Congress is Coming! 10 Tips on Attending a Conference

Balcony view of San Diego Harbour at PCA conference

The 47th Annual PCA-ACA Conference, San Diego, California

This year will mark Ryerson’s turn to host Congress, the arts and humanities’ annual conference for 70 member organizations. Taking place from May 27 – June 2, the conference is expected to attract 8,000 participants. Dr. Catherine Jenkins, instructor in Professional Communication, offers students insight on how to make the most of their Congress experience. She reflects on her experiences attending the joint Popular Culture and American Culture Conference in San Diego, which had 2,000 participants.

Although most participants were American, they also hailed from Australia, Austria, Brazil, China, Finland, Germany, India, Italy, Japan, Kuwait, Poland, Qatar, Romania, Singapore, South Africa, Spain, Sweden, Turkey, and the UK (I may have missed a few). About 40 Canadians attended, representing the country from St. John’s to Vancouver, with a handful from Ryerson. While most attendees were academics (from grad students to independent scholars), artists and industry professionals were also represented.

PCA-ACA allows attendees to discover a broad diversity of pop culture under one roof. I attended panels on post- and trans-humans in science fiction; cyborgs in poetry; myths in popular science; politics in stand-up comedy; superheroines in fantasy; philosophy in genre fiction; and several panels on comic book history and politics. As is common with such large conferences, numerous streams happen simultaneously, so of necessity, sometimes choices must be made. Of course, I also gave a paper for a medical humanities session examining the socio-cultural contexts in which Captain America and Deadpool became medically created comic book superheroes.

Some of the presentations I attended demonstrated a strong understanding and application of theory—for instance, a discussion of Deadpool’s insanity from a Foucauldian perspective, or H.G. Wells’s The Island of Dr. Moreau through a Deleuzian lens. Other papers presented fascinating objects for study, but lacked critical analysis. While pop culture conferences are a lot of fun, it’s important to be picky about session choices to ensure a certain amount of academic rigour and some strong take-aways.

© Catherine Jenkins, all rights reserved 2017



Conference Tips:

1. Be selective. You can’t attend every session when multiple streams are happening simultaneously. Preview the schedule and plan which sessions to attend considering content, interests, and locations. You’ll have to make some choices. Be okay with that.

2. Attend with friends. Check out different sessions so you can share experiences, or attend the same sessions and continue the conversation. If a friend or colleague is presenting, show your support by attending their session.

3. Be open to new ideas and perspectives! Take notes.

4. Network! This is a golden opportunity to meet your academic heroes and other grad students. If you enjoyed a talk, tell the presenter! Practice your research elevator pitch. Come prepared to swap contact information, and follow up when the conference is over.

5. Don’t be intimidated by the volume of people. Congress is massive, but with dozens of organizations taking part, often with multiple simultaneous streams, individual panels may only attract a dozen or so people.

6. If you have questions, ask them during question period. Think it through, and then ask clearly.

7. Move between sessions. If you arrive late or have to leave early, be discreet and sit near the door. Staying for the full panel allows you to see how the papers and speakers interact and respond to questions, allowing for a fuller experience.

8. Know when and where breaks are happening. Depending on the conference, sometimes coffee and light snacks are provided; don’t expect a full lunch unless you paid extra. Bring food, just in case.

9. Don’t feel obliged to attend a panel every session. Taking a break and a short walk will refresh you for the next session.

10. Attending a conference is exhilarating, intense, and exhausting brain work. You will be tired by the end of the day. And the next morning, you’ll want to do it all over again! Enjoy the ride!