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Stepping into the World of Conferences

Photo Credit:  Jess Horsnell

Jess Horsnell, MA Student

August 07, 2019

I find that people love to give advice about challenging yourself, pushing yourself out of your comfort zone, and trying new things.  This is not to say that these aren’t good suggestions, and I think that there are a lot of risks that are worth taking.  But what people fail to acknowledge a great deal of the time is how terrifying it is to put yourself out there.  Everyone has to start somewhere, and my start was an international conference.

After submitting to a call for papers that I never thought I would be successful with, I was shocked to receive the ‘You’ve Been Accepted to Present’ e-mail.  So, off I went, to Ottawa to present at the International Metropolis Conference, 2019, ‘The Promise of Migration: Inclusion, Economic Growth, and Global Cooperation’.  As far as conferences go, I don’t have much experience, either attending or presenting.  I had presented at a graduate student colloquium, and attended a few day long conferences, so the idea of attending a weeklong conference that was marketed as bringing in over 1000 delegates was daunting.  In hindsight, I probably should have chosen a slightly smaller conference for my first presentation that wasn’t only to my peers, instead of an international one, but hey – Go big or go home!

In an ironic twist, I became very sick before the start of the week, so my participation was limited in a way that I wish it hadn’t been.  Regardless, the conference was marketed as a way for academics, policy makers and government officials to come together to talk about pressing national and international issues that face migration.  These issues are certainly a hot topic right now – everywhere you turn, you hear the media using buzzwords such as ‘refugee crisis’ or ‘border crisis’.  It was interesting to get to hear experts in the field break down the issues and buzzwords, covering topics from public confidence in migration and the effects of technology, to the non-state actor’s role in migration.

Dozens of smaller workshops were offered after the larger conference plenaries, and while over a thousand people were in attendance at the conference, the workshops usually hosted an audience of about 20 people.  This ended up working out well for me and my nerves.  Presenting in front of 20 people isn’t so nerve-wracking, and despite building up presenting in my head, my co-panelists were all encouraging, supportive, and knowledgeable.  Aside from being sick, things went off without a hitch.

I think academia can be pretty good about forcing you out of your comfort zone, and as a MA student, there is still a lot of room for me to grow.  I’m proud that I was able to challenge myself in a pretty terrifying way, but sometimes, despite the universe throwing curveballs at you, you can still find a way to succeed.