A Hive Scholar’s conference experience

Today we are sharing with you the insightful personal experience of a previous Hive Scholar of attending conferences. Katherine Da Cunha Lewin is currently an associate tutor in English at the University of Sussex.  This is a repost of a blog originally posted on 11th March 2016.  Enjoy…

I love going to conferences. From the beginning of my PhD, I have always looked out for suitable conferences to submit to or simply attend.  I have spoken at 4 conferences, in various places–London, Wales, Brighton and Arizona–and am about to speak at 2 more at the end of this month. I have also attended a few conferences as just an attendee, mostly put on by either University of Sussex, or Birkbeck, who run great contemporary literature conferences. Attending in both capacities has been incredibly beneficial to me in my thinking and also in my personal development. 

Speaking at a conference encourages you to express complex ideas in succinct ways, allows you to share your research, and gain feedback from peers and experts. I also use them as a way to improve my abilities in talking with other PhDs and academics.  I never think of it as networking because that feels too deliberate, but I definitely like using conferences to help me develop how to hone and share my ideas and thoughts with others.


I have recently returned from a conference in Paris, the subject of which was one of the writers on whom I am specializing.  This conference was very unusual in that this writer was also in attendance, reading an essay, attending the two keynotes, watching a public performance of a play of his, and giving a Q&A on one of his novels for students from the Sorbonne.  This automatically changed the atmosphere of the conference and everyone appeared very excited and energized throughout the three days.  I was only there as an attendee, and even though I wasn’t sharing my research, it was really wonderful to listen to papers on a writer whose work I now know intimately.  As I have read all of this writer’s work, I felt very comfortable talking about his writing with other delegates. This familiarity meant I could engage with all the papers, even if I didn’t agree with them: in fact, I actually found it very beneficial to disagree with what the speaker was saying so I could conceptualize and delimit why their arguments to me seemed problematic.  I spent a good deal of time with the two key notes of this conference (one of which was my supervisor), as well as discussing the writer’s work with other well-known scholars.

I have recently implemented a rule for myself to avoid being intimidated; the old adage of ‘fake it til you make it’ may seem trite but has proved hugely beneficial. At this conference, I consistently pushed myself to discuss, ask questions, and make conversation with people in a way I might normally shy away from.  The conference made me feel more comfortable discussing this writer, and also more confident in sharing my ideas and thoughts on his work.


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