Making Your Conference Experience Matter: Notes from WatCon18

03 November 2018 By Christina Luiggi 0 Comments

The University of Louisville’s Twelfth Biennial Thomas R. Watson Conference, entitled “Making Future Matters,” detailed a two-fold approach to exploring the ways rhetoric and writing work might materialize in the near future. The “Call to the Conference” put it most poignantly: “Today’s social and political climate raises important questions about contemporary knowledge-making practices in relation to what work we do and how we do it.” Conference panel topics ranged in focus from archives to current headlines, from Queer-Crip futures to new materialisms. There was something engaging for rhetoric and writing lovers of all stripes.


I attended as a presenter in the “Queer Matters: Bodies, Archives, and Material Futures” panel. My Presentation, “We Serve All Who Served: Digital Genre Analysis of Veteran Affairs Medical Centers’ Inclusion Practices Post-Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,” is part of a research project I conducted with my Incubator mentors, Drs. Jen Ware and Ashley Hall. As I approach the final months of my M.A. and look toward potential PhD programs, conferences have taken on new meaning for me. My first few conference visits were a place to go learn from the seasoned scholars and make friends with fellow newbies. Now I find myself in a between-space, still a newbie but also an emerging scholar with developing expertise and things to say. I am beginning to see seasoned scholars as potential future mentors and co-creators of knowledge in the field. I see fellow grad students as colleagues, and look forward to working with them into the future.


Here, I document some highlights from Watson Conference and a few “pro-tips” I’ve learned over my first few years of conferencing.


Conference Mode: Before CW18 my mentor reminded our cohort that as soon as we arrive to the local area surrounding the conference, we should consider ourselves in “conference mode.” Basically, you never know who might cross your path, so you should be alert and ready to network. In conference mode you’re primarily representing your institution and your professional work, which means you should make sure you don't say or do anything that would poorly represent yourself or your community. As I’m in my final year of an interdisciplinary M.A. experience, I’ve been to multiple conferences. I haven’t experienced a connected community in the way I have with CWcon and WatCon. This was my second Rhetoric and Writing Conference and my first conference alone and out-of-state. True to my mentor’s words, within five minutes of checking into Watson Conference I encountered a friendly face. Sarah Warren-Riley from Illinois State University waved me over, caught me up on her past few months, and gave my son a cinnamon roll.


Map Out the Location and Panels: I was only able to spend a day at the conference. Since I'd brought my son along, my opportunities to attend panels were limited. I took time to map out a schedule in advance, mostly related to my disciplinary interests and hopeful PhD programs. It’s always best to look at the conference lineup before you attend. Choose panels that align with your interests, but don’t be afraid to completely branch out. At CWCon, Cheryl Ball told GRN participants she tries to attend at least one panel she knows nothing about--this ensures you “stay curious” and keep yourself open to possibilities.


I didn’t think to stake out a map of Louisville University before arriving at the conference. If I had, I would have saved some time in orienting myself before jumping into panels. If you have time to relax pre-conference, getting to know the conference layout by wandering around is bound to provide a richer experience.


Follow Up: Plan to sit down sometime in the week after the conference and email folks with which you would like to establish a professional relationship--especially if you’d like to explore potential for collaboration. Remember to be collegial and concise, mentioning any information you have to trade and expressing appreciation for their time and their work.


Look for Reviewer Opportunities: Leading up to WatCon18, Sweetland Digital Rhetoric Collaborative had a call for Watson Conference reviewers. The DRC has reviewed past WatCon panels and CWcon panels, and the reviews provide an opportunity for continued conversation and collaboration. I learned about the call after the conference, when I was contacted with plans to review my presentation. Now that I know about this opportunity, I will definitely make plans to review future conference panels. What a great way to continue conference conversations and provide information for community members unable to attend.


The rhetoric and writing community has a deeply welcoming and accessible space at the Watson Conference. While I was only able to stay for a day, the time was well-spent. I gained new insights and a deeper sense of the conversation in my discipline that will guide my own work as it takes shape in the future.


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