On the 4th and 5th November I attended the 28th Women in German Studies Conference in Aberystwyth, Wales. I gave a paper with the title Speaking the Unspeakable. Pushing at Boundaries and Challenging Normativity in Elfriede Jelinek’s Work, which is closely related to my PhD-research project. The conference was a two day event, including a seminar specifically for postgraduate students, a dinner and of course many interesting talks on German and Austrian literature. I tried to make the most out of this experience, giving my own presentation, listening to other papers and attending the events surrounding the conference.
In my opinion, one of the great things about a conference for a PhD-student is meeting other postgraduates. It is a wonderful opportunity to speak to people who are interested in the same research areas as you but study at different Universities. At the WIGS Conference, I met some lovely people from countries including Austria, China, The Netherlands and the UK and we had the chance to chat about our research but also about life as a PhD-student. This is why not only the official part of a conference with all the papers and presentations is a worthwhile experience but also the accompanying social events.
The WIGS Annual Conference started on Friday afternoon with a Postgraduate Workshop on public engagement. We heard two interesting talks on different opportunities of making your research available to a wider, non-academic audience, followed by a seminar about using digital platforms. In the evening, everyone gathered at the University’s pub for dinner, where I shared a table with a group of other postgraduates – all from different Universities – and enjoyed not only dinner but most of all the company. I think that young academics often find it intimidating enough to give a paper at a conference and to participate in discussions, let alone attending social events on top of that. However, from my experience there are always other like-minded students or early career researchers and it is certainly worth it to get out of your comfort zone and join dinners, drinks and other socials.
However, without underestimating the networking aspect, you should not forget the main reason of attending a conference: sharing your research and hearing about your colleague’s work. As part of a panel on the Austrian writer Elfriede Jelinek, I gave a paper focusing on Jelinek’s recent dramas, elaborating on how they address taboos, push at boundaries and break with aesthetic as well as social conventions. In my 20-minute presentation, I intended to show how Jelinek’s work has the potential not only of raising awareness of gender inequalities within contemporary culture but also of allowing a way out of normative binary thinking. The presentation was followed by a discussion, where I received very encouraging and constructive feedback. The idea of having to answer the questions of other researchers, most of them well versed in academic conferences, was a bit scary for me at first. In retrospect, it was a great opportunity to gather different opinions on your work and learn from more experienced colleagues.
Apart from giving your own paper, it is of course great to have the chance to listen to other people’s work. This can be very inspiring and sometimes it helps to hear someone else’s thoughts to develop your own theories too. Therefore, it makes sense to attend panels closely related to your research, as in my case a panel on Women’s Voices Then and Now. At the same time, I also love listening to presentations that have nothing to do with my research, as they can be equally stimulating.
I really appreciated the opportunity to attend the conference, listening to papers that covered a broad spectrum of research and giving a paper myself. This was made possible by a Women in German Studies travel grant. I was grateful to be awarded this grant to enable me to present my work in Aberystwyth. I would recommend all postgraduate students that they attend conferences, apply for travel grants, and make the best of the experience.