The Icing on the Cake: Presenting at Academic Conferences with Colleagues

Jennifer Propp, Purdue University Global Writing Center Tutor


I have been very lucky to have presented at a variety of conferences. In fact, the very first time I stood in front of a room filled with my colleagues’ expectant faces, my co-presenter was none other than my mother, another long-time academic. We discussed the importance of student engagement and demonstrated the various ways to catch and keep our students’ attention from the first to the last day of class. My mother even “smuggled” clickers to the conference to demonstrate how face-to-face instructors can use polls just as their online counterparts did, and still do, in weekly online seminars. The presentation was interactive, and the positive response from the participants really resonated with me. I also understood the benefit of presenting with a partner, especially one I knew so well. We each took the part of the presentation in which we knew we would excel, we joked with one another, and we put on a great “show” if I do say so myself. I loved every minute of it.

The trend of working with a co-presenter continued once I started presenting at online conferences. This time, a co-worker and I decided to discuss a universal issue for nearly all faculty who work in online education, the inability to close the laptop at the end of the day and pay attention to the other areas of our lives. We found that many of our fellow instructors were also desperately seeking a solution to this work-life balance problem, and we thought that investigating it would give us both greater insight into refining our own habits as well. Even though my friend and co-worker and I had a lot in common in that we were both working moms trying to find professional fulfillment while enjoying personal time, many other areas of our lives, such as family backgrounds, level of outside help, and area of the country in which we lived, differed quite a bit. These contrasts provided differing perspectives on how we struggled to find that elusive work-life balance and only added to the discussion with like-minded faculty seeking a way to log out of the online classroom at a reasonable hour without feeling guilty about an unanswered email or recently submitted dropbox assignment. We ended up giving that presentation three or four more times, changing it a bit so that it evolved as we did the same, both as educators and as individuals. I learned a lot from my co-presenter, and I learned a lot from those in the audience who were brave enough to share their own experiences.

Both of my co-presenters, different as they are, are brilliant academics who added so much to our respective presentations. While I have also presented alone and enjoyed the experience, I have to admit that I really enjoy collaborating with a fellow faculty member. It gives the discussion a depth that I might not achieve on my own, and when I find someone with whom I just “click”, when we find that rhythm together and see the enjoyment on the participants’ faces, well, that is just the icing on the academic cake.

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