The second post in the Doctoral Genres writing series with Ibrar Bhatt (http://ibrarspace.net) will be on abstracts for conferences as these is an integral part of the professional development of PhD students. I chose this topic as I have been working on several abstracts in the past couple of months so I wanted to share my experiences with the differences and similarities among them.
I have divided this post in two – writing proposals and abstracts for student led conferences and seminars and abstracts for big international conferences. There are substantial differences between the two and some important considerations to be made. As students have to be strategic about the conferences they attend, I will use my story as an example: in the first year of my studies I was really exploring what conferences are out there and I signed up for student conferences where I could gain confidence in presenting my research in front of different audiences and such not necessarily from the field of education. This enabled me to pull out similarities between my educational research and other projects in humanities as in many occasions students conferences welcome PhD students from different fields. Writing an abstract for a student conference in my opinion is quite straightforward – writing about your research up to date without necessarily focussing on findings as you are not expected to be there just yet… These events are generally recommended for sharing work in progress, research plans and questions. In this scenario, the abstract contains the research rationale and aims, focus on methodology and theoretical framework where applicable and some indication of the stage of research work the student is at which again justifies the presentation. Just like presentations at student conferences, abstracts are more informal as it is easier to get to present at one of these. This is reinforced by the general notion that student conferences are for practicing, sharing, networking and gaining confidence among other things.
Having been to a number of student conferences, my plan for the next academic years was to take part in presenting my research at international conferences both in the UK and overseas. My topic is such that actually the bulk of conferences do not require travelling overseas but I was on the lookout for suitable events regardless of the location. I recently submitted an abstract for an international conference where my research was easily fitting into the overall theme and the subthemes. With big conferences it is very important that the research fits in, otherwise it will not be accepted. These conferences are organised around specific themes and research areas. The abstract has to show a clear link to the selected theme, a research rationale and a brief description of the relevant data and design. There is also an expectation for presenting findings so even when presenting work in progress; the work should be near completion rather than at the initial stages. While student conferences are much more focused on the research itself, for big conferences there are some decisions to be made as to which aspects of the research to be presented, which findings, in what theoretical framework, etc.
Being strategic about which international conferences to attend is crucial. Not only they are expensive to attend, but also some run every two years so prior research is necessary. Then again – the conference themes and focus… I just submitted an abstract to a conference which is only broadly related to my research and I was not sure how it fit into the subthemes. This required me to do some tweaking and present the research from a different perspective than the one I am adopting for my PhD – I had to start broad with the context where my research fits into the conference theme and then get to the point of the case studies…
To summarise, all abstracts are the backbone of the paper presented at a conference, they have to point to its structure and organisation around topic, justification and importance along with information about the research design, findings and analysis. Depending on the type of conference, these will vary. Writing abstracts is fun, it is a good way to lay the foundations of the paper and actually get an idea if you have something to present or not. What are your experiences with writing abstracts?