Conversation with a First Time Conference Presenter

One of the LUC Graduate History Conference’s main goals is to serve as an ‘entry point’ into the world of academic conferences. Many of our participants have been first time presenters. In an effort to further familiarize potential presenters with the submission, preparation and presentation process, we asked a first timer from our previous conference to describe her experience. Erin tells us about her presentation, “Dealing in the Dead: The American Civil War and the Birth of the Funeral Industry,” which was part of the panel titled “Medicine, Health and the Body in Late 19th-Century America.”

Tell us about yourself. Field of study, year in the program, all that first day of class stuff.

My name is Erin Feichtinger, hailing from Omaha Nebraska. I did my undergrad at Loyola Chicago, graduating in 2006 with a B.S.Ed in Special Education with endorsements in 6-12 History, Curriculum Development, Early Childhood Education, and Severe/Profound Life Skills Development. I have just completed my first year in doctoral work at Loyola Chicago in History. My interest is in the 17th and 18th century Atlantic World, particularly capital punishment and perceptions/treatment of the dead criminal body.

Why did you submit a paper for the conference?

I submitted a paper to the conference because I am a sucker for peer-pressure and it seemed like everyone else was doing it. I kid. Presenting at a graduate student conference seemed a perfect way to ease into the conference atmosphere- and that idea proved true.

After your paper was accepted, what worries did you have about the presentation process?

When my paper was accepted, my main worry was editing and cutting a 31-page paper down to a 12-page paper. It was difficult to decide on only one main point to present, but once I made that decision, it became an issue of being less loquacious and more concise.

On what previous work did you base your talk? How much editing did it need?

My paper was a bit of an ill-fated attempt to connect the American Civil War to the development of the American funeral industry as we know it today. Editing it for the conference actually helped me focus my own thoughts, and it turned out a stronger paper than it had been originally. Not to mention, when you go up to the podium and start talking about decomposing bodies and the methods of embalming in the 19th-century, it really wakes up the audience.

How did you prepare to present?

In preparing to present, my colleagues were a tremendous help. After we all made our first (second, third, umpteenth) edits, we had a brown-bag session the day before the conference where we presented our papers and offered comments. Reading it aloud over and over didn’t hurt either.

What were your expectations of the actual conference day? What surprised you?

I was nervous for the conference, because I had no real idea of what to expect, especially for the comments and questions. But I was comfortable with my knowledge on the topic, and so felt prepared in that aspect. And it’s true what they say- you are probably going to be the only person in the room who knows and can speak confidently on your specific research.

What would you say to someone contemplating submitting their first paper proposal for the conference?

I would say, “Do it, kid.” A conference by and for graduate students is a laid-back but still rigorous exercise. It’s great practice for submitting and presenting at the real Ivory Tower conferences. Not to mention going to other panels and hearing other students’ research is interesting and a good opportunity for learning outside of your own department. Plus, there’s free food.

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