Written by Imran Mogra, Senior Lecturer in Religious Education and Professional Studies
At the recent 6th Annual Conference of The Qualitative Report held at the Nova Southeastern University in Fort Lauderdale, besides the huge and impressive number of presentations, there were a few particular features and experiences which prompted some reflection and introspection. Some of which I will cover in this post.
The idea of attending a conference can be a very tempting one, (especially when it involves travelling abroad). However, for some, in the climate and culture created by the REF (Research Excellence Framework), this temptation has almost turned into a necessity. No longer are conferences considered a dormant activity or a prerogative of a few select individuals, instead a proactive stance is being taken in many universities for all staff; both novice and established researchers. (click here to see our Birmingham City University REF 2014 results)
In addition to the demands placed on you by your line manager or by the research strategy in your institution, there are many reasons which you may want to consider for attending a conference to present your paper. Here are some reasons which could tempt you to attend one. These are drawn from my personal experiences and, in part, show what has influenced my decisions, in the past, to be ‘out there’:
- To establish and enhance your network reach
- To share your ideas both in terms of research methodology and content to a wider audience – this is probably the most likely and/or natural reason for wanting to present at a conference
- To set the framework, foundation and future direction of your forthcoming project or article
- It may be that you have had an article rejected. You now want to reposition your material to clarify its purpose, address its criticisms from peer reviewers or to explore its current potential in the field for resubmission, or to revitalise interest about the topic
- You might want to inform colleagues and others interested in your field about work in progress
- You may have been invited to present, following a considerable interest in your publication – over 200 reads/downloads for instance!
- You might be opportunistic and can’t resist the chance as the theme of the conference perfectly fits your interest and it is seems highly likely that your paper will be accepted – this is about ‘gut feelings’
Here is my latest reason for attending my most recent conference. I decided to contribute to this international conference as I have conceived my work on narratives to be in a state of flux. To explain, I have been collecting material in the form of narratives, and simultaneously analysing them, and occasionally drawing tentative conclusions. Concurrently, I dump (in my external hard drive of course!) some of this valuable material – or should I say let it ‘simmer’ – and select some data to write a little bit and also to think about future lines of enquiry. In other words, I saw attendance at this conference as being part of my research process on narratives and not a stimulant for or product of my research. Therefore, I went there to immerse myself in the methodological field to seek epistemological answers, if they were any.
Having decided the reason/s for attending a conference, I frequently ask myself: What do I want to gain from the conference? Admittedly, I have attended some conferences, both as presenter and participant, but have not returned with ‘a buzz’, inspiration or ideas which I could implement in my practice. Therefore it is equally important to think carefully about the difference that a conference will make to your thinking and practice. Remember you are not there solely to deliver your paper, as worthy an activity that may be in its own right. In fact, you are there to reciprocate being a learner as well as a creator of knowledge.
Finally, on the matter of influence, often conferences are conceptualised as domains for influencing others. As researchers, many of us will acknowledge and recognise that the research process can affect the researchers’ self-perception. Likewise, attending a conference should not always be about others. It should be seen potentially as an activity which will influence you in terms of how you see your self.
Listening to Valerie Janesick, present her paper on Practicing the Zen of Research as Contemplative Qualitative Inquiry, and assert:
“In qualitative research every voice counts”
aroused a whisper within my self: ‘I want my voice to count’.