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March 9, 2008

Making the Most Out of Conferences by Erin Wais-Hennen

Lots of graduate students think of conferences as extended vacations away from their office, cohorts, and possibly below freezing temperatures. In reality, every conference should be a chance to
network with others in your field, interest group, and even possible employers.

First things first--apply to present a paper at a conference and get your paper accepted. You can find out more about the deadlines and dates of thelarger annual or biannual conferences at:
Writing Studies Resources

Second, you want to get a hold of an online or paper copy of the schedule of the conference--this should have in it a list of all panels and presentations.This is your conference "golden ticket." You should take this valuable list, read through it and mark down what panels you want to see. This should help you keep a schedule of where you want to be when.

So third, here you are--going and listening to panels instead of laying out on some beach or partying it up with friends--this is good, it may be painful now, but it is time well spent. Now that you are at these panels you need to make the best of your time. Don't just sit at the panel, listen and walk away. If one of the presenters is doing work that you are interested in or says something particularly meaningful to you go up and meet them after the presentation. Say something smart to this person, ask them a question you have or make an appropriate comment on their presentation. Before or after you comment to this person introduce yourself to this person, for example "I am Erin Wais-Hennen, Dr. Berkenkotter's student at the University of Minnesota and I am also working on medical rhetoric." Now this person knows who you are, where to find you, and that you are an intelligent human being--these are all great accomplishments.

As you go through this process (over-and-over again) you begin to know people and they begin to know you. The more people who know your a smart and interesting person, the more people can ask you to be on their panels at future conferences or know you before you see them at an interview.

The fourth step is remembering the people you meet and connect with, before the next conference and contact them--set up a time to chat or talk about specific parts of their research during the coming conference.

Finally, always say thank you! Drop the people you feel you really connected with an email thanking them for their time, insight, and/or interest.

As well as there being things to do at a conference--there are also things NOT to do:


  • Gossip about your adviser, department, or graduate student colleagues
  • Talk negatively about someone else's presentation or panel
  • Stalk people
  • Wear clothes that are inappropriate
  • "hook-up" with someone also at the conference