By Charmaine N. Willis of University at Albany, SUNY
As I reflect on my first MPSA conference there are few things that I would have done differently, both prior to and during the conference. I offer some tips to new (and returning) attendees for future conferences. While my suggestions are based on my experience at MPSA, I believe they can apply to most other academic conferences as well.
I mean this in a few different ways. First, wear something in which you are comfortable presenting. For myself, this typically means “business causal” but it varies from person to person. Unfortunately, I did not follow my own advice and wore shoes that became uncomfortable after one day walking to and throughout the Palmer House. Secondly, Chicago weather is unpredictable, and one should keep this in mind when packing and dressing for the conference. I initially packed a light-weight coat for the conference and switched to a winter coat just in case; I was glad that I did because it was quite cold in Chicago and even snowed while I was there. Thus, one should prepare for variable weather conditions and pack accordingly.
Plan Before You Go
For those who have never been to MPSA, the conference is held in the Palmer House Hilton hotel, an elegant 25-floor building in Downtown Chicago. The conference activities (panels, exhibitions, receptions, registration, etc.) are scattered throughout the hotel, thus knowing exactly where one needs to go ahead of time is important. Both the MPSA printed program and the app are helpful in this regard, though I had a difficult time finding locations for non-panel events in the app. That said, the app was particularly helpful in planning my own schedule in terms of the times and locations of panels I wanted to attend and those on which I was presenting. One suggestion, particularly for those presenters with minimal or no conference experience, is to locate the room in which your panel is held well ahead of time. As it is an older building, the Palmer House floor plan is not straightforward in some areas and it can be difficult to discern the room locations. Thus, identifying one’s room before your panel is due to start can alleviate some unnecessary anxiety. Additionally, remember to set aside time at some point to register upon your arrival.
Partake in Networking Events and Receptions in Addition to Panel Discussions
I offer this suggestion with graduate students and junior faculty particularly in mind. While I have attended a few smaller conferences prior to MPSA, this conference was the first large one I went to and the size has a few important implications. First, it can be very overwhelming: The Palmer House is large and, accordingly, there is a vast amount of people at the conference. Second, it can seem daunting to network and meet other scholars. For both reasons, attending events other than the panel discussions is important because it is a way to connect to others during the conference, thereby making it less overwhelming. I attended the Mentoring Reception and found that it was a good way to connect to people already working in the field as well as fellow graduate students. However, I wish I had arrived a day earlier and/or made time to attend some of the group receptions which I think would have made me feel more connected to the conference community and provided further networking opportunities.
Take Care of Yourself!
As we all surely know, this advice is easier said than done. However, this is an important part of “conference life”, especially for those who are presenters. I echo the advice given in this article by Maura Elizabeth Cunningham of the Association of Asian Studies. Eating and hydrating oneself adequately during a conference is important for both attendees and especially for presenters. We want to be on our “A-Game” whether we are presenting our research or making new connections, and I for one cannot do that without these two things. The first piece of advice in this regard is to make sure to eat during the conference, whether you bring snacks with you or make time for a meal. I did not make time to eat during my first day at the conference and between attending events and presenting I ended up missing lunch as a result, which I do not recommend. Even if you make time for a meal, it is advantageous to bring snacks with you just in case. Secondly, staying hydrated is important especially for presenters. My mouth gets dry when I speak for long periods of time (such as during a presentation) and I suspect I am not the only one. There are many places throughout the hotel to get water: take advantage of them. Admittedly I did not follow this advice closely during MPSA but I plan on abiding by it during my next conference.
About the Author: Charmaine Willis is a current PhD Student at the Rockefeller College of Public Affairs and Policy at the University at Albany, SUNY. Her current research interests are Northeast Asian regional dynamics; civil society development in non-Western contexts; and contentious politics with a specific focus on anti-US military base mobilization. Willis is also a blogger for the 2018 MPSA conference in Chicago. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter.