January 12, 2023, by Postgraduate Placements Nottingham
An introvert’s reflections on conference attendance
Amy Gibbons, a PhD student in Criminology, School of Sociology and Social Policy, on experiencing her first in person conference since pre-pandemic. Follow Amy on Twitter @AmyG_97_
I was lucky enough to secure £300 from the Researcher Academy that helped cover most of the costs for me to attend the British Society of Criminology (BSC) conference, hosted by the University of Surrey this year over several days in July. This was the first in person conference for criminologists since covid hit so a big turnout was expected, and this included a lot of early career researchers and potential PhD students as many of us have missed out on this experience so far. I attended and provided student support at the BSC’s last in person conference at the University of Lincoln in 2019, so I found it was a good choice for my first in person conference since starting my PhD with those elements of familiarity.
Since starting my PhD here at Nottingham, I have had this fear of presenting constantly in the back of my mind, so I thought with the project still being early days, I would use this conference to experience what it is like at an academic conference, as the last time I attended I was too busy helping to keep it running smoothly, so I enjoyed being on the nicer side of it! I also thought doing a poster presentation would be a good way to ease myself into practicing my oral skills rather than delivering a paper.
I am a very shy and quiet person with a silly amount of anxiety, so I would definitely recommend to new students to still put yourself out there in those uncomfortable situations as you’ve got to do it at some point but help yourself gradually by doing poster presentations for example. Another option is to present a paper in the early career/postgraduate student only sessions that you can have ago at rather than the main conference. I found these sessions to be so supportive and to be honest, a bit more exciting than some of the main conference sessions with more experienced academics! The conversations from these postgraduate researcher sessions were so rich and I think underlying this and my conversations with others there one-on-one, we all shared that same experience of being extra isolated during our studies so far, with most of us having spent the last couple of years researching in isolation at home. So, I think it made our connections with others that little bit stronger to finally talk to others with the same shared and unique experience – I definitely feel that I came away from this having made new friends.
What I was most excited for this conference in particular was that my sub-field had the spotlight with Professor Nigel South, considered a ‘founding father’ if you like, of Green Criminology, as he had been awarded the lifetime achievement award by the BSC. With Green Criminology being the study of environmental and ecological harms, having stemmed from aspects of studies surrounding state-corporate crime, this is of course very topical during these times of living in a climate crisis – as I write this, we are still currently experiencing a heat wave here in England, with record temperatures and severe drought across the country, impacting farming massively – agriculture and its harms being my PhD focus more broadly. In that respect, it was incredibly refreshing to finally hear what others in the field, and those with more experience, have to say about this and our future directions, as well as many individuals coming up to my poster just to say how good it is to see representation of this in criminology even if it wasn’t their area of research. There is only so much you can get from individual studying, building these personal connections and having these conversations with like-minded people in the field does wonders for your motivation. I also think getting positive comments from those in other areas of criminology also helps remind you that you are doing interesting and important work that is very much needed. I have found myself often forgetting this, and quite frankly forgetting that doing a PhD at the end of the day is a hard but impressive thing to do!
“I am a very shy and quiet person with a silly amount of anxiety, so I would definitely recommend to new students to still put yourself out there in those uncomfortable situations as you’ve got to do it at some point but help yourself gradually by doing poster presentations for example.”
On the other side of it, if you are also like me, very introverted, conferences can be particularly overwhelming, especially with so much packed in over the few days with very little alone time to recharge. I would absolutely recommend to students attending their first conference not to worry about having to see as much as possible. Don’t beat yourself up for skipping the odd session to schedule in some down time and have a break. I also took time out before my poster session, as did others in my cohort who were presenting papers. We did this to re-energize and just think through what it is we want to get across to the audience. I think it should also be said, more practically, this is why it is often better to have a single room if you are staying in accommodation, to ensure you have that alone time to decompress. Socially, I also found this BSC conference quite different compared to the 2019 one. Whilst there were some social activities, I knew the risk of covid was high and, of course, there was a bit of outbreak amongst those that partied a bit too hard compared to others. So, with this mind, I would also recommend during such times to definitely keep wearing a mask as those of us that did manage to avoid covid.
Overall, whilst exhausting, this was such a refreshing experience, and I came away feeling more motivated with my project and having made new connections with likeminded people. I also feel a lot more confident delivering a paper, if anything this made me wish I had done it instead of a poster! To bring this to a close, I can leave 4 key takeaways for those who are yet to attend their first conference and present, particularly in covid times:
(1) Ease yourself into it, start delivering your work through either a poster or a postgraduate student session rather than the main conference – this will also help you to meet other postgraduates more easily and these sessions are often better attended with great conversations following presentations. I also did some presenting for online conferences which was definitely less daunting doing it in the comfort of my bedroom so keep an eye out for smaller online conferences – twitter is great for this.
(2) Don’t worry about having to attend something every session, every day. Only attend what is important to you, plan in your own breaks as some conferences have very little breaks scheduled. It can be a very overwhelming and exhausting few days. I had some breaks with others from my cohort here that also attended, as well as some just on my own. A single room for accommodation can also be helpful to properly decompress.
(3) Keep comfortable and be yourself. This might just be a social science thing, but dress code and the like was very casual, if you’re happy in jeans or more ‘smart office wear’ for example that’s fine, no one cares! It’s these little things that you can often over think so just wear what you feel most comfortable and yourself in. I wore my normal everyday stuff, with purple hair and piercings, lots do! If anyone judges that or sees it as ‘unprofessional’, that is a reflection on them! In the same vein, just be yourself. You will most likely come across the odd few that talk the big talk and talk down to others of similar projects, that’s academia, and most of the time they’re probably just nervous or overcompensating! Just be respectful of others’ work and mindful of people’s feelings when discussing projects but also be open minded to potentially learn different approaches or things to consider that you may not have done.
(4) Have some fun! Attend social events but do what is comfortable for you, particularly being mindful of covid so don’t feel pressured if some situations make you feel uncomfortable. For example, I kept my mask on and only attended social events that were outdoors or better ventilated and I don’t feel as though I missed out on anything.
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