first conference proposal

One of the job requirements that is new to me here as an academic ERL is to present at professional conferences. One might think this wouldn’t be a problem. I am good at presentations! I actually like standing up in front of a room full of people and teaching something useful or sharing something interesting. I have confidence in my ability to write well and represent topics visually (i.e. through graphics or power point) in an interesting way. So why am I practically immobilized when I try to work on a proposal topic for the ER&L (Electronic Resources & Libraries) Conference coming up in February?

When I get overwhelmed I get unfocused. It’s almost like my brain just says NOPE NOPE NOPE TOO HARD I’M OUTTA HERE and I’m left staring blankly at my computer screen for hours. Part of my struggle is probably simply due to the fact that I am so incredibly new to both academia and the role of an ERL (barely 3 months). In life generally — whether in a new class or in a meeting that covers an unfamiliar subject, etc — I have the tendency to watch and learn before I jump in and start having strong opinions. Many times in life I actually think this is a useful approach. I learn a lot and I don’t waste time spouting off about topics on which I am ignorant. But at other times this tendency can be a bit of a hindrance (if I let it). For example, when my performance agreement specifically requires that I present at conferences I can’t just wait to write my first proposal when I feel that I am significantly experienced. Sometimes you just have to jump in the pool and start swimming, even if you aren’t ready for the olympics. Maybe you will teach somebody how effective doggy paddling can be!

So how do I overcome this hurdle? How do I stop this sense of having nothing to add which all my more-experienced colleagues don’t already know? Can I tap into my own personal perspective which is surely unique and certainly offers insight that many others might learn from? Well, yes, I think that I can! One key is collaboration. Luckily, I really like working collaboratively. Also thanks to good luck (and thanks to my habit of reaching out for almost any professional opportunity including responding to random listserv items, even the ones that are like personal ads ‘librarian seeks similar to present at blah blah blah) I recently connected with an ERL from a nearby institution. Even more fortuitously, this librarian is also new to the role of ERL and had the brilliant idea to make that unique perspective the focus of a presentation at ER&L. Even more fortuitously this neighborly ERL wants to work with me on a proposal and has some ideas of what to propose and BOOM just like that my brain has stopped NOPE-ING off and I am coming up with things to share at ER&L left and right.

For example, as I was writing this post it occurred to me that one of the best coping techniques for a new ERL is both reaching out for new opportunities as often as possible and also seeking collaborative projects to participate in, whether those projects are conference presentation or some committee or departmental function. I know that some people — even and possibly especially long-time librarians — tend to get isolated and silo-ed and overly focused on mundane responsiblities…they might benefit from a reminder that focusing outward and looking for collaborative opportunities can be valuable. I don’t need to be five years into my job to know this.

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