Writing a Conference Report

Another task that I had to do in my ‘manic month’ of conferences was write a conference report…having never been to a conference, and having therefore never written a conference report.

The conference itself was a two-day event with great food, varied papers, and interesting people from all over the world. It wasn’t entirely relevant to my own PhD but it was fascinating nonetheless, and conferences that don’t completely tick all your boxes are still useful for a general awareness of what’s going on in academic thought. For example, at the end of the conference, at a discussion between attendees, it was agreed that there was a gap in academia for that which had been the conference theme.

But getting down to the business of the conference report, let’s go through five simple things to bear in mind.

Firstly, consider who you are writing for.
– In this instance, I was writing for the sponsors of the event (a more detailed affair) as well as for the university website (a more succinct version of the same). In the conference we organised, we had to write a report for our funding body where we were given a template – details to be included of how much money was spent, what the feedback was, what we’d do differently. However, in this case, there was no template and no real guidance so I set to work writing.

Secondly, write how you write.
– I’m a drafter and so I pretty much wrote all my notes down first off. Then I made the document more concise, taking bits out, and adding bits in where needed. When it came to the website version, I cut a lot.

Thirdly, consider details.
– Details needed in a conference report include general information on the running of the event, the chairing of the sessions, and the content of the papers. But what is also useful is a sporadic inclusion of the speaker’s presentation style, his/her humour, or his/her engagement with the audience. Also, some minor details on the venue might be helpful, and the general atmosphere of the conference – relaxed, intense, engaged, questioning etc.

Fourthly, don’t worry if you don’t understand the paper.
– The conference report doesn’t allow for pages of detail and so the conference papers that are harder to understand can perhaps feature as shorter paragraphs – even sentences.

Fifthly, demonstrate threads.
– Try and spot threads in the themes and content of the papers. Make these similarities explicit, foregrounding how the conference has led to wider discussions on subject ‘x’ or question ‘y’. At the end of the report, again, tie together the things that were in common.

The report is there to give an overview of what happened, what was discussed, and what was concluded. It is useful to those who attended, and those who didn’t. It is useful for the organisers and the funders. Overall, it’s a very useful document.

But don’t worry too much about specifics. Enjoy the conference, get stuck in to discussion, and conclusions will follow on naturally.

Isolation or the Occasion for Joy

In a postgraduate context, you can choose either to throw yourself into the PGR community, sometimes losing focus on your own work as you consider others progress or you choose to isolate yourself and get on with your own work at the expense of social interaction and expansion of your own knowledge.

I certainly haven’t ‘thrown’ myself into postgrad events and groups, but I do love my office. I love constant contact with people and, through the way that each of those typing away in the same room as me is at a different stage of their PhD, I love the reminder that I am starting something which has an end point.

But more than this, working with and amongst others means that you can feed into other people’s research and invest in them. One of my Chinese colleagues often asks me simply to decipher her supervisor’s handwriting. More than this, with my British heritage, my academic past, and my current stage in life, I can contribute effectively to other researcher’s lives and work. I watched a British film with a fellow researcher in order to point out to her the specifically british elements of its production – place names, swear words etc.

This is huge. If you’re reading this and you’re a researcher, I’d plead with you to not just focus on your own work, but to look at those around you, to attend conferences, and to actively engage with how your personal viewpoint can help someone else see something they might not have seen otherwise.

What a joy, to be invited into the work and research of friends and colleagues.