19 October 2017

Conferencing: Contributing to the Conversation

Our past few posts have focused on tips for conference-goers, which are timely with the upcoming #AmAnth2017 in November. To date we've shared some tips on Writing better Conference Abstracts and crafting better PostersTips for Moderators, and How to be a great Chair. Today we are focusing on the Q&A and networking during conferences in general -- useful tips for grad students and veteran conference-goers alike.

The conference Q&A -- if the chair has done their job well -- can often be the most rewarding part of a panel discussion. It is a place for audience members and panelists to respond to the ideas and data presented, elaborate on points of interest, and possibly spark new and necessary conversations. Unfortunately, the Q&A can also be taken over by those academics in the audience who like to spend quite a lot of time discussing their own research interests and then pretend it was a question.

So, how do you avoid this kind of all-too-common faux-pas and help contribute to a constructive and enlightening discussion?

The Guardian has some answers in their "Don't be a conference troll: a guide to asking good questions." The gist of this advice is that we should find positive or constructive ways to frame questions, even when they are critical. Think about asking questions in a way that opens up conversation rather than shutting it down. It shouldn't be that difficult to do, considering that we're anthropologists. What I would add to this advice -- perhaps especially a pitfall because we are anthropologists -- is to be careful of providing too much context for your question. How can you succinctly ask your question without taking too much time by oversharing your own research experiences that inspired your question?

For speakers, the Guardian also has this advice:
When you’re the one in the spotlight, how should you respond when faced with a question that feels inappropriate or hostile? Remember that a bluntly worded question is not necessarily a malicious one. Audience members have little time to prepare their questions. It may be helpful to respond in a tone and style that is slightly friendlier than the questioner’s. In some cases, this is all that is required to smooth the waters and enable dialogue.
For those of us -- particularly graduate students new to the conference scene -- who struggle with asking questions or approaching speakers during or after the Q&A, check out our past post on A guide to academic conversations (6 June 2016). You might also be interested in prepping for your conference experience by reading UA's Essential networking tips for graduate students, and Academic EQ's PhD Networking Tips for Introverts.

Happy conferencing!

Quick links and further reading:

16 October 2017

Conferencing: How to be a great Chair

With #AmAnth2017 on the horizon, we've been sharing some timely tips for conference goers over the past two posts. Today we are sharing some resources on how to be a great chair.

The chair of any panel or roundtable at a conference has a number of important tasks. The chair must introduce the panel, the speakers, keep time, and ensure an orderly question and answer session. The chair is also usually responsible for providing some concluding comments for the panel.

As The Guardian's Higher Education Network suggests, doing these tasks brilliantly can be accomplished though adhering to a 6-point checklist. An excellent chair should be: Organized, Inclusive, Selfless, Attentive, Firm, and Positive.

In many ways, these different points come back to the chair's ability to keep good time during their session.

We all have our pet peeves during conferences. Mine is when panelists go well over their allotted time! When a speaker goes over their time, it means that everyone else -- panelists and audience -- has less time to share their ideas and questions. In effect, it means that the panel will not be as inclusive as one that gives everyone time to share their ideas, comments, and questions. It is up to the chair to be firm about how much time a speaker may take. When I have chaired, this is a conversation that I begin over email leading up to the conference, helping to ensure that everyone presenting is on the same page.

We also lose time during a session when we struggle with technology. As chair, make sure that you have a good understanding of how to work the AV equipment your panelists will need, who to contact in case it doesn't work, and take the time to load all presentations before the session begins. (A note to presenters: When everyone's PowerPoint Presentation is labelled some variation of ConferenceNameDate, it can be tricky to find the right presentation even when it is pre-loaded. Why not label your presentation some variation of YourNameConferenceNameDate?)

As the Research Whisperer has noted, "Conferences are a necessary and fun part of academia. The more professional consideration and support that’s spread around at them, the better!" So, use these tips and check out our recent posts on abstracts, posters, and moderation to help make your panel the talk of the conference... in a good way.

