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Setting Up a Panel for a Conference

Below is a memo from Linda Shafer, one of our current graduate students. She developed this based on a memo from Ed O'Donnell @ Hunter College, CUNY in regard to essential elements to a successful panel propsal. She has made a few revisions/additions/changes to include information she found out as she created her own panel.

Notably, the time elapsed from when Linda posted her own call for papers for her panel to the date she had a finalized panel with all paper presenters, a chair, and a discussant was only nine days.

So, if you want to increase your chances of being able to present your paper at a conference, whether regional or national, read on. And thank Linda for her help in putting this tip sheet together.

1. Present your paper as part of a panel/session. If properly arranged and well-written, your proposal arrives as a package deal. Conference planners love this because it means they will not need to fit your paper into one of dozens of sessions on wide ranging topics. Putting the package together takes more time, but it greatly enhances the chances for acceptance.

2. Find out the theme of the conference. Almost all conferences have one. As you think about formulating a group of paper presenters, consider what the title of your session will be and how you can explicitly link it to the conference's theme.

3. Decide what you want to present a paper on. Ideally, it should be part of your dissertation research for the simple reason that it draws upon work you need to do anyway.

4. Find two-three other presenters, a session chair, and a session commentator. The guiding principles in choosing these people are diversity and coherence. In a word, you want your panel to be diverse in its racial/ethnic/gender composition. (NB: Of course you cannot ask for a ethnic/racial/gender description of people interested in presenting on your panel.)

a. Finding presenters. You want to make sure your presenters are from different universities. At the same time, you want quality papers that form a coherent session. You can just ask around (from friends from different universities, or perhaps friends of friends) or post a CFP (on a related list-serve, of course) for your proposed panel. Your CFP for your panel should contain the conference name, dates, and theme, a description of your paper, and the possible theme/goal of your panel.

b. The chair and commentator roles. Here it is important, whenever possible, to get people who are firmly established in the field. Many high profile academics are happy to serve in these capacities. (It's the right thing to do, and they often get travel reimbursement from their universities.) If you don't know of anyone personally or via friend-of-friend, write one of the conference organizers and ask if (i) she has a list of people who are willing to serve as chair or discussant, or (ii) she could recommend anyone to contact.

5. Create a coherent package. Pull together the one-page paper abstracts and, importantly, use them to craft a well-written, one-page panel abstract that justifies the panel by clearly explaning why the papers are important and who they collectively contribute to the stated goal/title of the session. (It often helps to rewrite, with permission, of course, the individual paper abstracts to emphasize the coherence of the package.)

6. Neatness counts. It is worth taking the time to retype/reformat everyone's abstract and c.v. (have them sent to you electronically or on disk) so that the proposal looks tight and unified.