In this column I will share some advice for turning your dissertation into a conference presentation, starting with the question of why present at a conference in the first place.
Why Should You Present Your Dissertation at a Conference?
If you are a final-year undergraduate or graduate student, you may be looking forward to submitting your dissertation and not having to read it again. However, after all you have poured into your work, you may also want to take your academic journey further, especially if you are proud of your final product.
Researchers often disseminate their work through conference presentations, conference proceedings, and publications in journals and books. Giving conference presentations is a great opportunity for novice researchers to consider. Presenting at a conference has numerous benefits, including opportunities to “contribute to and learn about the most recent advances in your field,” “learn how to talk about your data,” “contribute to your overall research profile,” and “meet other researchers in your field and potential contacts for future positions” (Dunn, 2007, n.p.; see also Moore, 2017). These are some of the reasons why even established scholars regularly join conferences but for someone newer in the field participating in them contributes to resume building and can be essential to growing as an educator and researcher. Through interacting with attendees from all over the world, you can share ideas and learn the latest trends, which could inspire your next research project.
In this article, I offer two pieces of advice to help you think about how to turn your dissertation into a conference presentation.
Select a Suitable Conference
It does not really matter whether you join a regional, national, or international conference. Some universities offer opportunities for students to present their research work and share their developments with fellow teachers and students through internal university-run conferences. If you want to get the most out of a conference, it is important to know how to find a suitable conference to present your dissertation work.
Conferences which invite leading scholars in the field are vital, as their ideas can help improve and strengthen your research. They should also provide networking opportunities, or a platform for people to discuss their work and to develop possible future collaborations. Some conferences publish a post-conference proceedings – a published record of a conference – which would be an additional benefit if you want to publish part of your dissertation (the topic of my next column). Publishing your work in a proceedings is an excellent opportunity to begin your academic writing career. Annual conferences like the JALT International Conference and the JALT PanSIG Conference (both held in Japan) are examples of conferences that fit the criteria listed above. They could present a nice first step for students who have (almost) finished their dissertations on topics related to language teaching and learning to get further involved in the academic community. In particular, the JALT International Conference includes a Graduate Student Showcase where students from various universities can present their work. Ask your university teachers if this might be an option for you.
It is also worth cautioning that there are ‘predatory’ conferences that are largely money-making ventures for the organizations that hold them. How can you tell if a conference is predatory? One red flag is receiving an unsolicited email inviting you to submit an abstract. Another is an overly broad conference theme, such as “educational research.” If you’re not sure about a conference, please ask a faculty member about it. The conferences run by national language teachers’ associations such as JALT, JACET, KOTESOL, and CamTESOL are generally safe to submit your work to.
Select the Best Examples and Data from Your Dissertation
After deciding which conference suits you, the next challenge to consider is how to present your complicated dissertation at a conference. The most popular type of conference presentation, oral presentation, usually lasts less than half an hour. You can also submit a poster presentation proposal, but it is still impossible to squeeze every piece of information from your dissertation into a single A1- or A0-sized poster.
These two principles should help: First, a conference abstract is not the same as your dissertation abstract. Second, a conference paper and a dissertation are two different genres of communication. This means that your conference abstract should at most be based on one or two of your dissertation chapters. A good 20- to 25-minute presentation is focused, concise, and (most important of all) understandable to your audience. You may have documented all primary and secondary sources of research that you conducted in your dissertation, on top of detailed literature reviews, methodology, and data analysis. But you do not need to do the same for your conference presentation. It is enough to simply choose a few interesting, original, and coherent ideas from your dissertation, setting aside much of the background and context to the arguments you make. This is especially the case for a conference abstract, which is typically used to let conference attendees choose which presentations to attend. A lengthy and complicated abstract is therefore generally undesirable.
Many people worry about not mentioning enough background information to demonstrate their scholarship. You can do this strategically by giving a verbal or written summary of the necessary background information in your conference presentation. After all, if you were in an audience, you would likely want to hear much more about the presenter’s examples and data rather than getting a lecture on the literature. If your audience finds the ideas in your paper or presentation compelling, they can always go on to read more of your research from your completed dissertation or upcoming journal articles.
Presenting at conferences is sometimes undervalued by the wider community. One reason is that not everyone can gain access to what is disseminated at a conference, unlike published books and journal articles, which are generally more widely available. Another reason is that the credibility of the information presented in presentations can be preliminary or tentative, with conference presenters’ fuller findings published in manuscripts that undergo a peer-review process.
In turning your dissertation into a conference presentation, you can share your findings, receive direct feedback from attendees working in a similar field, and get ideas for further improving your research. It can especially provide an experiential foundation for students aspiring to continue their academic research journeys through future peer-reviewed publications.
Finally, if you would like more advice on writing a conference abstract proposal, you’ll be pleased to know there is a lot of good literature on this topic. The references below are a great place to start, as are previous editions of this column.
Dunn, K. (2007, November). Why it’s important for you to present your data at scientific conferences. Psychological Science Agenda. Retrieved from <http://www.apa.org/science/about/psa/2007/11/student-council-1.aspx>
Moore, C. (2017). Publishing conference presentations. The Language Teacher, 41(3), 42-43.
Tiffany Ip teaches at universities in Hong Kong. She gained a PhD in neurolinguistics and strives to utilize her knowledge to translate brain research findings into practical classroom instructions.