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10 Question conference retrospective: Views from a graduate student attendee

The Loretto Chapel
The Loretto Chapel, Santa Fe, NM. Photo Credit: Susan W. Bontly

The Textbook & Academic Authors Association’s small, focused conference, held in Santa Fe, New Mexico June 15-16, was one of the most useful ones I have attended.  The cost was a really great deal considering all the valuable information provided by the presenters. As a first-time attendee and a graduate student, here my reflections on my experience.

1) What were some of the highlights and insights?

The presentations I attended were all on the Academic Track. The first day, I went to two sessions, and then I had three wonderfully inspiring mentoring sessions. I started with Dr. Meggin McIntosh (see more below) and then Dr. Katherine Landau Wright’s presentation, The Journal Article Writing MATE: A tool for beginners, which provided a very helpful tool for evaluating journal articles to use as models for writing and can also be used as a general article assessment or summarizing rubric.

On Saturday, my day was full with 4 sessions plus the roundtable discussions. In A Personal Writing Team for Productivity and Accountability, Drs. Felicia Moore Mensah, Dakota King-White, and Marti Jones demonstrated the power of peer-mentor support and offered many practical tips to make productivity and accountability effective. Tailoring Time for Writing: Creating Opportunities in Your Hectic Academic Life gave straightforward advice from Drs Dannelle. Stevens, Laura Jacobi, Claudia Sánchez, and Micki Caskey on carving out time from a variety of perspectives and contexts.  Kathleen P. King’s presentation, Discover How to Deliver What Editors and Publishers Need: Demystifying the Publishing Process, offered sage advice and a detailed checklist for authors to use when preparing journal article or book manuscripts. My last session, Moving from Pesky to Productive: Developing a Healthy, Sustainable Writing Habit, was presented by Drs. Erin McTigue, Tracey Hodges and Sharon Matthews. Their focus on examining habits from the viewpoint of cues, triggers, routines, and rewards was fascinating and very applicable to writing as well as life goals in general. I chose Dannelle Steven’s Exploring Creative Writing Strategies to Boost Your Academic Writing for my roundtable discussion, and along with some constructive tips on how to incorporate creativity into my writing habits, I was able to use that time to flesh out the bones of this blog post.

2) What was the best?

Meeting all the ‘celebrity’ authors who have provided advice through blog posts and webinars. It was great to put a face to a name or voice. I was a little star-struck at first until I saw how approachable they all were, and willing to answer questions.

3) What could be improved?

The networking event was well attended but as a new attendee, it was rather intimidating. I would recommend some type of ice breaker activity to help those who do not know anyone feel more welcome.

4) What surprised me most?

The approachability of the authors and enthusiasm of all the attendees. Everyone was willing to share their knowledge and a little about their writing process.

5) What was the most useful take-away?

In Meggin McIntosh’s Hunks, Chunks, & Bites: Plan Writing Projects So You Actually Complete Them! presentation, she recommended using index cards to break down a project into manageable “bites”.  She even provided cards for us to use for the exercise and extras to take home. I have already adapted this idea to breaking down the first chapter of my dissertation into realistic pieces that I can productively work on in short time frames. Thanks, Meggin!

6) What advice or information has stuck with me two weeks after the conference?

The keynote address by Kent Anderson. Much of what he spoke about was not unknown (maybe not well publicized but not new), but he put things into a different perspective that has continued to resonate with me.

7) What do I wish there was more or less of?

More opportunities for graduate students to network, possibly our own networking session at lunch or a contact board set up to make connections. I can’t really think of anything less: the conference was the right length for the content; there was ample opportunities to spend time with people you met; the location was great; and the organization of the conference was exceptional.

8) What would I have done differently?

Make contact with other TAA members via the Community area on the TAA website prior to coming to the conference to make my networking working efforts a little more productive.

9) What would I recommend to new attendees to make the most of the conference?

Take advantage of the mentorship opportunities but do your homework first. Read their bios, visit their websites, watch their webinars, and browse their blog posts and books/journal articles. Come with a clear idea of what advice you want, based on their expertise.

10) How was the venue?

Santa Fe is a delightful get-away and, from my perspective, the La Fonda Hotel provided an excellent conference location. The rooms were well-set up, the service was outstanding, and the food provided was high quality. I hope all the attendees had a chance to play tourist and visit some of the historical and artistic sites. I was able to squeeze in a quick visit to the Loretto Chapel, which was a true delight.

Susan W. BontlySusan W. Bontly is a doctoral student at New Mexico State University, studying Learning Design and Technology at the College of Education and she is piloting the multiple article dissertation format in hopes of establishing it as an alternativeoption for humanities students. Susan’s first journal article has been slated for publication and she welcomes all queries from those interested in co-authoring. Her research interests include technology, online learning, graduate support efforts, and learning communities of all types.