How to Get Academic Conference Work for a Student? (Part I)

The purpose of an academic conference is for knowledge sharing and networking. The event can be exciting for a new student to meet acquaintances and friends doing different studies but in the same field of interest; confusing for a young scholar being told to network strategically for job opportunities; nerve-breaking for an emerging academic to present her work under the scrutiny of prestigious and experienced colleagues.

I have experienced all these complicated feelings and they all came from the pressure of how to make the most out of conferences. With plenty of advice and tactical like plans especially for networking can be overwhelming to decide which method might work best. In my opinion, networking will come naturally because you will bump into people. A polite hello and small self-introduction will set the ball rolling. However, how could you make yourself more relevant to a conference? Speaking from the perspective of a young scholar, I realised that if one is more involved in the preparation process of a conference, we could better engage with people from the same discipline. Learning from them beyond the knowledge but the ins-and-outs of academia.

Reflecting on the conferences I attended, unknowingly, I have learnt to let the conference work for me. I attend conferences with one aim at a time. In part I, I illustrate how I started my conference experience with a simple aim to get acquainted with conferences or knowing the protocol. In part II, I share how my earlier conference experiences began to reward me while adding new advantages.

Part I: Pre-conference experience

Conference: ASCILITE 2014, University of Otago 
Role: Photographer and ‘tour guide’ to the dinner venue
Aim: Getting to some exposure to an academic conference and its organizing committee.

Not long after I started my PhD, my department was the organizing ASCILITE 2014 and needed volunteers. I happily offered my time to work with the team, who showed me the extent of preparations for conference participants from the goodie bags to dinner venue and theme. Volunteers were assigned with roles as IT helper, tour guides, timekeeper, etc. I took the guiding role and led conference participants to the dinner venue. In addition, out of my photography interest, I actively took pictures during the conference and the dinner. When one of committee member asked me to share the photos with all conference participants, I was more than delighted that they were useful!

2. TERNZ Conference 2016, University of Otago 
Role: Peer reviewer and presenter
Aim: Be a peer reviewer to learn commenting skills and how to write abstracts 

TERNZ 2016 was hosted by the Higher Education Development Centre (HEDC), my department and our HOD subsidised in-house students to attend, which I participated as a presenter. Prior to the conference, the committee wanted volunteers for the peer reviewing task - a tedious work to carefully select topics that suit the conference theme. I saw the role as a golden opportunity because I want to know the process of reviewing which could contribute to writing my research abstracts. Volunteers were given topics that were closest to our interests. We were taught to look at basic things such as the clarity and relevance of the abstracts. We discussed our comments to explain our judgements on the abstracts. Overall, I understand there were no rigid techniques of reviewing but writing clarity is important. I also learnt how to comment adequately as one might be too caught up in giving feedbacks and sensitively as one might not want to make comments that sounded personal.

continue: How to Get Academic Conference Work for a Student? (Part I)


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