Your write an abstract several months ahead of a conference you’d like to attend. You proceed to forget about the content of the abstract for a while until you finally realise that the actual conference paper has to be submitted before the event, where at which point you pull out the file, only to discover that what you set out to do in your abstract is, frankly, impossible. However, after recovering from a “What the hell was I thinking?!” moment you realise that the conference paper is doable because you have all the necessary data/literature you need and so you begin to write the paper. You manage to unintentionally finish the paper an hour before the submission deadline and then proceed to email a draft to a critical friend who scans your draft offers some very helpful suggestions, from which you breathe a sigh of relief, amend draft, and finally press send.
Then, you’re on the train the day before the conference, looking at your presentation slides for the 10th time today wondering how to balance the content of your talk with the paper. You wonder if anyone will have read your paper. You wonder if anyone will have read your abstract. You then wonder, again, what your presentation should focus on as you gaze at the slides on your screen. Check twitter. Lose 3G signal. Look at presentation slides. Repeat the process over and over during the 4 hours it takes to get from your home to the hotel.
That was, in a rather brief nutshell, the process I went through preparing the paper and the presentation for the conference entitled “Constructing narratives of continuity and change”. I wrote in more detail about my reflections writing the actual paper in a different HERE, so I’d like to focus on the actual conference presentation itself and what I realised about my PhD progress.
The conference was aimed primarily for researchers using narrative based approaches. What was interesting that there was a wide range of delegates from non-humanities – computer science, medicine and law in addition to those from education, anthropology and counselling. This was my first time attending this conference and I was quite nervous about whether postgraduate students would be made to feel welcome, given it’s specialist focus. Fortunately, my fears were totally unfounded and from the start, I found myself engaged and encouraged by all. So when it came time for my presentation, I felt less anxious and more ready.
During my presentation I had this moment of “HEY! I actually know stuff!” where I realised just how much further my PhD had progressed. Since my paper was more methodologically focused the actual development of the approach that I’m currently using for my PhD is more clear than, say, the theoretical development (*sigh*). In other words, in that moment I simultaneously realised that a) where I was methodologically one year ago, b) the journey I undertook to get here and c) that I actually understand where I am now. It seems strange writing about it since one would think that I would have figured all this out while I was drawing up the presentation, but there is honestly something about presenting live, in front of an audience, that made me really ‘wake up’. So when I concluded my presentation, it was with a sense of confidence in that I could talk about the development of my methodological design as well as the design itself. This awareness provided a platform where I was able to really engage with the audience’s questions rather than think to myself “Pleasepleaseplease no hard questions!”. I write this last sentence not in arrogance (i.e. I know everything – hardly the case!) but rather to convey the fact that presenting at conferences can be a real eye-opener in ways that you wouldn’t normally expect.