2017, what a year!

I’ve been consistently presenting at regional and national academic conferences since 2014, averaging 1-3 conferences a year.  As I was in the process of updating my website’s Presentations page, I realized that I significantly surpassed my initial goal of 3 conferences for 2017, with presentations at 7 conferences over the past year:

  • ALA Mid-Winter (Atlanta, Georgia)
  • GBC Annual Research Symposium (Wilmington, DE)
  • DLA/MLA Annual Conference (Cambridge, MD)
  • ALCTS Exchange (Online)
  • Charleston Conference (Charleston, South Carolina)
  • AECT (Jacksonville, Florida)
  • Multidisciplinary Academic Conference on Education, Teaching and Learning (Prague, Czech Republic)

I remember sitting in my classroom while I was teaching high school web design discussing how to get started speaking at conferences outside of our school district with a colleague. It seems like a lifetime ago, when in reality it was only 7 or so years ago. At the time it seemed so far out of reach – I had no idea how to get started. Despite having taught for several years and feeling extremely comfortable in front of my students in the classroom and leading school district workshops, conference presentations felt daunting for some reason.

Life continued on, my career path took a turn (short version: I left my job teaching high school to go back to school for a second doctorate degree full-time at Penn State University; I’ll have to share an actual post on how that came to be later as it was an amazing experience), and I put conferences on the back burner until I started presenting nationally as a Ph.D. student just a few short years later in 2014.

But back to this year – how did I manage to attend so many more conferences this year than in previous years? I’ve spent some time thinking about this over the winter break and have a few points to share for those who are trying to figure out how to do the same.

  1. Apply to all conferences that interest you if you have a topic that you think would somehow fit the conference theme. I’ve had topics accepted that I thought were only marginally related. You never know when your topic might catch a reviewer’s interest.
  2. Apply even if you don’t think you will have the conference budget to attend. I make this suggestion rather tentatively. I’ll be blunt: this last year of conference travel was expensive. But remember this: an acceptance doesn’t mean you have to attend. Granted, be realistic with your submissions – kind people spend their personal time reviewing your proposals – but if you think there’s a chance you could make it happen, I say go for it! A few major details made these seven conferences possible for me over the past year:
    1. Two conferences were semi-local. One was at my institution (GBC Research Symposium) and another was a short drive away in a neighboring state (DLA/MLA). Semi-local typically means minimal transportation costs.
    2. Airline miles. If you have them and can use them, use them. I used them. Furthermore, consider getting an airline credit card to maximize points and obtain lounge access (I have the Citi AAdvantage Executive World Elite Mastercard and it’s 100% worth the annual fee for the lounge access alone, but it also speeds up my points earning and has other perks like it pays for a hotel if my flights are delayed beyond x number of hours).
    3. Hotel points. Again, if you have them and can use them, do so. I still had some hotel points (Hilton) built up from my years commuting to Penn State and used them. However, this was the last year I’ll be able to do that as I don’t stay enough with the same hotel brand to earn enough points to matter anymore. Consider minimizing days at a conference to save on hotel costs. ALA Mid-Winter, for example, was a one day event. I flew from Philadelphia to Atlanta in the morning, presented, flew home. Same day, no hotel necessary.
    4. Online conferences. ALCTS was an online conference. Online conferences save you travel time, money, and no time out of the office!
    5. Sponsored support. One conference had travel/registration support provided by a vendor and I’m incredibly grateful for that. To be clear, I wasn’t required to give a pitch listing the virtues of the product/service. However, I did happily share how I’m using it, the benefits and challenges of the particular service, and how I see I’ll be using it moving forward. If you’re comfortable with an arrangement for vendor/association sponsored travel (and your institution is as well), it’s a great way to make your travel dollars stretch.
    6. Attend back-to-back conferences to save on airline costs and time out of office. This sometimes works if the dates of your conferences line up ‘just so’. In the case of the Charleston Conference and AECT (which nearly 100% overlapped this year), I found that the cost of adding a stop to the flights (Philadelphia to Charleston to Jacksonville to Philadelphia) was significantly less expensive than purchasing two round trip flights from Philadelphia. Furthermore, while conference travel often involves a travel day the day before the conference and the day after, since these conferences overlapped so much I wasn’t out of the office any more days than I would have been if I had attended only one. The downside to this strategy? It can be rather hectic and tiring (with plane changes I think I was on 5 planes that week?), and you may miss events that you want to attend at one or both of the conferences. I had a bit of both of this, but not to the extent that it wasn’t worth it to attend both of the conferences.
    7. Attend conferences that take place at a location you’ll be at anyway. This was 100% the case for my last presentation of 2017 in Prague. I have family in Prague and I visit every December. My dates are flexible – I just have to make a visit sometime during the month for the holidays. I timed this visit so that I could present at the Multidisciplinary Academic Conference on Education, Teaching and Learning while I was there.
  3. Seek out a presentation partner. This enables you to share the workload of preparing and presenting. If you check out my presentations page, you’ll notice that every single presentation since early 2016 has been co-presented with the same individual – Russell Michalak. We’ve been writing together for about two years now and we present together as well. While I love to travel, I know that traveling with someone else can be challenging – people tend to be rather set in their routines and preferences. We’ve definitely lucked out in that we travel extremely well together and manage not to drive each other crazy, even when we’re following travel schedules that require a lot of running around.

I can’t emphasize point 3, partnering with someone for presentations, enough. I heavily attribute my presentation success over the past year to the fact that I’ve had a fantastic research partner. Pick someone that you get along with, of course, but also someone who will challenge you to be a better writer and presenter. I knew that I would never improve if I partnered with someone who simply said I was great all of the time. I believe that I can always improve and am honestly grateful when my research partner criticizes my work because I know that it’s said in the spirit of making us both better writers and better presenters.

Looking ahead to 2018

Will I present this much in 2018? Unknown. At the moment, we’ve applied to five conferences for 2018 and know about acceptances for two. We will likely apply to more pending our availability and budgets.

SaveSave