Attending a conference for the first time as an academic can be a little daunting for students – and being there as a presenter can be even more nerve-wracking. Kirsten Ellison, Ph.D. Candidate in Communication and Culture at the University of Calgary, recently presented a paper at the Society for Social Studies of Science (4S) conference in Denver last year. Often called 4S, it is one of the oldest societies that focuses on studying and understanding science and technology as it relates to social science. The society includes members from many social science disciplines, as well as scientists and engineers who are interested in studying the social aspect of their fields.
Check out our Q&A with academic Kirsten Ellison who answers questions about what it was like presenting at the 4S conference last year.
Shelly: Tell me a little bit about yourself and your research.
Kirsten: I am a fourth year Ph.D. candidate in Communication & Cultural Studies at the University of Calgary and my current doctoral research looks at our imagined futures of agelessness. So, from a communications angle, within the context of new developments in anti-aging technology, my research asks: how do we imagine a future without age/aging? What will it mean to be ageless? How will we get there? This project stemmed from my MA thesis, which looked at the discursive construction of agelessness in anti-aging skin care ads. Dr. Isabel Pedersen was my supervisor on this project. Alongside this research, I have also been working with Dr. Barbara Marshall and Dr. Stephen Katz at Trent University as a graduate associate of Trent University’s Centre for Aging and Society. Our current work interrogates the notion of ‘quantified aging’ within the context of wearable and self-tracking devices marketed specifically to older adults.
Shelly: What was it like attending and presenting at the 4S conference in Denver and what were you presenting?
Kirsten: The paper that I presented at 4S was based on a research project that I conducted with Dr. Pedersen, which looked at the rhetorical strategies employed in the mainstream news coverage of Google X’s smart contact lenses to create a palatable place for them in our symbolic landscape of digital technology.
This was my second 4S conference and it is definitely one of my favourite associations that I am a member of. The community is tight-knit and yet very welcoming to outsiders and very willing to offer constructive feedback and insight into your topic from a very genuine place of support rather than critique. The panels are always well attended and followed by lively discussions.
Shelly: What was your favourite presentation that you saw while you were at the conference?
Kirsten: I can’t say that I have one. It was very difficult to choose between panels to attend.
Shelly: What kind of preparation did you have to do for your presentation?
Kirsten: I prepared as most academics would – I wrote out my presentation based on the research paper Dr. Pedersen and I wrote and prepared a PowerPoint slide for it. I did this at least a week in advance so I had time to go over the presentation enough times so that I could ad lib as I went. I also made sure I was well within the time limit.
Shelly: What advice would you give to someone who is interested in presenting a research paper or project at a conference?
Kirsten: I would say to not wing it!