Guest post by Kate Carruthers Thomas: Conference with confidence…?!

In this post, Kate Carruthers Thomas presents a searing pastiche of ‘top tips’ guides on attending conferences, illustrated with her own cartoon sketches.

Check in your baggage by Kate Carruthers Thomas

Love ’em or hate ’em, conferences are part of the academic wallpaper. Whether you’re a Novice, Nervous or Super delegate, there’s academic capital to be won in understanding the conference game and playing it with confidence! Here’s a handy guide …

1) Check in your Baggage

Conference Registration is a melting pot of eagerness, experts and egos. It’s your first opportunity to take the conference temperature. Cliquey or collegial? Stuffy or sociable? Collect your freebies and pass go. You may well bump into your theoretical hero/ine over coffee. Be warned, they may disappoint you by being (merely) human.

2) The Welcome

Following a crucial briefing on toilets and fire safety, delegates will be welcomed by a VIP representing the host university. If the Vice Chancellor doesn’t want to do it, their Deputy or a Dean will have to.

The welcome by Kate Carruthers Thomas

Whoever it is, they will very often be a White male in late-middle age and they will stress how delighted they are to have the opportunity to promote their brand welcome your academic tribe to their university to do important work. They will always say they wish they could stay for the whole conference. They won’t – although you might spot them again at the Conference Dinner.

3) Accessorise, Accessorise, Accessorise!

Adequately equipped, you need never go hungry or be out of touch, despite spending three days cloistered in gloomy lecture theatres or state of the art classrooms. Don’t fall into the trap of thinking keynotes are about listening. These are golden opportunities to a) hoard or devour free food; b) scope potential collaborators/rivals; c) launch yourself into the Twitter chamber (the equivalent of standing up and waving).

Accessorise, accessorise, accessorise by Kate Carruthers Thomas

NOTE 1: Others will endlessly paraphrase keynote speakers’ bullet points in their Tweets so you don’t need to.

NOTE 2: don’t overdo it on the #academicshoes Tweets – increasingly conference organisers are projecting the conference Twitter feed on the big screen.

4) The Conference Celeb

There will inevitably be one. It may be one of the old guard whose books are on all the reading lists, or perhaps the tribe’s latest Radicalista. More than one might mean an entertaining intellectual scuffle – someone has to be Top Dog! Conference Celebs are easy to spot. If you are extremely unlucky, your very first ever/fantastically innovative conference paper presentation will be scheduled against their hugely significant one. Don’t take it personally. Just be grateful for any audience at all!

The conference sleb by Kate Carruthers Thomas

5) … and talking of presentation …

… can you spot the 5 criminal mistakes in this picture?

and talking of presentation by Kate Carruthers Thomas

ANSWERS: 1. Way way WAY too many slides. 2. Way way WAY too much content on each slide. 3.Forgetting your audience is present. 4. Running over into a refreshment break (unforgiveable). 5. Ignoring the Chair (a very bad idea).

About Kate Carruthers Thomas

Bio pic by Kate Carruthers ThomasDr Kate Carruthers Thomas is Senior Research Fellow and Athena SWAN Project Manager at Birmingham City University. Her research interests include higher education, gender and belonging. Kate is a conference veteran and accidental cartoonist.


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