Paper Tigers

by ninashiel

I have recently been accepted into my first ‘real’ conference, after a postgraduate one and an internal postgraduate showcase. It is ACLA 2012 at Brown University in March-April 2012, no less. I will be travelling over with my supervisor and giving a paper at the ‘Fictions and Non-Fictions of Virtual Reality’ seminar. I am, of course, massively looking forward to it and not little intimidated at the same time.

A fellow doctoral student revealed recently that she is terrified of posters. The mere thought of making one causes a blockage of sorts, apparently. This got a rather overly harsh response from certain members of the audience. I have been thinking about papers and posters since, not the least because learning to make these is rather an integral part of my own PhD learning experience.

When presented with a choice, my preference is to go with a paper, although I can see how my penchant for the visual would lure me into posterdom at some point as well. However, I, too, don’t really know the mechanics behind a good poster – or, to be absolutely honest, any kind of posters. Papers I at least have an idea about, although there are many things in them that seem to me really rather arcane at this point. You write stuff down, you throw a few words or pictures into a powerpoint, and then you deliver a presentation orally. …Right?

Well, no. Or, theoretically, yes. But before you got to that stage, you need to come up with a topic and to write an abstract. And that is what I, at this stage, find the most difficult in the whole process. Give me an essay topic and I’ll go research it and write it up. But when I need to think of something that is/should be original, presentable and interesting as well as within my ability to present in about 3500 words… I don’t quite freeze, but I certainly feel very very cold. It’s a threshold thing: from the MA programme, I’m used to coming up with my own essay topic, but I feel that the topic of a paper needs to be good enough, interesting enough, original enough… you get the idea. It should have a relevancy to your own work, and yet it shouldn’t (probably) divulge the core ideas of your thesis. Wow. I’m still struggling with basic ideas like: should you do the research beforehand and then present it as a paper, or select a topic to do research on and then do the actual research? I fear that in many cases, for me, it tends to be the latter…

I intend to address my, if not Fear, then Uncertainty of Papers by getting myself into situations that require them as much as possible. The ACLA meeting will be a good start – and hopefully, based on my handling of that as well as other people’s examples, I will have a better idea again what exactly I should be doing.