Conference proposals are the most essential step in getting accepted to present. Whether you plan to read a scholarly paper, give an informative multimedia presentation, host a workshop, facilitate a panel or present scientific data via a poster session, you will need to write a proposal or abstract to get on a conference program. As The Professor Is In website notes, the proposal is "a critical genre of writing" for scholars.
Conferences offer excellent opportunities to network, learn about current trends in your field or areas of specialization or interest and present your original research in a variety of formats. Presenting at conferences is essential to any professional or scholarly career. In academic careers, tenure and promotion often hinge upon having done so. You will benefit from learning to write conference proposals as early as possible, beginning in graduate school.
Writing a conference proposal as a graduate student will familiarize you with conferences hosted by your discipline's professional organizations. You will learn what is expected in a proposal by, for example, the Modern Language Association for literature, The American Musicological Society for music majors and the American Library Association for students in library and information science. You will also learn that it is difficult to get accepted to national conferences on a first proposal try. Still, it is to your advantage to write a proposal early in graduate school. The feedback you receive will help you to write a successful proposal in your second or third attempt.
Getting a Foot in the Door
A second way to get practice writing proposals and get accepted to present at conferences is to send proposals to regional and special interest conferences. These are normally hosted by an organization of specialized scholars, and more importantly, their acceptance rates are much higher, so it is likely your proposal will be accepted. Writing these proposals as a graduate student will build your confidence -- and your curriculum vitae or resume. You will find a high acceptance rate for the annual conferences of the Popular Culture Association, the Southeast Philosophy of Education Society and the National Digital Library of Theses and Dissertations, for example. All are highly respected organizations among scholars in many fields, so your having presented as a graduate student will look impressive in future proposals, which usually must include professional highlights.
Learning the Ropes
No matter which type of conference you choose, writing proposals as a graduate student will help you learn what successful proposals should look like. You will become familiar with a variety of proposal formats for various societies and interest groups that host conferences, and you will become more comfortable with the conventions that lead to accepted proposals. You'll learn that scholarly organizations often require a specific discussion of your research in the proposal, or that many scholarly and trade groups look for buzzwords that exhibit your currency. By starting proposal writing as a graduate student, you'll get better at making your future proposals compelling and original.
A Leg Up
Your marketability for an academic or private workforce position after graduate school will increase if you show promise as a professional. Conference presentations are one of the benchmarks of a CV or resume that indicate potential. Future employers will look favorably on your conference proposal skills, since they will expect you to represent them admirably at future conferences. That may be just enough to make you their highest-ranked candidate in a position search.
Anthony Fonseca is the library director at Elms College in Massachusetts. He has a doctorate in English and has taught various writing courses and literature survey courses. His books include readers' advisory guides, pop culture encyclopedias and academic librarianship studies.