Meliha Sakin is a second-year PhD student from Turkey. Her thesis focuses on leadership practices in outstanding schools in the Turkish and English secondary-education contexts. Her supervisors are Dr. Karen Jones and Dr. Alan Floyd. In this blog post, Meliha shares her own experience as a presenter at an international conference and offers some insightful advice for fellow doctoral students.
I started my postgraduate education as a PhD student in September 2017 at the University of Reading. Throughout the nearly two years of my postgraduate studies, I have learned by experience that setting short-term goals is hugely beneficial for keeping my progress steady and not getting stressed out when things do not run to schedule. My supervisors also try to encourage me to adopt this habit with ensuing tasks, such as getting my reading done, identifying my research gaps, deciding on my research questions, thinking about my methodology, preparing for my Confirmation of Registration (CoR), and doing my pilot study – I am currently at this point and looking forward to moving onto the next step!). My additional goal for this academic year had been to present my work at an academic conference in order to build my involvement in academia, get critical feedback on my work, and improve myself as a researcher. So, I took the plunge.
I applied to present my paper at the 7th Teaching and Education Conference organised by the International Institute of Social and Economic Sciences, held by the University of London. When my conference paper was accepted, I felt a mix of happiness and nerves; but overall, I was delighted to have my paper accepted. I should say that this is not the first conference that I have been to or the first conference paper I have presented, but it was much different in terms of being the biggest and the first international conference I have ever attended. I can best explain my experience of presenting my research at this conference as taking a step forwards (ok, a big leap into academia!).
Before the conference
If you are thinking about applying to present at an academic conference, here is a rundown of how I managed my application process.
Surprisingly, the process was fairly simple. I started by searching for conferences in my field online (which is the easiest way for me). There are several conference announcement directories that help you find the right conference to attend. I should also underline that the other approach I usually use is asking for recommendations from my supervisors and friends on my programme about relevant conferences to apply to. Moreover, getting familiar with academic journals or magazines relevant to your field is highly recommended. These publications often list research conference advertisements.
Once I have identified which conference was relevant for me in terms of my research area and my budget, I prepared my abstract tailored to the specific needs of the conference. For example, I was required to submit a 300-word abstract fort he aforementioned conference, but this may vary from conference to conference.
Here are three important tips for writing your abstract:
- Keep it simple
- Make sure it is interesting
- Don’t forget to include a clever title.
Remember to check and proofread your abstract. (The University’s Reading Researcher Development Programme [RRDP] courses on academic writing are very helpful to help you write clearly and concisely, and I strongly recommend you attending these courses). I then submitted my application online, received my notice of acceptance via email (although I always kept an eye on their website so as not to miss any announcements just in case!).
Above all, before attending the conference, my motto was practice, practice, practice (and a bit more practice!). I gave my presentation out loud to my husband; to myself in the mirror (if you have a pet, they can also represent a good audience because they will not ask you any tough questions). This helped me to time my presentation to perfection and leave enough time for Q&A.
During my presentation
Rather than launching into a complex opening (e.g. Hofstede’s Cultural Dimensions Theory), I started my presentation simply by stating who I am, where I come from, and what I was going to be talking about. I also focused on engaging my audience in a two-way conversation (rather than simply talking at them). This made me feel more relaxed (like I was talking with a group of friends). Don’t worry too much about not being able to answer their questions. If you can not answer their questions, there is most probably someone in the audience who can help answer the questions for you. If you make any mistakes or say the wrong thing, do not let that throw you off: briefly acknowledge those mistakes and move on.
Finally, be direct and confident while presenting. Do not forget that you have been invited to speak because you are an expert in your field and they are here to listen to you sharing your expertise.
Remember to network and socialise
My conference was held over four days (two days for presenting our research and two days for conference tours). During the conference, I had a number of opportunities to meet and talk with researchers in my field (who gave me very useful comments and suggestions for my study). I also made new friends in various disciplines. During the conference, I also got to spend a gorgeous time in London and explore the historical places (Windsor and Cambridge) with some of the other presenters.
Overall, I must say that attending this conference was a great experience. That said, I was also worried that everyone would ask me a question that I do not know the answer to. It does not matter whether you have presented before or whether you speak English very fluently: it is entirely normal to get nervous when presenting at an academic conference because it is different describing your paper out loud rather than writing it on your laptop for your supervisor to read.
That said, believe me, by the time you finish your presentation, your sense of achievement will be through the roof! Priceless happiness and self-confidence are your rewards. (If you don’t believe me, just take a look at the expression on my face taken just after I had presented my paper: I look as if I have just been given the keys to the city!).
It has been almost three years (including my Master’s degree) since I entered this new stage of my life: pursuing an academic career through my postgraduate program. I expect that my next destination will be appearing at another academic conference as the author of a new journal article or perhaps as an external reviewer for submitted papers. I look forward to seeing what new opportunities are waiting for me.
To wrap up, I would like to thank the University of Reading’s Institute of Education for providing financial support and giving me a great opportunity to share my research with other academics at the conference and for me to share my reflection of the conference experience with fellow doctoral students in this blog spot.
I wish all you all the very best of luck in getting the same positive benefits from your own presentation at a conference that I did.