For many students, the thought of presenting their dissertation at an academic conference is something they see happening after they have completed everything, the signatures are dry, and they don’t have the pressures of their doctoral studies on their plate. Really, there are lot of benefits to presenting incomplete work at an academic conference. In this blog, we will go over some of the benefits of presenting your work before you may feel 100% ready.
These benefits include being forced to think through your dissertation study in a way that makes you able to communicate it, building confidence in communicating it, building your CV, getting feedback that can be used to improve your research, and even getting a head start on your final defense slide deck. Oh yes, it also gives you a hard deadline (which many lacked in the dissertation stage). I’ll conclude the blog with timing your presentation just right, with presenting to the right audience, and with documenting your feedback.
1. It makes you think through and communicate your dissertation research.
To be able to give a presentation, you are forced to move beyond notes. When I develop academic presentations, I consider my audience and how I should communicate with them. It takes you out of a narrow focus on the exact part you are working on and forces you to return back to the big picture and think about what others might need to know about your research to understand it, how to communicate it with different audiences, and even the sequence of the information they need to know.
2. It builds confidence.
I don’t know that many people who just really love to stand up and present in front of large groups of people. And the few that I know that do enjoy this probably came to feel that way through practice. Practicing builds confidence. One part of being an expert in your chosen area of study is being able to communicate confidently with other academics. This confidence takes time for many people, so it is important to put yourself out there to learn your strengths and weaknesses in communication.
3. You get feedback that could improve what you do next.
There will likely be questions or comments after you talk. For most talks, there is a short presentation (often 10, 15, or 20 minutes) and then time for the audience. The audience will often provide comments and questions. This is a great way to have experts in your field share their ideas on your research. Keep in mind that even critiques of your research, while they might be hard to hear, are great opportunities for peer-review of your study. Approach this feedback with an open mind and it might give you direction for your next steps in the study.
4. You get to build your CV.
Your CV documents your expertise as a researcher. It includes, your education, your work history, your publications, and also other forms of academic involvement, including academic presentations. Even if you are presenting incomplete dissertation, your presentation can go on your CV and it shows that you want to be an active academic that participates in the discipline.
5. You get practice for your dissertation defense and will already have some of your slides completed.
Whenever I am asked about the oral defense, my answer is to practice. Even if you are in preliminary stages of data analysis, there is a lot that you have completed and that can be developed into slides to document this process. It is likely that you can use a lot of the slides you develop for the conference in your final defense, so presenting your work at an academic conference will give you a head start on the practice and on the slides.
6. It is a hard deadline.
Many students feel lost in the dissertation stage. While classes have hard deadlines, the dissertation stage is often self-paced. This can make it harder to self-impose deadlines. Conferences have hard deadlines that might encourage you to work harder to complete your work. There are deadlines for submitting your proposal and of course, there is a scheduled date and time for you to present your work.
Some conferences also request your paper and/or presentation beforehand. This allows them to upload all the presentations to one computer for the conference, but sometimes these files are also provided to an expert panel so they can prepare comments or questions. This can be helpful if you are having a hard time getting motivated to move forward without other deadlines.
The best time to present completely depends on what you want to get out of it. If you want feedback on your methods of data collection or analysis, you will want to present before you collect or analyze your data. If you want feedback on your preliminary analysis, you will want to have collected your data and started the analysis.
In this case, you will want enough data analyzed that the audience can get a good picture of what you have done and where you are heading with it. Even if you have completed all of your analysis, you may find it beneficial to present your results and get feedback on the implications, recommendations, or even limitations.
The feedback you get will depend on the expertise of the audience you are presenting to. If you want very specific feedback, you will have to target a conference that is niche within your discipline. You could also consider a national or regional conference in your discipline that is large enough to have conference panels in your specific area of study. Other academics with an interest in your topic can then choose your presentation among others.
Consider recording your feedback. In the moment, you might have some great ideas, but you can’t really pause the conversation to take detailed notes. If possible, ask a friend to record the presentation and any conversation that takes place after the presentation. If you aren’t there with anyone else, you could always set up your phone to record everything. Audio or video would be helpful. This will allow you to more accurately capture the conversation.
Finally, if there is something specific you want feedback on, be sure to let the audience know. I have highlighted all the ways that you can benefit from presenting your dissertation work at an academic conference. Be sure to think through these items and go in to the conference presentation knowing what you want to get out of it.
If you are looking for suggestions or critiques of something specific, let the audience know. This can be as casual as plugging it into the presentation by saying, “And next I am going to tell you about X and Y, but I am looking for suggestions on Z” or “Here I am trying to choose between X approach and Y approach and I welcome any discussion or advice regarding this decision.” Going in to the presentation knowing what you want to get out of it will ensure that it is a positive learning experience that advances your work.