Political Studies Association Early Career Network18 July 2022

Earlier this summer, we hosted the first event in our Publication Pipeline series, Boost Your Conference Presenting Skills! ​​Bringing together three fantastic academics from different academic disciplines, this session covered specific tips, strategies, and information about how to approach conference presentations as a PhD student or early career researcher.

We were joined by Dr Eliza Kania (Brunel University), Dr John Evemy (University of York), and Dr Sarah Knowles (University of York) who talked us through some strategies for feeling confident in presenting academic work at different conferences. Our speakers addressed strategies and tools for presenting both online and in person, as well as the different formats you may use to present work, such as poster presentations.

If you couldn’t make it - or want to revisit some of the stellar advice we got from our wonderful guest speakers before you go off to your next conference - carry on reading!

  • Dr Eliza Kania emphasised the importance of translating research for a general audience. Although conferences are widely attended by academics, the people in the room won’t always be specialists in your specific area. Make sure you present your research in an accessible and engaging way by imagining that you are explaining your work to an audience that won’t already be familiar with the ins and outs of your work. You can also look ahead to how to keep the conversation going after you’ve presented! Specifically, visual communications can be very helpful to translate research outputs, particularly if English is not your first language and you want to make your work memorable. From this view, Twitter and Instagram are particularly useful for communicating research. 
  • Dr John Evemy talked about conferences as a place to draft and test your ideas and arguments, get feedback, and get people talking about your research. You don’t have to turn up with a totally polished, indestructible, perfect study and argument! The point is to share ideas and works in progress and to use the people in the room to improve whichever piece of work you are presenting. To this end, the audience needs to be able to understand what’s going on when you’re presenting! So, keep things simple. If you use PowerPoint, make sure you have clear, simple slides (with max. 7 points on each slide). Don't "text dump" so that audiences can actually see what’s on the screen. Your slides should add to - not take away from - your presentation so make sure that they are accessible.
  • Dr Sarah Knowles stressed the need to understand that presenting research is a skill which, like any other skill, needs to be approached carefully and practised over time. How you present best will be personal to you. So, go to conferences. Practice. Celebrate the successes. Learn from the times that it doesn’t go so well. And note all of it down! That way, you’ll begin to figure out and understand your own presenting style so that you can better prepare for and feel comfortable with presenting at a wide range of academic conferences. One tip that Sarah shared with us was to think about the lasting impressions we want to leave with our audiences. We want them to walk away and tell somebody in the coffee room at work the next day, "I saw an interesting talk yesterday that showed.." Think about what you want that last part to be and let that guide your presentation! 

 

All of our speakers reassured us that presenting research at conferences is neither a competition nor an obligation to present fully polished research. Rather, it is a chance to practise giving the "elevator pitch" version of your work, particularly for those of us who are PhD students. This is a good way to develop communication skills. In an increasingly information saturated world, we need to be able to talk about our research succinctly, accessibly, and accurately. Therefore, when preparing our presentations, we might ask ourselves: How can I distil one or two parts of my PhD thesis into a manageable chunk of information that can stand alone as a single presentation? Moreover, why should anyone care about my research? Spell out the importance of your work. Make sure that what you're going to say is going to make people realise why we should care. Of course, we know why our research matters - but it won’t always be so apparent to the audience!

Finally, conferences provide not only the opportunity to share our research - but also a chance to network with other academics, particularly with other ECRs! Strengthen your networks and find your research and collaboration tribe. A conference might be the starting point to form research groups, meet future collaborators, or even make a friend for life! Although the research journey can often feel overwhelming and isolating at postgraduate and doctoral levels, you should know that you are not alone. As our guest speakers stressed, conferences are a great way to remind yourself of this.

The PSA ECN Committee would like to thank our guest speakers again for giving up their time to join us at this session and provide some extremely valuable and encouraging advice in a friendly and relaxed setting.

We really hope to see you at our upcoming Publication Pipeline lunchtime seminar about publishing your first journal article! Come along and meet the editor of the British Journal of Politics and International Relations. You can register via Eventbrite. It's online, FREE, and open to all!

The Political Studies Association Early Career Network’s ‘Publication Pipeline’ aims to support ECRs to equip themselves with the skills and knowledge to secure a publication. There is still much work to be done to make academia more inclusive. In our commitment to promoting equality, diversity, and inclusion within the discipline, this workshop aims to widen access to conferences and publication by bolstering the skills of ECRs and removing barriers to much of the ‘unspoken’ knowledge we need to participate. We encourage participation from scholars of all backgrounds based in any location.