In 23 days across April and May 2017, I travelled 25207 kilometres, attended three conferences, gave two research presentations, ran two workshops, and participated in a European Physical Education Teacher Education Project meeting. It was a whirlwind of a month, but also a valuable learning experience. As a PESS postgraduate student, I share five lessons I learned along the way.
- Make good use of your travel time. In the days leading up to the conference you are likely to be busy preparing and rehearsing your presentation, leaving little time to sit down with the conference programme to plan which sessions you will attend. With no Wi-Fi, and plenty of time to kill, inflight hours provide a great opportunity to dedicate towards reading the programme and identifying which sessions you would like to attend.
- Plan your conference, but be flexible. As an extension to lesson #1, I have come to realise that I find conferences much more valuable when I know what I want to get out of it. I attend sessions deliberately as opposed to just ‘going with the flow’ or making last minute, panicked decisions. However, there can be great value in staying flexible. Trust the suggestions from your supervisors and respected delegates. Some of the most interesting and informative sessions I have attended came recommended from academics over a cup of coffee, which leads me to my next lesson.
- Network… Yes. We have all heard it a million times. But, it is only as I progress further in my PhD that I am beginning to understand the extent to which networking at conferences can be of paramount value. Who knew that there is a whole ‘underground’ world simultaneously occurring where people are being vetted and interviewed for positions they aren’t yet aware of. Long story short, if you’re invited to an event or to go for a drink, go. Who knows, it might lead to a ‘strong suggestion’ to submit your CV or an invitation to collaborate. Just like that, you’re ahead of the game.
- Take time to and for yourself. It is no secret. Conferences CAN be exhausting. I quickly learned that if I was going to sustain my level of enthusiasm and engagement for the duration of my ‘academic tour’, I needed to be smart about when I could take time to recharge. Sometimes that meant getting up early and going for a walk on my own, or taking advantage of a quiet conference afternoon to explore the city. It might seem counter intuitive, but from my experience, highly beneficial.
- You might be a little fish, but you are swimming in the same pond. I am shifting gears a little here, but I couldn’t write a list of lessons learned without addressing the ‘but what do I know?’ fear. You probably have heard the saying ‘little fish in a big pond’ before; a phrase I often identify with as an early career researcher. There was one day in particular, the first day of the first conference on my ‘tour’; I was walking through the conference centre reading names on delegates’ badges trying to put faces to the researchers I read and reference. “Oh, there is so-and-so” and “Wow, it’s her!” overtook my internal dialogue. Now, you can imagine the panic when these same people showed up to listen to my research presentation later that day. After all, what do I have to say that they don’t already know? Following my presentation, a researcher, that I would have referenced quite heavily in my presentation and associated paper, made a point to compliment my research and its contribution to the literature in our area. I had to pinch myself. He actually read my paper. Perhaps to some of you, this mightn’t come as a surprise. For me, it was an ‘Ah-ha’ moment. I realised that even though I might be a little fish, I am in the pond, and we (little fish) too can make a splash in the waters.
Cassandra Iannucci is a postgraduate student in the PESS Department here at the University of Limerick. View Cassandra’s profile Here!
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