If you are a graduate student presenting for the first time at AJS this year, you might be focused on perfecting your presentation. But remember, academic conferences offer far more than just feedback on your research. AJS represents an opportunity for you to contribute to the greater scholarly community while simultaneously broadening your intellectual and professional circles. As a PhD candidate who attended AJS for the first time last year and presented at several conferences since, here are some of my recommendations for making the most of your conference experience:
» Start planning before the conference. Touch base with former faculty member from your undergraduate or master’s programs. If she or he is someone you would like to catch up with in-depth, consider emailing in advance to schedule a specific time for coffee or a meal, as the conference can be very busy.
» Put thought into which panels you choose to attend. Do not rule out panels outside your discipline; conferences are a great place to consider different academic approaches. While sitting in on your friends’ panels can be nice, be sure not to miss out on any panels that might be intellectually valuable to you.
» Don’t be discouraged by limited audience attendance. Some of the best panels I have ever attended had less than a dozen people in the room.
» In your presentation, be sure to mention if and how it fits with your dissertation and other research interests, and certain audience members might be interesting in speaking to you afterward about your broader project.
» Never be afraid to introduce yourself to graduate students and faculty around you. If you found a presentation particularly relevant, feel free to approach the panelist afterward to continue the conversation.
» PowerPoint slides can enhance your presentation, but make sure you are not reliant on it. Technical issues do arise! Be sure to come prepared with a Mac adapter if necessary, and always have a backup plan.
» Make the most of your meals. Lunch breaks can be a great time to get to know other graduate students better – in my case, conferences have strengthened my personal and academic bonds with my peers from New York University. Advanced graduate students and recent PhD graduates are a great asset for learning more about the path ahead of you.
» We may be inclined to be modest, but we should also view ourselves as assets for others, particularly fellow graduate students. Critiquing the work of scholars can sometimes feel intimidating, or a balancing act weighing the desire to be deferential, polite, and respectful. Use your best judgment, but remember – you are there to contribute!
Geoffrey Levin is a PhD candidate in the Department of Hebrew & Judaic Studies and History at New York University.