Quick links and further reading:

12 October 2017

Conferencing: Tips for Moderators

In keeping with our post last Thursday on Writing better Conference Abstracts and crafting better Posters, and with #AmAnth2017 next month, I thought it timely to share this article on Tips for Moderators: Don’t Be the Barrier that Prevents Expression (Medium, 15 Sept 2017).

More than just a list of tips on how moderate (rather than dominate) a conversation between speakers, this article also provides a cautionary tale about power dynamics and voice in public platforms. At what sounds like an amazing recent event in Amsterdam, the Netherlands, "Gloria Wekker and Philomena Essed shared their experiences and thoughts as scholars, women, women of color, teachers." Amazing, except these speakers and the audience were saddled with a moderator who stole focus from the speakers rather than guiding their conversation with the audience deeper. As the author of the Medium piece laments,
The biggest failing of the moderator was one I’ve seen at nearly every panel discussion I’ve ever attended, particularly in the Netherlands. I’m sure others will recognize it. It comes from inviting brilliant people and then limiting their space for interacting with each other and engaging in meaningful conversation. It comes from misplaced and misdirected questions. It comes from the habit of control.
So, what lessons can we learn from this event and take with us as we moderate the panels or round tables or public discussions in our futures...?
  1. A good moderator knows their stuff
  2. A good moderator shuts up
  3. A good moderator listens
  4. A good moderator changes tacks
  5. A good moderator asks what the speakers expect of them
  6. A good moderator backs down
Check back on Monday when we will continue the conferencing tips theme by posting about how to be a great chair!

05 October 2017

Writing better Conference Abstracts and crafting better Posters

We originally planned to write this post for grad students, but really, couldn't we all benefit fit from learning a bit more about how to write a great conference abstract or an eye-catching poster?

Here are a couple of interesting resources for helping you do just that.

From the LSE Impact Blog, you might like to read Your essential ‘how-to’ guide to writing good abstracts and their follow-up post How to write a killer conference abstract: The first step towards an engaging presentation. These posts contain some useful tips for grad students applying to a conference for the first time. Veteran conference-goers may also benefit from reviewing these suggestions, and considering how conference abstracts are different from article abstracts.

Conference posters are often less common among social anthropologists than paper presentations. As a visual medium, posters present unique challenges for researchers whose work is based in narrative. However, we're not the only discipline who struggles with how best to represent our findings in this format. Luckily, there are many resources available to help you craft an informative and eye-catching poster:
We've also taken the opportunity to update our page on Advice for Grad Students | Writing Tips with this information on conferencing. If you're getting ready to head to a conference, you might also want to check out our collected tips on networking on our Advice for Grad Students | Professional Development Strategies page.

02 October 2017

Anthropologists everywhere! Filming heavy metal with Sam Dunn

The first time I met Sam Dunn was in the smoking room (when those still existed) of a dive-y bar that my cohort of Dalhousie MA students used to ritually visit on Thursday wing-nights in Halifax. One of my colleagues, a die-hard metal fan and Marxist sociologist, called me over to his table and introduced us. Dunn had completed his MA at York in 2000, and we had both accepted offers to begin our PhDs in Social Anthropology at York University in Toronto in September, 2006.

By September, he decided to postpone and eventually declined his acceptance to the doctoral program -- with good reason!

Dunn had already filmed Metal: A Headbanger’s Journey (2005), and would soon film a sequel of sorts, Global Metal (2008). Yet, rather than a departure from anthropology, both of these films and others made throughout Dunn's career are informed by his anthropological training and perspective.

Besides being a cool example of what you can do with a degree in anthropology, I have found Dunn's work to be a really useful teaching tool. For instance, Global Metal is a great resource for teaching about globalization, and how cultural forms and practices are always reinterpreted locally, sometimes deeply changing the meaning of the original cultural producers.

Check out more about Dunn and the connection between his work and anthropological background in the following links... and more about finding anthropologists everywhere: