Academic Conferences 2.0 – a joint presentation of the Faculty of Education and the EGSA

Presenters: Dr. Nicholas Ng-A-Fook, Maria Bastien, Joanne Lalonde, Karen O’Shea

Special thanks to Rebecca Hogue for funding information, and Kelly Kilgour for notetaking.

Part 1: Understanding Communities, Politics and Networking at Conferences – Things to Think About

Dr. Nicholas Ng-A-Fook

This presentation highlighted three areas to consider: 1) Understanding the discursive politics of any given professional community; 2) Performing the rhetorical strategies for writing a conference proposal abstract & presentation; and 3) Building professional networks.

1. Understanding Discursive Politics of a Community

Each conference has its own cultural, discursive and political history (e.g. AERA). Prior to applying to a conference, it is important to be familiar with that history. Often you can learn more about a conference and its history by looking at: 1) past conference programs; and 2) its affiliated journal. Understanding that history will enable you to situate your research in relation to ongoing debates and/or trends within that community. Some associations may hold conference calls that focus on a specific thematic area that in turn speaks to your research (or does not). Your abstracts should attempt to address the theme in some way.

Graduate students might consider:

  • The association, its subgroups (special interest groups), and the associated journals involvement with the particular conferences; each consists of their own politics and committees (i.e. President).
  • Who is attending?  Will their research advance your research interests or thesis work?  Is your supervisor a member of the community? If not, who can you contact to make connections with that community?
  • What kinds of research methodologies is the conference open to? If the community is not family your methodological discourse, you will need to take time to explain it to the reviewers and make a case for how it connects to the theme.
  • Does the community welcome, and more importantly, support graduate students?
  • Structure & committee → What are the macro and micro politics and structure surrounding the conference?  Student should volunteer on different committees. You can learn how by attending each association’s general assembly meetings . It is also at these meetings where you will learn more about the educational and political mandate of each organization in terms of its research agendas.

2) Proposal Abstract & Presentation

Each abstract submission is commonly reviewed by two peer-reviewers.  The conference proposal coordinator often selects the peer-reviewers.  It helps if the coordinator knows you and/or your work (in terms of topic, theoretical framework, and methodology). In turn, they can arrange for appropriate peer-reviewers, who might better understand your research topic and methodology in terms of the discourse you use to write up the abstract.  If your supervisor is a well-known researcher in the broader community, you might consider asking them to be named on your conference proposal as a co-author and/or as a discussant.

Recommended steps for writing an abstract:

  • Review past conference programs and associated journals before writing your abstract.
  • Follow the abstract instructions provided by the conference committee.
  • Review your literature → Which journals do the community publish their work in? What are you adding to the existing body of knowledge within those journals?
  • Proposal/abstract layout includes: Conference theme (in title and summary), abstract, theoretical framework, methodology, contributions to existing body of knowledge, and conclusions.
  • Abstract title and summary should be targeted at the conference theme and audience in attendance.
  • Take risks in your theorizing and argumentation. Do not feel pressured to develop the “next big thing.” Graduate students have great insights to share at conferences.
  • You can submit an abstract even when your results are preliminary. Make sure to state that in your abstract.
  • The reality is that some professors submit an abstract that speculate about some innovative and creative theoretical ideas. But only later once accepted, do they build the literature and presentation for the conference. Although this approach can pay off, in terms of stress management, I do not recommend it.

What should I present?

  • Depending on the audience and your research topic, often you can utilize commonly understood terms and concepts without situating them via an elaborate explanation in your actually presentation. That is unless you are using the terms in a different way. Instead, you can make reference to the articles in which such terms are taken up. Audience members might ask your questions of clarification about your use of the terms after your present.
  • Watch your presentation allotted time and stay within it!
  • As a presenter, ask yourself: what are you adding to the body of current knowledge?
  • Be aware of the historical conversations already taking place in your field.

3) Networking

Networking is important for future job opportunities and supporting your research community.  Graduate students should embed themselves within conferences and professional associations to gain a more nuanced understanding of a research community, its networks, and resources.  Thus, students should consider their networking within the conference and research community.  For instance, smaller conferences permit a more intimate setting with increased opportunities for graduate students to network with key scholars in their field of study.

Recommendations for networking:

  • Graduate students should attend and volunteer at conferences.  Attend the AGMs which usually occur during the conference and involve committee elections, financial reviews and the association’s planning for the following year.  Examples of ways to volunteer include:
    • CASAE has one elected graduate student representative
    • CSSE is coming to Ottawa in 2015 and graduate students are welcome to volunteer.  The International Association for the Advancement of Curriculum Studies will also be at our Faculty of Education the week before CSSE. GSAED will be involved in the conference planning.
  • Encourage your supervisor to introduce you to other researchers.
  • Meeting new research contacts are quite valuable.  Other graduate students will become your research community, future colleagues and may suggest quality conferences and journals.
  • Do not be afraid to approach well-known researchers in your field. Ask them if they might consider looking over your research papers.
  • Volunteering at a conference and helping program chair can enhance your academic profile in terms of service among the community. Consequently, your name becomes more recognized and may lead to future job opportunities.
  • Be mindful where you want to invest your time and energy (within different communities).
  • For communities that are more difficult to connect with, you may contact a recognized, established member to introduce you to key people within that community.
  • Do not overextend your schedule with too many conferences.
  • Consider conference locations (closer is cheaper) and your funding opportunities.

Part 2: Student Tips and Tricks

The EGSA [Maria Bastien, Joanne Lalonde, Karen O’Shea]

Recommended strategies for locating relevant conferences:

  • Talk to your supervisor about what conferences are available in your field or what conferences he/she attends or recommends
  • Speak to your fellow graduate students
  • Consider the journals that you access your articles from – these journals are often part of a larger society that will likely have conferences
  • Become a member of these societies or get on the mailing list
  • Consult researchers’ online CV’s or bios to see where they have been presenting
  • Think of organizations/associations that you have been a part of (or know about) and search online if they have annual conferences
  • Visit websites that list upcoming conferences by subject/date (i.e.,,


Questions to consider before you start to prepare your application:

  • Does my presentation align with the themes of the conference or the goals of my special interest group?
  • Is this conference the appropriate event for me to present my data? Keeping in mind that recycling presentations is not recommended.
  • Will I receive quality feedback on my work at this conference?
  • What funding is available to me for this conference?
  • Will paying for this conference make it difficult to attend another conference this year?
  • Does this conference conflict with my course schedule? Comps? Proposal?
  • Will attending this conference make it difficult for me to attend another conference in the near future?
  • How early do I need to apply for this conference? Some conferences require a proposal submission 6 months (or more) in advance of the conference
  • What special experience may I gain from this conference?
  • Who might I be able to network with?

Funding Sources-Please check the specific rules for each source of funds in order to maximize your total conference funding opportunities:

  • Faculty of Education. Details of the fund can be found on the Faculty of Education Website under Research and Development Assistance Programs:
  • Faculty of Graduate and Post Graduate Studies (FGPS). FGPS provides Conference travel grants for thesis students:
  • Graduate Student Association (GSAED). GSAED Academic Project Fund
  • Your supervisor or other professor. Any professor you do RA or TA work for may have conference funding available.
  • CUPE. If you work as an RA or TA on a CUPE contract, you can apply for a grant from the CUPE conference fund ( once per school year
  • APTPUO. If you teach in the Faculty of Education as a member of the Part-time Professors Union, you have access to the APDF-Travel grants (

Additional Tips

Conference opportunities:

  • Be aware that there are many different ways to go to conferences: poster presentations, graduate conferences, round tables, etc. You can also present thoughtful literature reviews – it is not always about new data.
  • You may also want to look into professional conferences for your area.
  • Special interest groups (SIGs) in academic conferences can have smaller targeted meetings as well.
  • Titles of abstracts should catchy, engaging and memorable.

Before and during the conference:

  • Don’t forget your business cards for networking. Reasonably priced and professional UOttawa branded business cards are available through GSAED.
  • Book fairs and authors’ receptions are great places to find out about new journals, look at recent publications, and see who top authors are. They also have excellent deals and sometimes free materials such as issues of journals. Free coffee and wifi are a bonus.
  • Organizations also have booth space in the book fair area. You can learn about different research groups and see a variety of employment opportunities.
  • Conferences are a great opportunity to branch out and see a variety of research. Stretch yourself and attend sessions outside of your area.
  • Many conferences have special events for graduate students. These may include receptions, professional development and training, as well as employment fairs.