My First Solo Symposium: The 2014 Jean Piaget Society Annual Meeting in San Francisco
I had three other conferences scheduled for the Spring of 2014, so I was ambivalent about submitting a proposal to the Jean Piaget Society (JPS) Annual Meeting. When my advisor Colette Daiute described her idea for the symposium it sounded exciting. The other panelists were my colleagues and friends and the discussant, Carol Lee, was a well known professor whose work I’d read extensively. This would also be my first opportunity to present the preliminary results from my doctoral research. Further, I had lived and loved San Francisco for three years before moving back to NYC to attend the psych program at The CUNY Graduate Center. I still had many dear friends in SF – at least one of whom I hoped would let me crash on their couch!
Two weeks before the conference our discussant had a family emergency and wrote that should would not be able to attend. However, she would still gladly read our papers and write a response that could be shared at the conference. Normally the discussant is present and shares their feedback, but this seemed a reasonable alternative.
Then one week before the conference all three of the other panelists cancelled due to their own family emergencies. I’m not exactly sure the odds of such a cacophony of calamities – it has to be small though.
This left me, who was already feeling a little drained from the previous three conferences in the spring as the lone presenter. After I recovered from from my initial reaction, which was dumbfounded, I went through my options.
Option A: Same same but different.
I could cancel like everyone else, but in my case it was different because I was only canceling because I didn’t want to be the only person presenting at the symposium – it’s not a symposium if only one person is presenting work!
Option B: Find new Friends?
Colette kindly emailed the conference coordinator who informed her that there was no room in any other symposiums as most other cancellations were accounted for and necessary shuffling had already taken place. So
Option B …
Option C. Go it Alone.
At first this going it alone seemed overwhelming. I was at the very early stages of data analysis. I wasn’t even sure what I was going to say, or how, or that I had anything even. Either way I would be working with my data, either for the conference or for my dissertation. So I put my head down and finished a first round of coding. A few days before the conference it looked like I did have some results. I had also written an extensive dissertation proposal so the main work was cutting down what I was going to say so that it could fit into a 15 minute presentation. And of course now that I was the only person presenting I could present for longer, I had the room for an hour and a half! Not that I was planning to talk for that long. I decided on Option C, to go it alone.
The Presentation Day
What I feared was that it would really be me…alone! The presentation was scheduled for 10:30am on Saturday, the third and final day of the conference. Generally, conference attendance fluctuates throughout the day or days and this is particularly noticeable at smaller conferences like JPS, where there are many fewer audience members in the morning of the first day and in the afternoon of the last day.
So it was 10:29 and this is what the room looked like…no-one:
Thankfully, in the next ten minutes, as I paced around the room, people began to trickle in, and by 10:40 there were about 10 people in attendance! I know, I know, that’s not so many people. Why do all this work, fly across the country, stress out, just for 10 people to attend your talk. Well that’s the life, and 10 is actually not a bad number! It’s also about who the 10 are – and these 10 people were interested and offered insightful comments.
Colette gave a brief introduction and apologized for the people who could not make it and then I gave my talk about how transfer students blogged about their transition to college experience and how their blog posts reflected their cognitive and emotional development. I used PowerPoint not Prezi as I wasn’t sure about the Internet situation at the conference. This turned out to be a good decision as there was no free Internet in the conference room. In case any reader’s are interested, here’s a copy of My JPS PPT, Digital Sense-Making.
I talked for around 25 minutes. It was different than a normal conference presentation because there was no strict time constraint and members of the audience asked questions and we engaged in dialogue during the presentation that continued once the presentation concluded.
The conversation ranged from theoretical perspectives on the diversity of stories and how one person may tell the same story many different ways in part depending on their audience, with one scholar referencing a TED talk by Ngozi Adiche that I’m looking forward to watching, and also to reading Adiche’s work!
Another scholar wondered about the strengths and shortcomings of using human coded narrative analysis – as I had done – as compared to using a computer program like the LIWC. Others questioned the definition of genre and we explored some of the implications of the definition and why it is important to consider genre when doing narrative or mixed methods research.
Usually conference symposiums allow for about 5 minutes of questions and conversation, but we talked for an hour!
This turned out to be one of the best symposiums I’ve ever been a part of!
Seeing the City
It was also great to see my San Francisco taking lunch hours to explore Chinatown and some of North Beach.
Catching up with my olde Willie Brown middle school teacher friends in the evening was super fun. And of course kicking it with my great buddy Nick and his wonderful wife Sarah is the best! So in the end,I’m glad I went with Option C!