How to Get Accepted to a Conference (A Four Step Plan)

I will be the first to admit it: I’m a big-picture-thinking, five-year-plan-making, pry-my-iPhone-from-my-cold-dead-hands, type of person. I need to have a goal in mind at all times, and I need a step by step, color-coded guide on how to get there. With the first year of grad school wrapping up, some people (possibly those with a different stance on the concept of “work-life balance”) might be looking forward to taking some much needed time off, but me? I’m lining up even more projects to fill up this new found free time. Be on the lookout for posts from me all summer about what I’ve got in the works, but for now, let me tell you about what’s first on my plate, presenting a paper at The Practice of (in)Visibility conference. Since I love both a good how-to article and helping to spotlight other scholars doing good work, I’ll walk you through every step already checked off on the big plan to get me from writing the presentation in my studio in Logan Circle to the podium at the University of Brighton where I’ll be speaking.

As I’ve mentioned before on the blog, I spend a lot of time thinking about how to write what serves me during graduate school, but this mantra isn’t about doing the least amount of work at all; it’s about doing the most effective work, as often as possible. Fortunately, if you work on projects you love, you won’t have to feel like it’s a grind — at least not all the time. I was blessed to find my passion early on in grad school, when I was on a panel at the 2015 Collected Stories conference (along with my fellow BGMB founder Ravon!) speaking about the femicide trend in Cd. Juarez. As I did the research for that panel, I realized there was so much more to the situation than could be addressed in just my 10 minute portion, and almost all of my research since then has been uncovering more nuance and complication about this topic. Sometimes my niche research interest makes me feel like I’m shouting in an empty room, since there’s a serious lack of content out there regarding this issue (believe me, that’s a topic for another post), but I feel so deeply about bringing awareness to the situation of women so much like myself that the vacuum never gets to me. Ideally, if you’re interested in academic presentations, you have something of your own that you feel just as strongly about. Find a topic and make it serve you — that’s step one both in terms of getting to a conference and in pursuing academia as a whole.

Step two is work your network. I heard about the Practice of (in)Visibility conference at the H-Grad network on H-Net, a resource I am not at all subtle about being obsessed with. Personally, H-Net has led me to find the last two conferences I have been accepted to,¬†which makes it an extremely valuable resource and well worth the space it takes up in my RSS feeder. H-Net isn’t the only place I find places to present though, in addition to those two conferences, I also was on a panel because one of my cohorts pointed me towards another event, and got a fellowship that was advertised on my department listserv. Cast a wide net, because the more opportunities you are aware of, the higher the chances they’ll be right for you.

I should note here that just because I flow in the direction of project to presentation doesn’t mean it has to work this way for everyone. A lot of great scholars I know work the opposite way, keeping an eye out for events that interest them and then sculpting their work to fit the conference. Whichever way you work, both methods make your work serve you. Ideally it’s a mix of both ways, where you have something you’re passionate about that the right call for papers will make you see through a different lens.

So you’ve got your topic and got your conference, step three is writing the abstract! If you are pitching a paper you’ve already written this step is extra easy — but make sure you double-check the conference guidelines to make sure allow previously published work or papers from other events. If you’re starting from scratch, like I was with the Practice of (in)Visibility conference, here’s a quick and dirty guide that helped me craft my abstract:

  1. Read the call for papers once through, will your work fit in?
  2. Read the call for papers again more slowly, circling or highlighting words and passages that are most relevant to your topic.
  3. Make yourself a word bank of the circled words for easy reference.Here’s what my word bank looked like for this conference:
    • Ghosts, witchcraft, affect, death, mourning, otherness, the incomprehensible/unintelligible
    • Aesthetics, art and performance
    • Gender, race, oppression and (in)equality
    • Contemporary performance practices and negotiations of space through ‘blending in’
    • Politics, public policy, public services and whistleblowing
    • Surveillance, policing and erasure of protests
    • Media, war and conflict, (in)visibility of bodies
    • Anonymity, pseudonyms, identity, non-identity, impact of technology on the self
    • Visible and invisible history, ‘hidden transcripts’ and the history from below
  4. Write your abstract! I find the best abstracts work in two parts: setting up the situation and asking the question. Use the word bank to flag what aspects of your project to highlight, since those are the topics that the conference organizers are looking for the most. Don’t forget to pay attention to word count and formatting preferences listed in the call for papers.
  5. Proofread your abstract and have others do the same. My personal litmus test for coherence and completeness is to have my mom read the abstract — if she can summarize what my project is about, I know I’ve been clear and organized.
  6. Send it off, on time and with a professional email.

Step four is get accepted and then celebrate! I took to twitter to tell my followers about my acceptance and tweet at the university that’s holding the event.

At first the prospect of getting accepted to a conference can seem daunting, but I firmly believe that any problem in life can be tackled with a good step by step breakdown. These four steps (and one sub-list for abstract writing!) got me from having an idea about a paper to landing a place to present my research in just a few months. Summer is the time to do things on your own schedule, without the pressure of classes to bog you down with other responsibilities, so use it to your advantage by cultivating your passions and finding an outlet for them.

If you have any steps to add to my list (or if you know a great place for coffee in Brighton, England!) let me know on Twitter, #BGMBmakeitwork. Or stay tuned here at BGMB for my next conference-planning update: getting your travel plans done.

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