RWC tutor Hannah Grace Leece gives helpful advice for those interested in presenting their research at a symposia.
When I say I am going to participate in a research symposium, I am usually met with confusion. And rightfully so – I was confused when I first heard the term. What are research symposia, and why do people do them? Well, as someone with quite a bit of experience, I will give you the rundown on what they are and why you should get involved.
What the heck is a research symposium?
I’m glad you asked! A research symposium is an event where people from different places get together to share their research and discuss it. Usually, a common theme connects the study, but it is broad enough that not everyone’s research is the same. It can be school-wide or even nationwide, depending on the symposium. People usually share their research by reading an essay or showing a PowerPoint presentation or something similar. There is also usually a Q&A session for audience members. Other events at the symposium include networking events and keynote speakers.
I have attended many research symposia at Reedley College and Fresno State. The first one I ever participated in was the Macksey Humanities Symposium, a research symposium hosted by Johns Hopkins University for students who completed research in the humanities. Being hosted by such a prestigious university, the research theme was extremely broad and participants came from all over the world. I attended the symposium every year from 2021 to 2023, and had the opportunity to meet people from universities across the nation.
If the thought of presenting your research at such a high profile symposia, there is no need to worry. There are also smaller research symposia that may be limited to students at a particular school. For example, Fresno State has two research symposia I’ve participated in yearly - the Students of English Studies Association (SESA) and the Undergraduate Conference on Multi-Ethnic Literatures of the Americas (UCMLA), a symposium specifically for undergraduate students who have conducted research in multi-ethnic literature.
How the heck do I get into a research symposium?
Great question! To be in a research symposium, you must apply in advance. The first step is finding a seminar and your teachers can be a great help. You can also research online to find symposia that interest you. Consider whether you want to stay local or branch out. Participating in conferences in different states can be fun but often requires extra work with your school to be funded, and you would usually need take a weekend off to travel there and back. Sometimes, however, there is an option to participate virtually. On the other hand, local symposia often will only include people from your area or school and don’t come with the fun of traveling somewhere new.
After deciding what symposium to apply to, you’ll need to complete the application. This requires providing information about yourself, what school you attend, your major, and an abstract for your paper. An abstract is a short (150-250 words) description of what your paper is about and may include the topic of your paper, what research you draw upon, and why the research is essential. Usually, you can find the details for the symposium online, including when your application is due. If you miss the deadline, it’s okay – some symposia will have a deadline for people who missed it the first time; they might extend the deadline if they haven’t received enough applications, or you can email someone to ask if they still accept applications. However, the people who organize the symposium have much work to do to prepare after people turn in their applications, and the deadline is a way of ensuring that people give them the information they need in time to prepare, so it’s best to turn it in by the deadline. It also provides that your application is given proper consideration for the symposium and may increase your chances of being accepted. While you are applying, it’s also a great idea to ask teachers and other academic advisors for help with your application. They can review your abstract, recommend changes to ensure it gets accepted, and help you write your paper well.
While waiting for a decision about your application, it can also be good to look into funding from your school. Most schools have a grant or something similar you can apply to cover the costs of participating in the symposium, such as the application fee. If the symposium isn’t local, they can also cover travel costs, funds to stay in a hotel during the symposium, meals and similar costs. The best way to look for funding is to ask your department chair or your teachers about who to contact to apply for it. Some schools also have a specific office, such as a Research Office, that will have information too.
I was accepted to a symposium! What the heck do I do now?
Congratulations! If you were accepted to a research symposium, it will be fascinating. You get to share your research with others and make critical connections. You may even have the opportunity to travel somewhere! If you haven’t already, look into funding opportunities with your school to see if you can cover costs for the symposium.
Also, this would be the time to work on your paper or presentation for the symposium. You may feel tempted to put it on the back burner and worry about it later, especially if the seminar is a few months away. Those due dates come up quicker than you think, and it’s always better to start early and have extra time to prepare rather than start late and have to rush to finish preparing for the symposium.
As a seasoned symposium presenter, here are a few tips to keep in mind: Keep track of your time! Often, different research symposia won’t give you a page or word limit to keep to, but will rather tell you how much time you have to present (typically around 10-15 minutes per presenter). Reading 1 page of double-spaced essay writing can take roughly 2 minutes, so if your presentation has a time limit of 15 minutes, you want to have at most about seven pages of writing. Take the amount of time you have to present, and divide that number by 2, and that’s generally how many pages you want to be writing.
Practice speaking your presentation, not just writing it! You’d be surprised how often people will write something, but when you present it, a sentence or phrase doesn’t sound the same in their head as it does out loud. Try to prepare for mistakes by reading your paper or practicing your presentation out loud to yourself before!
Ask others questions! Most research symposia include a Q&A component at the end of the panel, and at least in my experience, it’s the scariest part of presenting because you never know what kinds of questions people might ask. To prepare for that, you can give your paper to trusted people in your circle (teachers, friends, or family) and ask them what questions they would ask if they were in the audience. Also, if you’re concerned, you can ask your panel moderator specific questions. The conversation often stops when the Q&A starts, and moderators want to avoid awkward silence, so they’ll ask a presenter an easy question to start the discussion. If you told them a question you wouldn’t mind answering, you could get the chance to shine with a question you know how to answer perfectly!
Finally, know it’s okay not to know everything. The Q&A can be intimidating because you may face a question you don’t know the answer to – but that’s okay! You aren’t expected to know everything about your topic, and you can handle that kind of situation with grace.
Tell the person that you don’t know how to answer their question, but you will look into it, or you can recommend they look at another piece of research for an answer. I’ve done it myself, and nobody blames you for not knowing everything (and if they do, they’re not worth your time anyway).
Participating in a research symposium can seem scary, but the ones I’ve been in have been primarily low-stakes, and I’m more relaxed once I’ve started presenting. It’s a great way to broaden your horizons academically and looks perfect on a job or grad school application. Below, I’ve included a list of potential research symposia to apply to for your perusal – but if you find one not on this list or would like to talk to a trusted teacher/mentor about it, don’t hesitate to take a look at the details and see if you’d like to apply!
Research Symposia for Community College Students-
Bay Honors Consortium: https://bayhonors.org/symposium/
Date: May 4, 2024
Location: Stanford University
Registration Fee: $35
Abstract Submission Deadline: February 14
Comparative Literature Undergraduate Research Symposium: https://calcomlitsymposium.wordpress.com/
Date: April 27th, 2024
Location: UC Berkeley
Registration Fee: N/A
Abstract Submission Deadline: February 7
Central California Research Symposium: https://academics.fresnostate.edu/drgs/grants/students/ccrshome.html
Date: April 24th, 2024
Location: Fresno State University
Registration Fee: N/A
Abstract Submission Deadline: February 15
Central Valley Honors Symposium