How to chair

Lion tamer (Sourced from Wikimedia Commons: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Lion_tamer_(LOC_pga.03749).jpg)

Lion tamer (Sourced from Wikimedia Commons: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Lion_tamer_(LOC_pga.03749).jpg)

What’s worse than having to give a conference paper in front of my esteemed colleagues?

I’d say it’s chairing these esteemed colleagues!

Through my years of presenting at and convening conferences, I have always had one greater fear than being the paper-giver and that was being the chair. It feels pathetic to admit this, but the responsibility of chairing brought all my apprehensions about public speaking to the fore.

When giving a paper, I’m usually anxious about “question and answer” (Q&A) time – the Wild West of conference moments (right next to the conference dinner…). It was a time over which you had little control over what might be thrown at you. You couldn’t plan for it. My imagination (which is excellent, by the way), conceived of all manner of intellectual take-downs and derisive snorts about my conclusions.

These preoccupied me such that I wrote about my strategies for handling Q&A.

Chairing taps into all my existing anxieties: it was a whole session where you weren’t necessarily in control of what people might say or do, but this is specifically what you are tasked with as the chair.

I’ve written before about how to build your conference karma (aka ‘how to make convenors love you’) and, spurred on by a recent query from my colleague Warren Staples (@warrenstaples), here’s a list of strategies I’d suggest to get you through a chairing gig.

READ MORE

Descending on Adelaide (ARMS 2013)

ARMS 2013 - AdelaideIf you happened to be travelling on flights to Adelaide over 10-13 September this year, you may have overheard some juicy academic gossip and, hopefully, many scandalous declarations about the higher education sector in Australia and elsewhere.

You may well have been sitting near a posse of professional research staff.

The conference we were flying to was ARMS 2013, the peak meet-up for people of our persuasion.

ARMS (Australasian Research Management Society) is the “professional society for specialists in management and administration of research”, and may need to change its title slightly given the organisation now has a Singapore chapter. Or this may be the beginning of a more pronounced ‘Asian’ in the ‘AustralAsian’ (given tantalising comments by former ARMS President, Ren Yi [@melbcollege], on Twitter about possible links with China – see below)?

I didn’t attend the pre-conference workshops this year, and arrived in Radelaide in time for the welcome reception on the evening of 11 September.

The reception was held in the same venue as the rest of the conference: the Adelaide Convention Centre. As anyone who has floated around convention centres knows, these spaces are often vast, echoing, and – really – socially sterile. Getting into the exhibition hall (where the reception was held), I warmed the space up with meeting colleagues, buddies from last year, and the fabulous opportunity to hang with an old friend who was ‘out-of-context’ at a research management conference.

The conference was very well organised (kudos to the conference committee), and afforded many opportunities to learn about the current state of our professional sector, research policy, and funding bodies in Australia and internationally.

READ MORE

Hashing it over

Pink button with # symbol and blank line, held in an open palm

Hashtag button (Photo by Eclecticlibrarian)

Anyone who has converted to Twitter, and uses it with regularity will know about the prevalent use of hashtags to ‘stream’ tweet content.

If you don’t know what I’m talking about, have a quick read of this official Twitter page, or check out the wittier, unofficial Guardian version.

In short:

A hashtag, for the non-Twitterati, is a word or smashed-together phrase preceded by the hash symbol (#), originally devised as a way to keep track of the flow of subject matter in the Twittersphere. (Ben Zimmer, Visual Thesaurus)

I recently saw someone on Facebook cramming hashtags into their status update. I must admit to rolling my eyes and muttering acidly, “It’s not Twitter, doofus” (oh, yes, fear my acidity).

Yes, I know Facebook is trying to get in on the hashtag action, but – in the very average ways I use Fb – it is largely absent and still an anomaly. Those who frequent Yammer have often used hashtags, and I know of tragics who have brought the hashtagging habit to their emails.

For the most part, though, hashtags live on Twitter.

When I first started on Twitter, I thought hashtags were silly. Yeah, that’s me: broadminded and noble embracer of change.

What I failed to realise was that getting value out of hashtags, and getting to a stage where I’m using and following them deliberately, requires a commitment to the medium that I didn’t have as a newbie. At that stage, all I saw was a soup of symbols and run-together text.

