Last week I went to New Orleans for the AERA 2011 conference. I had submitted a paper called “What’s Up with Gender and Math Technology – A Gender Gap Persists at the Higher Education Level” together with my major professor Scott J. Warren, Ph.D. and it got accepted as a poster to my delight. Delight, especially because I submitted it in the summer of 2010 when I was taking my very first course in the ECMP Doc program. I realize in hindsight that this was a very brave move for a novice such as me, but my decision was supported by my professor so I just went with it. In a sense, I submitted it because I was angry and wanted to stop being angry, but that is whole other story to be told the day I graduate from the ECMP program.
Once the paper was accepted I learned about the interrogation that novice graduate students may encounter from researchers experienced in the ways of the world. I was glad I had been happily ignorant of this when submitting the paper and made sure I knew my stuff so that I could defend my numbers and explain every which corner of what I had done and how I had come to the conclusions I had. No cloud was going to darken my excitement over being able to attend and present at AERA!
I arrived to NOLA on Thursday last week, the day before the conference and took a bus tour through the city. It was fascinating to see the levee 9 area and hear our tour guide talk about the breech and the rebuilding. He himself said he was almost done re-building his own house. Only had a few more doorposts to put in… And this was in 2008. Would he move somewhere else? No – like many others New Orleans is his home and he just isn’t going anywhere else to live. This city doesn’t have bad neighborhoods – it has good or bad streets. People live here together.
Friday April 8 the AERA conference started and I figured out how the program book of 494 pages worked. Once I did I got so excited. This is the THE conference that the people whose papers I have read and refer to in my own research papers attend. I was actually going to be able to meet and talk to people whose work I admire and hear what research they are currently working on. How exciting is that! This resulted in me practically running between presentations to be able to attend as much as possible and at the same time spend time to talk to people and connect. 14,000 AERA visitors and several other conferences in NOLA at the same time resulted in a super slow wireless and so tweeting was pretty much out, but that of course left me more time to write notes and enjoy active listening instead of splitting my brain between listening and technology.
Saturday during the cocktail hour was the poster presentation and I was ready. The poster looked really great. I had gotten some great advice from Michael Mensik, a doctoral candidate at University of Minnesota, on how to create a good AERA poster and I even learned Illustrator in the process. A little nervous about mailing the expensive 4 x 6 feet sized poster I still preferred this option from risking not being allowed to bring it onboard the Southwest flight I had booked. Fedex did their job and the poster arrived the same day as I did so all was well. I also brought with me tri-fold brochures and prints of the paper. The brochures had the abstract and the references and I handed these out to anyone passing by. Those that stopped to read I asked if they wanted me to walk them through the study and gave them my five minute presentation. Michael Mensik had suggested a 2 – no more than 4 minute presentation but people that stopped to listen were all very interested and asked follow-up questions as well, so I think it worked well. Dr. Warren and a few of the other doctoral students from our program that also attended the conference were great moral support as they socialized close by. Knowing they were there was all I needed. I did get lots of visitors and I did get that one researcher that had a few questions that were hard – but I picked up my notes from when I had crunched my numbers, showed and explained why I had done what I had done, come up with my alpha, and the scale I had used and he was satisfied. Now that felt really good and Leila had had nightmares for no reason! I knew my stuff!
I so enjoyed the conference and being able to connect with many great people as well as with the other seven doctoral students from our program that attended the meeting. Dr. Warren presented three other papers of which I was able to attend two before I headed back to DFW on Monday evening. I am now so inspired to finish my current research and send in for consideration for next year’s conference in Vancouver, Canada. If I make it there, I will certainly be less of a novice. Maybe I can even help someone else get ready like Dr. Warren, Dr. Knezek, Michael, and Leila helped me.