More to university than essays

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[1A] Farron - Conference - SgerbicArticle: Farron Ager – Oped Editor

On a cold winter’s day, when many students find themselves hunched over their desks, writing their next paper for that particularly hard-nosed professor that you’re sure is trying to fail you or studying for that next exam that the syllabus read as being worth 75% of your grade or somesuch ridiculous number, a small camaraderie of scholars escape the monotony of the university for a weekend. Their fellowship was formed on the basic notion that there was indeed life outside of campus and there are people, actual people, with whom they could discuss their work in a welcoming environment.

Sounds appealing, doesn’t it?

I had the great fortune of visiting our neighbor to the north, the University of Saskatchewan, to attend a literary conference. While the conference was small, our hosts were especially gracious, making sure we were enjoying ourselves during our stay and even ensuring that people had safe rides from the campus. The two-day event consisted of panels from many different spectrums of literature. Literary papers that were presented included adaptation theory, gender theory, genre theory, Canadian identity, as well as a slew of creative writing. The conference’s keynote speaker, awarding-winning Young Adult writer Arthur Slade, gave a presentation about his experiences in writing over the years and what it took for him to become a writer. The entertainment provided by the organizers of the conference was no less exciting, with the first night consisting of trivia with prizes, board games, and even a ukulele orchestra, all at the campus bar, and a banquet on the second night.

On the drive back to Regina, I came to the realization that this is one of the beautiful aspects of university life that I am afraid a lot of students don’t really know about. Too often we get mired in the drudgery of getting that final essay written or studying for that one last exam, that there are other aspects to being a university student than what is just presented to us in class.

Of course, going to a conference is also a large undertaking. In order to present at one, you have to first send them an abstract of your work and then anxiously count the days in hopes that you get approved. Depending on the conference, where it is located, and its popularity, this can either go quickly or become drawn out, and either easy to get into, or be more exclusive than the first country club.

After approval, you’ll then have to get a paper ready to be presented, which usually means cutting down a paper that you’ve already written. Depending on that process, either you’ll find yourself asking “is that really it?” or “why are there still so many pages?” Even the night before I presented, I furiously scrawled on my only printed copy of my paper, determined to get that final draft absolutely correct.

Then there’s actually presenting the damn thing. On top of coping with crippling social anxiety, it doesn’t help either when you find out there’s a thing called imposter syndrome, where you feel like the entirety of you degree so far has been just some massive fluke and you know that, one day or another, you’re going to be found for being the fraud that you really are. I won’t lie, that it was absolutely nerve-wracking to stand up in front of a lecture theatre filled with my peers.

But it’s in that shining moment when you step up the stage and you’re greeted by an audience that looks at you with a genuine interest that you begin to realize all that stress, that anxiety, that fear of absolute failure was all just in your head and none of that matters anymore. What matters is that you are in a room of like-minded individuals who actually care with what you have to say.

Would I recommend someone going to a conference? Absolutely. Anything that can get you away from classes and papers and midterms for even just a couple days is a worthwhile investment. I implore everyone to inquire with their department. Depending on the department, they may be able to fund your way to and from the conference and, barring that, there are usually streams of funding that you can apply for. Whatever you end up doing, just please realize that there is more to university life than what you’re shown in your classes.

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