Since that time, I have come to love hashtags. Love them with an unnatural, nerdy love.

READ MORE

Landing a big fish

A different kettle (Photo by Tseen Khoo)

Conferences and symposiums live and die by the quality and wow-factor of their keynote speakers.

I’ve seen keynote line-ups that have me frantically searching for how to register, without caring how much it might cost. I felt I just had to be there to see that specific constellation of academic brains.

Securing keynote speakers is a process that isn’t particularly well covered in any career development material because it can be a niche concern.

For anyone who’s convened an event, though, it is the element that keeps you staring at ceilings until 4am in the morning, or has you tearing your hair out at your desk at 9pm at night.

Sometimes, securing keynotes can be ridiculously easy. One of the convening committee may know the perfect people – and I mean ‘know’ in the academic sense of having worked directly with them (e.g. as mentor/thesis examiner, co-editor, co-investigator).

This connected person just drops their high-flying buddies an email and – voila! – you have one or two stellar drawcards for your conference.

More often, however, you may have to take the more traditional and insecure route of a cold (occasionally tepid) approach, and invite Big Names with no ‘insider’ connections.

Here are my top five strategies for getting that Big Name to keynote at your event:

READ MORE

Building Conference Karma 2: Question Time

In my previous post about building conference karma, I forgot to address the issue of question time, one of the most daunting arenas that many early career and postgraduate researchers face.

Given that question time is usually only about 10 minutes, it’s a wonder that one could get that exercised about it.

I’ll tell you what it is, though, that had me breaking out in cold sweat before a paper:

It was the potential ridicule, hostility, dismissal or displays of ignorance in question time.

Sure, delivering a paper brings with it a certain amount of nervousness, but I’ve hardly seen interjections during someone’s paper (unless they’ve gone way, WAY over time and their audience is rebelling).

If someone’s going to object to your paper and its ideas, it will happen in question time.

READ MORE

Build your conference karma

Many years ago, when I had to give my first few academic papers and the conference dates loomed sickeningly close, I’d be almost paralysed with insecurity and brimming with angst about what could go wrong.

I’d run through my paper over and over about a fortnight before it was due to be given; no ad-libbing for me.

The whole thing would be planned to within an inch of its life AND chockers with theoretical stuffing because there was a desperate need to make sure that what I presented would be considered ‘serious’ (and we all know that nothing says ‘serious’ like incredibly dense, almost incoherent jargon).

Thankfully, I evolved, and this entry focuses on things I’ve learnt in the past decade or so’s conference-going and paper-giving. That said, I’m not setting myself up as a presentation guru.

Usual caveat: These are only suggestions, based on my personal experiences.


This is how to make conference convenors love you:

  1. Get your abstract and registration payment in on time.
  2. Keep your presentation to time.
  3. Be organised, and familiar, with the audio-visual that you’ll need.
  4. Remember that Google (or similar) is your friend. Don’t write to convenors and ask things like ‘So, what’s the weather like in X?’ or ‘What currency do you use?’. After all, you’re supposedly a researcher, right?
  5. TURN UP FOR YOUR SESSION. (Yes, it is tragic that I even have to include this, but there it is.)

Alright, now you’re at the conference.

READ MORE

Five reasons to run a conference

Do you feel regularly exploited, wish you had more recognition for the things you did, or feel that your skills are being underutilised?

First: You realise you’re in academia, right?

More importantly: While these dissatisfactions are endemic to working lives in general, they seem especially visible in universities. There are ways, however, of seizing opportunities and making them work for you.

Following on my earlier post about Networking and other academic hobbies, this post presents you with the pros of convening a conference.

I’ve convened almost ten major events, in a range of convening structures (i.e. sole convenor, large committee, with an academic association). While conferences are no doubt time-consuming, for me they were also the primary catalysts for establishing a research network and significantly boosting my academic profile.

When I suggest convening a conference, people often respond with fear and dismissal. Many people worry that they don’t know how to do it, or presume that it’s just grunt-work and no good could come of it.

Granted, organising conferences is one of the top areas in which the labour of postgraduates and early career researchers is exploited, but there are ways to make these opportunities your friends.

Here are my top five reasons for why you should convene a conference:

READ MORE

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 10,510 other followers