing Work

My panel at the 2011 Rutgers Newark MA Consortium

Realistically, you’re not going to get a whole lot done at the conference and that’s okay.  You’re there to network and meet people while getting your ideas out into the academic ether.  Your primary focus is to make yourself available to do this.  Don’t hide in your room with homework; you may as well be at home if you’re going to spend the weekend that way.  Prevent the temptation to over-book yourself by reading way ahead the week before.  I tend to read everything that I need out of a physical book at home, then load up PDFs and articles for the plane ride.  I also take a back-up book off my comps list, you know, in case I get really antsy/ambitious.  This, for me, has been a good balance between “OHGODOHGODIGOTTAGETTHINGSDONE” and “conference time”.

While at the Conference…

Shower frequently.  Brush your teeth often.  Carry mints.  Seriously.  Do you want your personal hygiene to prevent you from getting a job?

Sleep at least eight hours a night.  Conferences are rough and can run you down easily (especially if you, like me, are something of an introvert and need a lot of re-charge time after being ON all day).  Make this concession and don’t spend too much time at the bar with your buddies the night before you give your talk.

Be courteous to EVERYONE.  Unless you’ve memorized the facebook of everyone in academia ever, you have NO IDEA who you may cut off in the coffee line or accidentally bump into while rushing to your panel.  Don’t let your career die a fiery death because you are a jerk.

And on that note, I have to go tie up some loose ends before I’m off.  I may or may not be checking in next week due to traveling, but I will try to return with a few choice anecdotes from the wide world of conferencing.


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