Undergraduate conferences are rare, and undergraduate conferences with generous funding are probably unheard of. On 6th July 2017, The organisers of the Edinburgh Undergraduate Literature Conference used their remaining resources from the 2016-17 budget to organise a summer training workshop on peer reviewing and conference presentation in preparation for the 2018 edition of the Conference. Students attending the workshop from outside Edinburgh were given full bursaries to be able to attend the event.
Led by PhD student Vivek Santayana, the workshop saw students from around the UK come together to express their enthusiasm, insights, and concerns about participating in an academic conference. The audience for this kind of event is self-selecting, and it is only those who are motivated to engage in independent academic pursuits who would attend an event like this. This meant that the level of engagement and enthusiasm was quite high, as the participants did the peer review exercises with a great attention to detail. They had also thought carefully about the practical concerns of preparing for, and presenting at such an event.
A notable section of the workshop was focussed on conference etiquette, something that is seldom given enough emphasis. A theme that we hoped to enforce, particularly within the structures of an undergraduate conference, was the sense of egalitarianism and camaraderie amongst first-time presenters, and the importance of creating an encouraging environment for early academics to find their sea legs within an otherwise intimidating setting. In addition, students did practical exercises by presenting papers they had already written. The visible changes evident in their posture, speed and overall demeanour while presenting showed commendable improvement. The level of sophistication in the papers presented was also striking, showing a mature and sophisticated level of engagement with texts as well as enthusiasm and originality.
Like most university events, we ended the evening in the pub, with conversation not straying too far from academia. The tenor of the discussions as well as the day’s proceedings were really promising, as they reflected the resolve amongst the participants to excel in their degrees, as well as their future professional pursuits, aided no doubt, by their participation in this conference.