|Cleghorn Room at Bishop’s University, one of three spaces in McGreer Hall in which QUEUC took place.|
The end of the term is a dreadful time for Arts students. It’s not because exams are quickly approaching, or because it’s impossible to get a table in the Arts Lounge for that group project you’ve been procrastinating. No, it’s something much more daunting, and often much more alienating: it is the season of the final paper. After hours of hiding behind stacks of convoluted books written by French theorists and furiously typing every five-syllable word you heard in lecture into a somewhat-comprehensible array of sentences, there’s always a moment when we ask: what is the point of all this? No one is ever going to read my postcolonial-feminist analysis of Jane Eyre once this semester is over! Though I could argue for hours about the importance of essay writing (as well as about the importance of a postcolonial-feminist reading of Jane Eyre), I am here to discuss one specific outlet that brings your research and hard work into the real world, yet is overlooked by and often unavailable for undergraduate students. This, of course, is the academic conference.
About one month ago between March 11-12 I had the opportunity to present at the Quebec Universities English Undergraduate Conference (QUEUC) at Bishop’s University. Despite a ten-hour commute to Sherbrooke, Quebec and almost missing my bus back to Toronto, the knowledge I gained from attending was well worth the travel. Lucky for you, I’m here to tell you all about it, and you don’t even have to hop on a Greyhound—at least not yet, anyways!
First, let me give you some background information. QUEUC is an annual conference designed for undergraduate Arts students to share their research with peers across Canada. While generally focused on English and Literature studies, the topics covered during my experience were quite wide-ranging, including queer theory, contemporary art, psychoanalysis and kinship performance, just to name a few of the many intriguing panels. Overall, QUEUC provides a platform for burgeoning academics to engage in scholarly conversations; in other words, it’s a bunch of nerdy Arts students talking about nerdy Arts things.
So why does this matter to you? I’m going to break it down into my five main takeaways that will hopefully encourage you to start preparing for your first undergraduate conference, or at least inspire a newfound motivation for that essay you’ve been dreading to write.
1. It’s a great way to build communication skills you’ll use after your time as an undergrad
One of the biggest benefits I gained from attending QUEUC was getting experience communicating my ideas beyond the page. Though essays help develop one’s critical thinking and writing abilities, it is equally important to be able to relay those same critical thinking skills verbally, especially when writing isn’t a viable option for disseminating information. Papers also don’t prepare you to respond to split-second counterarguments or real-time questions that others may have about your insights. Being able to express your thoughts in an interpersonal setting is a critical skill that will help you in several life events, whether it be during a boardroom pitch, a grad school seminar, or one of those heated conversations about politics that are just bound to arise at your next family function.
2. You get to network with students with like-minded interests and pursuits
It’s not very often I get to debate about my favourite literary theorists, or the implications of reading “Prufrock” under a Marxist or Wordsworthian lens, so to have the chance to be in a room full of intelligent and engaged scholars is a huge plus. I met so many amazing students that brought new perspectives and worldviews that I never would have thought to explore, and I participated in tons of intriguing discussions about literature, economics, art, and popular culture. Building up your network is often easier said than done, and conferences offer a great environment to do so. You never know who will have that connection to your dream job, or, if you’re set on pursuing graduate education, the people you meet may be your future colleagues or even co-workers.
3. You can share your hard work with someone other than your professor
If you’re like me, you take major pride in the work you do in the classroom; however, the whole process can be disillusioning when you’re reminded that less than half a dozen people are going to see the blood, sweat and tears that you (sometimes literally) put into your essay. At a conference, you become the professor: you get to teach others about your own studies and theories, as well as showcase your strengths as a budding academic. It’s also reassuring to see that others are partaking in similar scholarly research. As much as I enjoyed writing about Anne Carson’s book Autobiography of Red as a photograph, it was all the more rewarding to see others listening and contributing to my seemingly particular and obscure topic.
4. You’re able to learn about a variety of topics and expand your knowledge in a unique space
As a student, there’s a good chance you’re an enthusiastic and avid learner, but the classroom setting can be a bit tedious by the middle of the term. An academic conference lets you step away from the everydayness of lectures while still stimulating your thirst for knowledge. For me, QUEUC rekindled my inspiration for academia after an onslaught of midterms; after all, it’s hard not to get re-excited about school when you’re surrounded by a bunch of undergrads who are equally as passionate about Althusserian interpellation or Derridean deconstruction as you! Additionally, there’s a good chance that what you’ll learn at a conference may not be offered or as thoroughly explored in the classes you’re taking. Not only does this give you a stronger knowledge base for your own studies, but it also gives you a critical advantage for future papers or assignments.
5. It gives you an extra edge on your resume or CV
If my other reasons weren’t convincing enough for you, presenting at a conference will really stick out on a resume or CV. Since conferencing is a vital aspect of academic discussion, grad schools will acknowledge your early engagement in scholarly conversation and presentation, setting you apart from other applicants. If graduate education isn’t your forte, presenting at a conference will tell an employer that you have strong communication and presentation skills, and that you can organize your thoughts in a clear and concise manner.
Now that you’re inspired to attend an undergraduate conference, it’s time to pull out your old essays and start those revisions. Who knows? Maybe next year you’ll find yourself on your way to QUEUC too.
Curious about my experience at QUEUC or how to prepare for conferences? Feel free to e-mail me at email@example.com and I’d be happy to answer your questions.