Surviving Your First Conference- Realistic Advice for First Time Academic Conference Goers

05 June 2018 By Amanda Harris Amanda Harris (61) 0 Comments


The Computers and Writing Conference (CWCon) is a congregation of digital rhetoricians where scholars, from undergrads to PhDs, can share their ideas, get feedback, and network.

As someone on the cusp of Graduate school, I was nervous to apply- much less to get in a car and drive nine hours with people I barely knew. After attending the annual CWCon last week, I can say wholeheartedly I would go again in a heartbeat. However, there are many things I wish I knew before going- and in some cases before applying. Here are some tips and tricks to survive your first conference, from application to the return trip.



  1. Get a Mentor- Faculty are your friends. Find someone at your University you jive with and latch onto them. If you’re at Wright State, the folks at the New Media Incubator can help. This is for more than just conferences, but a mentor will walk you through step by step.
  2. Apply- Don’t just apply to the conference itself, apply to the Graduate Research Network (GRN) or another conference equivalent. Even undergrads can take part in what the GRN has to offer. And believe me, they offer a lot of feedback on your research and can give you invaluable advice for the future.
  3. Don’t panic if you aren’t accepted right away- It took me a solid semester to receive my acceptance letter for both the GRN and the Conference itself.



  1. Pack Comfortable Shoes- You may be tempted to wear your amazing new six-inch heels. Don’t do it. You’ll be miserable after the first day. Instead, carry around your fancy shoes for presenting and wear sneakers around the conference.
  2. Don’t spend a ton of money on new clothes- This goes double for CWCon, as the community is hugely laid back. Don’t feel like you need to walk around in a suit and tie, or a dress and heels. I bought a bunch of new clothes and left a lot of my favorite ‘me style’ clothes at home, only to find out I could have worn jeans the whole time.
  3. Take Something Fun- If you have a laptop with games on it, or Netflix. A handheld game. Anything non-academic to do in your downtime. Your brain will need a break.
  4. Take Friends- If your mentor is anything like mine, they'll have arranged for a whole gaggle of people to be at the conference. Hitch a ride and split gas. It will save you money and you’ll end up with new friends.




  1. Go to Social Events- The first night (and almost every night after) there will be Mixers and Dinners, Bowling and Karaoke, social events of all stripes for conference-goers. Go to them. You don’t need to go to ALL of them, but it is a good way to meet others in your field. Free booze and snacks are always a plus too.
  2. Don’t be, or try not to be intimidated- When I, an undergrad, had to present to a roundtable full of PhDs, I nearly passed out. I thought they would think my research was laughable. They didn’t. In fact, just the opposite. Have confidence in your ideas- they didn't let you into this conference for nothing.
  3. Talk to People- I challenged myself to talk in-depth to one person every day, whether personally or professionally. I found myself sitting in the lobby of our dorms, talking for almost two hours about random things. CWCon especially is a welcoming conference.
  4. Take a Night Off- If you’re like me, tons of social interaction and walking around is exhausting. If you are feeling overwhelmed or exhausted, take the night off. Hang out in your dorm and watch Netflix. Bonus tip: Order local takeout from around where you’re staying. Try something new!
  5. Go to Keynotes- CWCon had two awesome keynote speakers: Dr. Samantha Blackmon and Dr. Elizabeth Losh. These two gave some amazing presentations, plus- the caterers were killer. Free lunch and amazing keynotes- who could say no?
  6. Go to Panels and be respectful- Chances are someone might stutter when they present, or maybe the panel or presentations might not be what you thought. Make the most of it and be respectful.
  7. Take Notes- Not just on key ideas, but write down literally as many names as you can. If you meet someone who researches in your area, get their info ASAP!
  8. Have fun- You’re going to be tired, you’re going to be overwhelmed- but try to have as much fun as you can!



  1. Leave time to recover- After walking, talking, thinking, and traveling, make sure you have time off school or work to recoup.
  2. Write and/or Reflect- Go through your pictures, write a blog post or a little guide for people after you. Regardless, make sure you're reflecting on what you learned and who you met.


CWCon was an amazing experience, but it was also an exhausting one. But for all of the overwhelming uncertainty, I am so happy that I had this opportunity. Going to my first conference was what solidified my decision for the program that I want to go into for Graduate school. So please, please, please- don’t be afraid to put yourself out there for the first time. Good luck, and happy conferencing!


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