Presenting at Professional Conferences

by Holly

Between wedding planning and dual degree coursework in Spring 2011, I decided I wanted to attend and present at two conferences: the North American Association of Christians in Social Work (NACSW) conference and the Council on Social Work Education (CSWE) Annual Program Meeting. While I had attended the 2010 CSWE Annual Program Meeting, I did not present, so the process of submitting an abstract to this conference was incredibly new to me. I also had never attended NACSW, but received a call from Dr. Rick Chamiec-Case, the executive director whom I had met a couple of years ago, nudging me to submit a workshop proposal. So, I did.

For NACSW, I submitted an abstract for a workshop entitled, Spirituality and Self-Care. This was not only my first workshop to at a conference, but was my first time at a NACSW conference and my first time presenting at a major conference without any of my colleagues in attendance. Despite any anxieties I may have had going into the weekend, my experience was wonderful – everyone at NACSW was so positive and welcoming, and it was amazing to be surrounded by social workers who are so passionate about discussing religion or spirituality in social work practice!

When I picked up my registration packet and began identifying the sessions I wanted to attend, I realized very quickly that many were at the same time mine was: Saturday morning, 10am. Immediately, I began to think that since so many interesting sessions were scheduled for that time, I’d have a small crowd. Saturday morning came, I grabbed breakfast, and then headed over to the room I was presenting in. Wow, people are actually waiting at the door… hm…. They must have just not attended the session before, I thought as I walked up. The session before mine ran late, so as soon as they filed out, I calmly but quickly walked up to the front of the room and started setting everything up. Clicker: check. Powerpoint: check. Breathe in, breathe out: check. Business cards: check. Bottle of water: check. Bathroom: shoot! Do I have time? No… ok, here goes.

I stood up, after having my back to the audience, and turned around to see a very full room. Whaaaaat??? Why this session???, I kept thinking to myself. I was literally shocked, and as my senses came back and I heard the moderator say she ran out of evaluations and that there were no seats left. Attendants were squeezing in to sit on the floor and stand in the back of the room! One deep breath and I began.

After the talk was over, I was overwhelmed by the positive feedback I received from those who attended. It was an amazing experience for my first workshop as the sole presenter, and I’m sincerely grateful for the doctoral program’s willingness to support my experience!

CSWE was another wonderful experience for me this semester. Four days after returning from NACSW, I was back on a plane headed to Atlanta for CSWE’s Annual Program Meeting (APM). Lucky for me, I have family that lives in Atlanta and was also able to spend some of that time with loved ones.

There were some wonderful sessions at CSWE’s APM this past fall, and it was a real treat to see so many of our doctoral students there as well. However, the highlight of the conference was presenting with my mentor on Sunday. Dr. Danielle Parrish and I had submitted two abstracts for this conference: one on the mentoring program, and another on our work examining field instructors’ views of evidence-based practice (EBP). Without data yet at the time of abstract submission, the mentoring program received a moderate score, but will be resubmitted this year with data (so, I had my first abstract rejection experience!), while the field instructor abstract was accepted and scheduled for early Sunday afternoon.

To be able to present with my mentor was an honor and an incredible experience. The data was based on a study we had worked on together, and while there weren’t many in the audience as most were heading home that morning, there were still enough to stimulate a discussion. What was also fascinating, was that the other two presenters within our time slot were two faculty members I had actually had dinner with the weekend before at NACSW!

For anyone considering submitting abstracts to conferences, especially either of these two, I would strongly encourage you to do so. I feel as though the ability to learn from others (not just in material, but also in presentation style), to share what we know, and to network at these events has been invaluable.

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