Daniela Torre, Vanderbilt University
At this year’s Graduate Student Summit I sat in on a novel session: the 3-minute abstract exchange. During this session a group of graduate student met to receive feedback on abstracts they had submitted prior to the conference. The session was led by Dr. Pam Tucker, from the University of Virginia, who had come prepared with comments for each participant. During the session, each student had three minutes to present the project or paper described in their abstract while the other participants filled out a rubric assessing the style and substance of the presentation. Afterwards, the group shared feedback for the presenter for a few minutes. By the end of the session, each participant left with detailed notes from a faculty member and comments from about six other graduates students.
What struck me about this presentation was that it was the most engaged I have seen anyone at a conference outside of the evening receptions. In traditional conference presentations speakers tend to draw out the minutia of their studies and loose the attention of all but the most interested audience members. Moreover, the audience members typically include few people who are not also speakers or who are not already somewhat familiar with what they are about to hear. At best the ensuing discussion consists of a knowledgeable discussant synthesizing the topics presented and facilitating a question and answer session; at worst, the conversation meanders from one person’s opinion to another. Even in the best-case scenario, the participants get little, in any, tangible feedback on their project from either the discussant or the audience members.
In contrast, the speakers in the abstract exchange gave only the most pertinent information, and the other participants listened closely in order to complete their feedback rubrics. The discussion afterwards was brief and pointed, focusing on a few questions and most importantly, each person left with concrete recommendations for how to improve their work. An interesting component of this session was that there was no over-arching theme, and so each presenter introduced new topics and methodologies. While some might want to focus on learning about topics directly related to their work, I thought that this format allowed each person to learn something new that could be applied in a different way to their own work. Likewise, the speaker was able to hear ideas and suggestions from people who are not so buried in the topic as to not notice important omissions.
Considering that participation in academic conferences is an integral part of any scholar’s career, I believe we as a graduate student community should push away from the traditional ways of sharing information to new formats that may be more useful. I applaud UCEA for moving in this direction with the IGNITE sessions and movies screenings, but think more can be done. For example, by leveraging online networks, one could envision a “flipped” session where people came having already read a paper and ready to discuss or offer constructive criticism. For it would be especially useful to engage in more of workshop type sessions like the abstract exchange, but then continue those conversations throughout the year. Additional workshops could center on exploring new methodologies, learning to write grants and proposals, brainstorming ideas with others interested in similar topics, etc. The Graduate Student Council hopes to develop some of these ideas for the next summit, beginning with an online writing group that will begin in January (for more information on the Writing Group, check out December’s Café UCEA). Hopefully, by shifting the sort of activity we engage in when we are together we can strengthen our work and better support each other’s efforts.