The University of Michigan Press attends several conferences each year. One of our editorial assistants, Danielle, went to her first one last weekend. Read our Q&A to hear about her experience attending panels, her impressions of Baltimore, and her advice for other first-time conference attendees.
Kathryn: Your first conference! Were you nervous? How did you prepare for it?
Danielle: I was very nervous! I tried to prepare for the conference by looking over all the information about attending conferences that I had been given by colleagues. The International Studies Association website also had a packet of information for people attending the conference for the first time. Even though this was geared towards junior scholars rather than exhibitors, it was still very helpful in giving me an idea of what to expect.
Were you able to attend any of the panels? What were those like?
The number of panels made it overwhelming to look at the program book, but I chose to attend a panel on Historical Perspectives of Latin America. Four scholars presented the information they’ve been researching, and the chair gave them each feedback. It seemed much more informal than I had expected, and only one of the panelists actually had presentation slides. I also attended a JSS (Junior Scholar Symposium) Group. It was similar to a panel in that four scholars presented and discussed their research, but it was geared towards helping scholars from a more junior level on any specific paper. One of them presented a chapter from a manuscript she was writing, another presented part of her thesis, and another presented a paper he were working on as a PhD student. They also asked one another more questions and made more suggestions than the scholars in the panel I had attended.
Were you able to meet up with other university press members?
Yes, I tried to meet some of the representatives from other presses, and I met up with a group of them after exhibit hours. I was surprised to find that some of them have been to enough of the same conferences that they have established friendships despite living in different regions.
Did you meet any of the authors whose books you’ve worked on? What was that like?
It was exciting to meet people with whom I’ve only had email correspondence, particularly a few authors who were excited to meet me as well. A lot of scholars seemed very different in person from the impression I got from their writing. It was especially rewarding to see how excited some authors are about promoting their book. Since I have a lot more contact with authors in the early stages of getting their books reviewed and approved, I don’t usually hear as much about how the book is received, and I watched our booth to see which books interested scholars most.
Recently, tensions have been high regarding the recent immigration restrictions. Many academics who normally would have attended ISA decided to not to attend since they didn’t feel safe, or because they wanted to stand in solidarity with those affected. Other academics felt like choosing to still attend ISA was a form of resistance in itself. What was the atmosphere at ISA like, given the situation?
In the exhibit hall, at least, everyone seemed to be going about business as normal. But whenever there was a conversation between scholars, or during the panels, you could tell that these problems were never far from anyone’s thoughts. There was a solidarity protest outside of the exhibit hall on Friday, and throughout the conference I overheard comments about holding future ISA conferences outside of North America.
Did you get to explore Baltimore outside of the conference? Any favorite spots?
I managed to explore quite a bit of Baltimore outside of the conference. My favorite spots included the Peabody Library, the Baltimore Arts Tower, and the Barnes and Noble located inside the old Power Plant building because all three of these buildings were very unique. While meeting up with a friend on George Washington’s birthday, we also climbed the Baltimore Washington Monument, which has a great view of the city.
Do you have any advice for someone else attending a conference for the first time? If you go back next year, what do you think you’d do differently?
I would advise anyone attending a conference for the first time to be ready to talk to people! If I get to go back to the conference, I’d like to try to attend one of the panels that attract a larger crowd, to see how those differ from the smaller one I attended. I would also like to talk more with other university presses representatives.