Here I am, in my hotel in Washington, D.C. preparing to head out on the morning of the day that I presented my paper at my first-ever academic conference: ECA (Eastern Communication Association). Taking a picture of myself in the mirror felt silly, but I knew I'd want to share it on here - I devoted an entire day last week to putting together this exact outfit, painstakingly selecting something I thought would make me look confident/ professional/ youthful/ academic .... I was really invested in this outfit. I'm happy with where I ended up. Considering how crazy nervous I was at this moment, I'm glad I felt good about what I was wearing.
So, the whole story. Thursday morning (my 23rd birthday!), I took the 7:17am train to Washington D.C., so I could attend and present at my first academic conference. Conferences are important in building an academic career/resume, and I felt like I had a lot riding on this experience (though really, writing and submitting the paper was the big deal part. Having been accepted, the part that I'll be judged for in the long term was already behind me). I got there in the afternoon, settled in to my hotel room, laid out my outfit, and tried to go back over exactly what I was going to say. Of course, I was exhausted, jittery, and pretty much decided to put it to destiny. I did briefly attend the reception held on the top floor of the hotel. It was mostly a place for people who already knew each other to catch up, rather than an opportunity to meet new people. But the view was incredible.
The next day was presentation day. Celeste, my undergrad professor/Bachelor's Essay director who was also attending the conference (and held my hand through the entire process of getting my paper to this point, even as I near being a year out from my CofC graduation), came to my room hear what I planned to say and offer me some pointers. Of course, it's a bit awkward to talk to one person you know like she's a crowd of people you've never met, and I started to feel VERY nervous. Celeste assured me that once I got going I was right where I needed to be, and offered a few last minute tips. I was very glad to get them.
My presentation was at 1:30, so I went to see another panel in the morning. Doing so definitely boosted my confidence. I got to see that the environment at ECA is very laid back and friendly, people joked in their presentations, the rooms weren't packed with people, and I was able to feel like I got my bearings. Then, after lunch, came the moment of truth.
I was the first one to the room, which I dutifully documented. That seat in the corner behind the table is where I sat, along with three other presenters. We ended up attracting around 15 people to come see us (the one I went to in the morning had 6, so we did pretty well). Although I was definitely very nervous, when the time came I took a deep breath a dove it. I was surprised at how quickly I found my footing, and was able to deliver my research with confidence. All my jokes and pithy phrasings got laughs. People seemed interested in what I had to say, and I felt like I did well. All in all, I talked for just over 13 minutes, which felt both incredibly long and very brief. Although I became confident, I could feel my face getting warmer and warmer the whole time I was talking. By the end I was sure that I must be blushing severely, something I never used to do when engaged in public speaking. I think it's because (despite the detached feeling I'm probably supposed to take), this work feels deeply personal to me. It was my first project in the field I now want to spend my life in, something I spent month after month on, struggled with, learned from, got into NYU with, and was not presenting at my first conference. I wanted it to be appreciated, and seen as the legitimate equal of the other work there. And, fortunately, ECA is a friendly conference and I got that experience I was hoping for. My only disappointment was that the panel ran a bit long, so I didn't get to answer any questions.
After all that internal drama I wanted a break. I attended one more panel, and then walked over the bridge into Georgetown to enjoy the day. I thought about getting myself a birthday cupcake at Georgetown Cupcakes (a famous spot), but the line was 30-45 minutes, so I changed my mind at I got a birthday ice cream cone at a not famous no-waiting spot. It was delicious. I then wandered around for a bit, enjoying the weather and the semi-familiar scenery (during my semester in DC I spent almost no time in Georgetown). Then I went back to the hotel to meet up with Celeste, her husband, her sister, and her brother-in-law. She had invited me to go out to dinner with them (Ethiopian food!!), and I was very happy to go. At the restaurant we met up with her friend, her friend's husband, and her niece.
Dinner was great! I was so excited to be included, and I had a wonderful time. In the cab ride on the way over I mentioned that the previous day had been my birthday (in reference to my failed Georgetown Cupcakes attempt). Later, at the end of dinner, they surprised me with a piece of cake and a candle, and sang happy birthday! It was so sweet, I honestly choked up.
I know, that's not the best picture, but it's the one I got. The next morning I got up and went to Kramerbooks and Afterwords - by far my favorite place in DC to get brunch! After a delicious meal, I tried to get myself excited about a day of museum hopping and sight-seeing (although the conference continued during this day, my presentation and all panels relevant to me were over, so I ended up with this extra day). But the weather was awful (rainy, chilly, the whole bit), and I was flatly exhausted. I ended up deciding that getting my money's worth out of the hotel room was just as good a way to spend my mini-vacation. I ended up catching up on being lazy! I napped, I watched TV (something I hadn't done in four months!), I did some reading for school, and I enjoyed a precious quiet day. Those don't exist in New York, which can be part of its charm. But it was something worth savoring.