Building your Museum career – Conference Proposals

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 Hello! How are you? What dreadful weather we’re having! Just the type of weather to stay indoors to write and research ideas for conference proposals. And to drink tea and eat cake, of course!

Now, you may think, ‘Conference proposals are scary!’ Or are they not for already ”established” museum professionals? Well here’s the good news; they don’t have to be. Increasingly, more conferences are asking for professionals in the first five years of their career or post graduate students to submit papers.

An example would be the recent call for papers for the IMA 2014 annual conference (Waterford, Feb 2014) and the ‘Future of Museums’ Conference (London, April 2014.) This post is just a guide to how to write blog posts. It is not right or wrong in it’s advice- it’s just tips.  Tips that I have picked up along the way, when writing proposals. However, I hope it will inspire you to submit a proposal.
Now on to the ‘Nitty Gritty’ of writing a proposal. Let’s start with…
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Let’s pretend you have seen a call for proposals for a textile conference. It has piqued your interest ; as that is your area of interest. You decide to submit a proposal. Now, this is were your nerves may kick in! But don’t let them. Here are a few reasons why you should submit a paper (and to quell those nerves!):

  • Networking Opportunities. I wrote about this here.
  • Different approaches to practice i.e. how other museum professionals research or display textiles in a museum or heritage setting.
  • Opportunity to sell yourself and your ideas.
  • Opportunity to learn about your chosen field.

Hopefully, these reasons have quelled your nerves. And you have decided to submit a proposal to the textile conference.  But before submitting a proposal you need to think about….

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You’re thinking about submitting a proposal. You choose ‘1940’s Wartime Clothing’ as your topic. You begin to brainstorm ideas for your paper. You think about all these things and get excited. However, (and to keep yourself grounded) you should think about the following:

  • Research:  Can you confidently research artefacts, texts, quotes and ideas etc. for your paper?
  • Artefacts: Do you have access/or can acquire pictures of original artefacts?
  • Time: Is there enough time to adequately research your topic?
  • Confidence: Do you have enough confidence to talk in front of an audience?
  • Cost: Can you afford to travel to the conference? And if necessary pay for flights and a hotel? Does the conference cover fees for speakers or offer bursaries for students?

So now you have thought about answers to all these questions. You are hopefully beginning to gather strands of research to be used in your paper and presentation. You have booked time off work, booked flights (if necessary) and accommodation.

You may have also begin to contact other researchers, museums or heritage sites for information for your paper. Hopefully, after a week or so you have the basis of your proposal. With this in mind let’s look at….

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By this stage you have started to gather some research and wrote draft proposal. You may have looked at some examples of conferene proposals. Most proposals ask you to include info on the following;

  • Name.
  • Position (Student/Job Description/Freelancer etc).
  • Contact details.

Basically ‘straight forward’ stuff! And now comes the not so ‘straight forward’ stuff!

Personal Bio:

This is the chance to sell yourself! List your employment, interests, volunteer work etc. If you have any experience or interests relevant to the conference theme – emphasize this! Think of your personal bio as an advert- would you want to have you speak at a conference?

Be confident, bot not cocky in your personal bio. Also be concise and to the point. Most conference proposals ask for a biography of no more than 200 words!

The University of Reading have provided examples of ‘bad’ personal biographies/statements. You can check them out here.

Communicateskills.com give some great examples of excellent personal bio’s. Read them here.

Presentation Abstract:

This is the most important part of your proposal! (Hence the underlining!) This is were you sell your idea the the panel whom decide what papers are to be presented at the conference. You present your original, ideas, research and ideas etc. This is were to shout and scream, ‘PICK ME & MY ORIGINAL IDEAS!’

I am not an expert on what not and what to write for a successful abstract. I have only been accepted to speak at two conferences. I do know that I read a lot of different examples of abstracts and edit mine repeatedly to make sure it sounds right. It also helps if you have someone whom you can contact who has had proposals accepted that can check your work.

Below is an example of my proposal for the IMA Annual Conference 2014. This proposal was based on the U.V.F Nurses and the Cumann na mBan. The premise of my paper is how to tell the story of the Cummann na mBan when little original artefacts exist.

The Cumann na mBan and the U.V.F Nurses; two opposing political organisations, yet similar in their purpose. The decade between 1912-1922 is when ‘Irish’ Womanhood came into its own. Women on both sides of the political spectrum contributed to the political struggles of that turbulent decade. Yet, why is there such little thought given to commemorating the important role of women in this period? Is this due to their story being a ‘difficult’ or ‘challenging’ history?

My paper shall support this statement by questioning why there are such little artefacts in museum collections as well as presenting ideas on how to ‘commemorate’ these important female organisations. I shall discuss artefacts that are in museum collections, testimonies from women at the time and how these could be used to plan exhibitions, talks and events. I shall set my paper in context with the Women’s Suffrage movement from the time and discuss how women wanted to become more involved in ‘national life.’ In conclusion, I shall present how the decade of centenaries could become ‘difficult’ for the representation of Irish female history.

As you can see I have ‘opened’ the abstract with some rhetorical questions outlining some of the topics I will be discussing in my paper. I have then went on to talk about the ‘problem’ that I will be discussing. Finally, I give an outline of what my paper shall ‘question’ and how to address the ‘problem’ of telling the story of both female organisations.

This is a pretty basic formula to follow, You may find a better formula or structure. Other conferences may call for more in depth abstracts. Or you may construct your own ‘formula’ for writing proposals. There is no right or wrong way writing a proposal. If you have a strong argument, succinct evidence and a well written proposal- then you have a strong chance of getting your proposal accepted!

So GOOD LUCK!And start submitting those proposals! Even if you are rejected a few times. Don’t let this dis-hearten you. Try and try again. And before you know it you will be speaking at conferences all over the place!

As I have mentioned before, I am only writing a guide based on my experiences of writing proposals. I have had some turned down and some accepted. It really is trial and error. As you write more proposals and have them accepted your confidence shall soar. In next to no time you will think writing a conference proposal is as easy as going for a walk in the park!

I hope you have enjoyed my series of four blog posts on ‘Kick Starting’ your museum career. I hope they have become useful and shall continue to be of use to  you in your career. I envisage to write more career blog posts as my own career advances. I feel that sharing knowledge in this sector is key if we are to have well trained and informed museum professionals of the future. So until the, goodbye for now!

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