Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Conference Paper: To Revise, or Not to Revise?

So, I have a bit of a professional dilemma. As many of you know, I'm presenting a paper at an international postgraduate conference in my field next week in England. The paper is based on a section of a dissertation chapter, which I actually wrote early in the spring. Technically, then, the paper is written. I've reviewed it to make some minor changes in wording, organization, etc., but I haven't yet done any significant revision. The good thing is that any revision I do to the paper will essentially also be revision for the chapter. The bad thing is that I just don't feel like doing any revision work right now. I'd rather finalize my itinerary for the trip (a daily itinerary), get all my paperwork in order, get the house cleaned up for my mom's visit, and generally prepare a list of some of the things hubby will need to take care of while I'm gone.

I know I sound totally lame. I know this is completely juvenile of me to think I can just say "I don't wanna...", but that's kinda what I'm saying. I'm also considering two practical points:

a) aren't conference papers supposed to be rough? they're sort of like trial runs for an audience, rather than perfectly revised pieces, right?

b) in the end, all that matters is that i got into this conference, and it's a pretty good line on my vitae; it's highly unlikely that presenting a rough paper will matter to anyone else in the long run.

The question, then, is whether or not to spend two full work days revising the conference paper. What say you? Am I missing something important to the equation? Is this the time where someone is forced to tell me to be a grown up and get my shit together?


LisaWV said...

You should give yourself a couple of hours to do a thorough read-through. It should adhere exactly to the time limits, or run a bit short -- seriously, 10 pp is about 18-20 minutes reading time, so make sure you've read it out loud to yourself and timed yourself. You will find yourself editing as you do this, and that's a good thing -- you don't want to do it extemporaneously. While you don't need to fret too much about it, I would definitely devote a few hours to it. While the professional stakes are relatively low (a line on the c.v, exactly), you will get there, be energized by the whole scholarly vibe, and suddenly panic that your work isn't up to snuff. At least this is what generally happens to me, and it makes the conference harder to enjoy and learn from if you are in panic mode over your rough draft.

Anyway, that's my suggestion -- to make it a little less rough. It Is about "works in progress" at conferences, but some people literally show up with a bundle of disorganized notes and drive people nuts trying to follow a thesis.

Try not to do too much, though -- both in terms of time and in terms of content. It is a short exercise. Sounds crazy to fly overseas to speak for 20 minutes on a tiny bit of a topic, but that's what we do! BTDT. The chance to learn from others, though, is really great -- it truly is "continuing education" for scholars. I think conferences are generally underrated as professional experiences. My last three publications came out of conference presentations. It's worth thinking about the presentation that way -- someone in the audience may have a home for the work in a journal or essay collection, so do enough to get the best part of your argument out there in the best possible light.

Have a great time!

M said...

Ok, my friend, I have to do it. I have to point out the irony that you'd rather create a daily itinerary (and if I know you at all, it will include precisely where you will be at precisely the time you will be there as well as a description of what you will be doing) than revise your paper! Yes, I am laughing at you just a little bit. ;)

AcadeMama said...

lisa: Great advice, and you're exactly right. I always do several read-throughs to make sure I'm within the time limits and I haven't missed any glaring mistakes, but these are easy things to take care of. I just have to not let myself get carried away in revising, which is a possibility since the paper is tied to the diss.

And you got 3 pubs out of conference presentations?! What a rock star! I can only hope one of your people is in my audience :)

M: Yes, my name is AcadeMama, and I'm Obsessive/Compulsive. I love my lists, and your idea of my itinerary is pretty close to accurate. It will include Plan B's, just in case Plan A is close, changed, moved, etc. It's sad, I know, but it's me.

And it's okay to'll be in good company with my husband.

Amy Reads said...

Hi Academama,
I must echo Lisa here because publication interest can come out of conference papers. Certainly it can be rough--all good conference papers are A Work In Progress--but be the best "you" you can be, no?

PS Make sure to include "Harrod's tea for Amy Reads" on your itinerary :)

Mad Grad Mom said...

AcadeMama, I have to say a read-through is probably sufficient. After all, it is a work-in-progress and you do want comments on how to improve it. You may find that any major revisions you undertake might receive comments for more changes and then you'll be back where you started.

I, too, like my lists and would prefer planning an itenary rather than revising!

Kalynne Pudner said...

I would definitely revise the paper. Maybe just one work day, or at least on the flight. It's worth it for the confidence you'll exude, the impression you'll leave on The Giant in your field what might happen to show up, the diss work you won't have to do later. Lisa's suggestion to read it aloud, revising as you go -- and I would say, follow this with another read-aloud -- is a very good one.

(I followed your comment on Confessions of a Community College Dean, by the way. Nice to meet another Academic Mama.)

AcadeMama said...

Hi Kalynne, glad to have your advice!

The paper is indeed revised, and upon a second read, it needed some changes. My audience will appreciate the prefatory description of my approach, and I also smoothed out some of the transitions, clarified what's at stake in the paper, etc. I feel much better about it, and I still plan to tinker with it a bit on the flight and the evening before. I just hope I can access a printer :0

Everyone was right, so I'm glad to have such smart readers!