Well, I've finished my AERA paper and my NARST paper, and now I just need to put the talks together. I thought I'd take a few minutes to write a brief blog post about preparing for these conferences and about what I'll do when I'm there.
Conference preparation is always interesting. You submit proposals eight to nine months in advance, and get around to writing the papers about 3 weeks before the conference (or at least this is how it plays out for me). By then, I find it hard to be entirely faithful to my proposal. Usually the resulting paper is much more than the proposal indicated. Crafting these written works is indeed important, because they are the vehicle by which we first share our ideas and work with colleagues outside of our immediate working group. Also, these papers are often the first formal drafts of manuscripts which will later be submitted for publication in refereed journals.
Once the paper is written, I usually put together the PowerPoint talk about a week in advance. The .ppt is perhaps a dreadful format/means by which to deliver your talk, but it is the expected norm (unless you're giving a poster). The talk itself is between eight and 15 minutes long depending on the session type and format. Usually there is time for a few questions after the talk or at the end of the session. So in all, you may have about 20 minutes "on stage" to communicate and respond directly to your audience.
To me, however, the true value of conference attendance and presentation is not necessarily in the formal delivery of the research talk. While very important and necessary for introducing people to your work, the most valuable part of this whole experience is meeting others who are interested in similar research topics and developing relationships which might lead to connection and collaboration. It is great to get to know other people in your field. to discuss ideas with each other, and to brainstorm new ideas and future work. Much like when I was a classroom teacher and used to go to NSTA every year, I felt recharged and invigorated after talking to other science teachers outside of my own school. In many ways, conference attendance can help to battle the isolation teachers and academics can feel when we're pursuing our own thing most of the year.
Of course, for myself right now at this early stage in my career as an educational researcher, these connections are also essential to make as I'll be on the job market soon. I'm not sure where this PhD will take me when I finish it within the next year, but I've got to keep all of the doors open and going to these conferences is a great way to "collect" those doors. So if you're going to be at AERA or NARST in the next couple of weeks, look me up. My AERA talk is Tuesday the 14th at 8:15 in the San Diego Marriott, San Diego Ballroom Salon B. It is entitled Can Science Teachers' Strategic Knowledge be Conceptualized as a Learning Progression? and is part of the symposium "Learning Progressions for Teacher Development. At NARST, my talk is Sunday the 19th at 4:00 and is a part of the symposium "A Longitudinal Study on Pedagogical Content Knowledge: Synthesizing our Research on Content, Pedagogy, and Practice." It is in Salon III of the Hyatt.