A couple of weeks ago, I wrote a ten page, single-spaced paper between midnight and five am on a Sunday morning. The next day I had a friend and my roommate look it over. After doing a couple of edits myself, I submitted this paper at 7 PM and tried not to think about how horrible the writing in the paper must be or to dwell on every formatting decision I’ve ever made.
What was this hurried, ill-advised writing for? A last minute class assignment? Something for a job? The proposal for my campaign against Trump?
Alas, it was for something far geekier: I submitted a paper to present at a Harry Potter Conference.
Even nerdier, they accepted me.
Before I continue: I do not recommend this method of writing if you want to present at a conference. Any research should be done over a long period of time with planning, editing, and advice from others both in and outside of the field. You should leave time to reflect and change your mind or see a new angle, not attempt to get it done in a 14 hour period. The only reason I was able to do this is that I’ve read the Harry Potter series thirteen times and, as such, knew a lot of the needed information off the top of my head.
So, once the Harry Potter conference said they wanted me to speak, I said yes immediately, without really thinking it through. I don’t know how to present a paper at a conference. How do I dress? Who do I contact? How does any of this work? Also, this conference is on a Friday at 9 am. In Pennsylvania. I would be missing a class and need to find a way to get there.
After looking into this, I determined that this trip would be affordable (around $200), but it’s not necessarily a price that a unemployed college student would really feel very comfortable paying.
Thankfully, Rutgers can fund your conference travels.
Unfortunately, you need a research mentor to apply and I did this all on my lonesome. Also, the only professors I really know are in the Molecular Biology and Biochemistry Department and the Classics Department, neither of which had a whole lot to do with the paper.
So, given the scenario, what’s a girl to do?
In my case, I emailed my Ancient Greek professor, Professor Allen-Hornblower, who is completely awesome. There’s a saying about how students slave for hours over an email that the professor reads in under a minute — that’s definitely the case here. I waited a day before sending the email because I was busy worrying about how it would be phrased, how any professor would view a Harry Potter conference, and if I was being too presumptuous.
But I really shouldn’t have worried about it. The professors in the Classics department are amazing and very willing to help anyone who asks.
For example, Professor Allen-Hornblower got back to me the same evening I sent the email and we met the next day. She helped me not only with determining my next steps in preparing for the conference, but also with the funding. She said that she’d vouch for me.
Unfortunately, at this point the funding was due in two days and we weren’t able to get everything done on time. However, I’m still going — just paying out of pocket.
So then why tell you this story?
If you are ever like me and have a sudden impulse to submit a paper to present at a conference on your own with no help, I figured you could learn from my mistakes so that if you get accepted, you don’t have to pay to get where you need to be.
Here’s a handy list of things to do if you end up in this scenario:
- Always think carefully before you say you will do anything, no matter how exciting being accepted is.
- Find a mentor to support ASAP. Don’t be afraid to email professors, most will be understanding. Even if you don’t want/need funding, it’s good to talk to someone who regularly goes to academic conferences and knows what’s going on.
- Got to the conference link above.
- Make sure you have enough time to get things together. The deadline is the last day of every month. If you don’t, there are alternatives, but also email ahead to see if you could get an extension.
- No matter what happens, funding wise, be excited. You’re about to go somewhere to speak about something you worked hard on, about a topic you know well, and with a bunch of other people who are equally as passionate about the same field.
This’ll be fun.