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Career Advice

Five tips to make the most of Congress

The annual gathering of humanities and social sciences associations is coming May 23 to 31 in Ottawa. Are you ready to make new friends?


John Osborne, the dean of Carleton University’s faculty of arts and social sciences, is looking forward to playing host to the estimated 8,000 academics who will gather at Carleton May 23-31 for the annual Congress of the Humanities and Social Sciences. But precisely because the Congress brings together so many scholars, it can be overwhelming for first-time attendees.

Regular participants remember what that was like. So, from academics from across Canada, here are five tips for getting the most out of the Congress.


Come prepared

The Congress is a huge gathering. Veteran attendees say that to get the most out of it you’ve got to plan your participation in advance.

“Make your own personal program for attendance,” said Esther Enns of St. Mary’s University. “If you don’t, you will get lost.”

“You have to be strategic,” adds Delbert Russell of the University of Waterloo. “And you have to make difficult choices about what you want to hear and see.”

Jean-Claude Guédon of Université de Montréal advises keeping the Congress guide and a campus map with you all the time so you can make snap decisions about whether to attend something.

John Osborne of Carleton adds if you’re presenting, it’s wise to practise beforehand.

“One of the biggest mistakes first-time speakers make is they don’t practise their speech aloud,” he says. “They go over time, and that’s usually not well taken.

Remember that the people who may be sitting on the committees assessing your future job applications may be sitting in the audience. If you spend 40 minutes giving a 20-minute speech, they will remember.”

Socialize actively

Regular attendees say that the Congress is about way more than intellectual debate – it’s about networking and meeting people. That means chatting in hallways over coffee, going out for meals, and going to the beer tent or your discipline’s big annual party.

Karen Grant of the University of Manitoba has been attending these events since 1981. She advises first-time attendees to see whether they can get a social boost from people they already know.

“I was a grad student in 1981, and one of the people on my master’s committee invited me to come to dinner. I met a whole lot of professors there from other universities, and that gave me an entrée I would not otherwise have had. If you can get an entrée from your thesis adviser, take advantage of it.”

Go outside your discipline

Going outside your discipline can be as simple as attending general lectures or hanging around Congress events, says John Lepage of Vancouver Island University.

Dr. Lepage, for example, loves the book fair. “I don’t often have the opportunity to connect myself physically with 100 different academic presses,” he says. “Just to wander around to see what other scholars are putting on the shelves, just that experience I find very enriching.”

Keep in mind that it can be difficult to focus because there’s so much going on. Says Daniel Maher of the University of Calgary: “For young academics, the idea is to get out and see what’s happening in other groups, and see where there are affinities for future years. It really is a balancing act.”

Consider a longer stay

Meetings of many different academic associations take place during the course of Congress, but those individual association meetings last only a few days. To get the most out of Congress, consider adding a day or two to your stay, either before or after your own meetings. That way you can take more in – without the pressure of attending your own events.

“You tend to be very engrossed in your own discipline,” says Esther Enns. “Extend a few days to take advantage of the general things. It’s difficult to juggle your discipline and the other programs. I would rather stay focused on my own discipline while it is running, and take advantage of the other stuff before or after.”

Don’t be shy

“Don’t sit in your hotel room between sessions!” advises John Osborne. Go to the events, he says, and learn how to walk up to strangers and say hello. “That’s how you get jobs!”

Delbert Russell of the University of Waterloo suggests that to break the ice, go up to talk to people who have just presented. Or if you can’t nab them right then, make a point of tracking them down later.

“Follow up on ideas that are generated,” says Dr. Russell. If you go to a plenary, speak up, says Katherine Quinsey of the University of Windsor. And if you get lost or overwhelmed, she adds, “don’t be afraid to ask for help.”

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  1. Sarah Thring / May 19, 2009 at 18:13

    Please remember to bring your business cards, and lots of them.

  2. mohamed ismail / May 21, 2009 at 12:03

    I am happy that accidently I found your website I would like to know a lot about your congress and your university and I hope to be lucky to attend the congress.