Postgraduate student Lauren Robinson recently presented at the Australian Historical Association Conference, and has written about her experience:
As I write this I am sitting in Newcastle Airport waiting for my inevitably delayed flight back to Melbourne. I’ve just spent three days immersed in the annual Australian Historical Association conference, this year held in the beautiful (and warm!) Newcastle. Not only was this my first time presenting at a conference, it was also the first conference trip I’ve ever taken. Naturally then, there were a few nerves. However, my nerves were mostly unfounded – it was a wonderfully collegial atmosphere, and a really great opportunity to hear about new research projects and new approaches to history.
From a personal perspective, it was really helpful to hear from peers with similar Ph.D. projects. As someone who has struggled with the niche aspect of doctoral work, it was truly liberating to see that importance is relative. All aspects of history, both the macro and the micro, were appreciated and valued. I was able to connect with several people interested in similar fields, was exposed to many new source possibilities and got to discuss my research and get feedback from a whole new audience.
In particular, I want to highlight the excellent discussion that ensued during the “Publishing as a HDR” panel. Melanie Oppenheimer, Matthew Fitzpatrick, Catherine Kevin, Romain Fathi, Jon Piccini and Chris Wallace lead a useful debate centring around how best to get published as a Ph.D. or Masters student. While there were a range of competing perspectives, there were to my mind several key ideas that were generally agreed on. Most importantly, all panelists noted the necessity of publishing before submission. In this current employment climate, they argued, it really is important to have more to your name than ‘just’ your degree. It was also noted that publishing in the last few months of your candidature, when you will be the most stressed, is probably a poor idea. Given that some negative feedback is almost guaranteed, the panelists argued that this could wreck your confidence at this crucial stage. Although two panelists had themselves not published during their candidature, they acknowledged the stronger competition for jobs that graduates currently face, and agreed that publishing is a key way to improve your employability.
There was some disagreement as to whether one should aim to publish in student run journals or in more prestigious journals. No agreement was able to be reached on this point, but the panelists did all concur that publishing in multiple formats would be beneficial. They admonished the audience to not think of publishing in academic journals as the only worthwhile pursuit. Writing for The Conversation, personal blogs and university or faculty websites were all cited as important ways to expand your skills and your resume as an HDR student. They referenced the recent strong focus in academic circles on ‘Engagement and Impact’, pointing out that although job competition is fierce for this new generation of academics, we are actually ideally suited to this work environment. Being able to utilise social media and write short form, less jargon filled and popular interest pieces is a skill that shouldn’t be overlooked! Hopefully some HDR students who were unable to attend the conference will enjoy reading these small excerpts from the fantastic discussion.
Overall, attending the AHA Conference was a slightly intimidating but very worthwhile few days. I’ve come away from it with renewed academic vigour and many new ideas on how to approach both my thesis and the broader pursuit of academic life.