Research postgraduates

The benefits of the big conference

By Tracy McAvinue, PhD candidate with School of English, Irish and Communication

I attended the 2019 annual conference for the International Association for the Study of Irish Literatures (IASIL) in Trinity College Dublin on 22-26 July, for which I gratefully received funding from the Faculty of Arts, Humanities and Social Sciences.

This conference marked the fiftieth anniversary of the founding of IASIL, changed in 1997 from IASAIL, the International Association for the Study of Anglo-Irish Literature, to better reflect a diversity of international traditions of Irish writing and culture. This conference, titled “The Critical Ground” carried on this ethos, with many of its plenaries, panels, and roundtables focusing on the evolution of Irish studies from IASIL’s genesis, to its role in the shaping of the future of Irish scholarship.  The annual IASIL conference is one of the biggest in Irish studies, with members located in 35 countries worldwide.

This conference was markedly different to anything else that I had attended. My experience of conferences thus far has been limited to ones of a much smaller scale; they have either been in-house at UL, subject specific, or an international conference that, like most of the others, involved a relatively small number of participants being present for the entire conference in one location.  

There are numerous advantages to participating in a conference of this size. The conference was populated by the key academic figures in mine and related fields, and internationally-acclaimed scholars and writers delivered papers or were plenary speakers. Due to the numerous contributors, I was able to hear about a range of topics, and particularly see how senior academics deliver papers, and the nuanced approaches they take. The main benefits, however, are the immense networking possibilities; this has led to a number of opportunities for me going forward including potential collaborations and further conferences related to my research area. Presenting my work and networking at this conference has helped to establish me and my research area at a vital point in my academic career, and I returned home armed with ideas and recommendations that will be of tremendous benefit.

One of the negatives is that you are unable to attend many papers of interest due to the number of parallel panels; this was an issue noted by everybody, although being spoiled for choice in interesting content is a good complaint! Conferences of this scale could also be quite a daunting prospect if you haven’t yet presented your work. I highly recommend presenting your paper at the AHSS conference in UL in preparation for any other conferences–I did, and this gave me a considerable advantage in terms of preparedness and confidence. 

In all, attending big conferences such as this can be extremely beneficial to early career scholars, but could be quite intimidating to a new or inexperienced graduate student. This is why, of course, the opportunity offered by AHSS to attend conferences in the first year of a PhD without presenting is so valuable and certainly one to be availed of.

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