How does it feel to be the first person to speak at the first conference you’ve ever spoken at, at a city you haven’t been to in ten years, in a suit you’ve never worn? It’s terrifying. My name is Eric Medlin and I am a first-year MA history student at North Carolina State University.
At NC State, graduate students in history are encouraged to participate in extracurricular activities, gain teaching or internship experience, and attend assorted lectures and job talks held by the department. We are also encouraged to attend and, even better, present papers at conferences. As my first semester at NC State came to close, I started to plan how I would get involved in the conference circuit. I applied for many conferences all around the country, pitching papers that I could use out of my honors thesis research. One of these was for the student-run history conference at Georgia State University, which focused on “transcending borders” for its 2016 conference. Around the middle of February, I received the email that I had been accepted and would be presenting at the conference. The word “elated” probably best sums up my feelings upon hearing the news.
As soon as I received confirmation, I applied for travel and lodging funding with the NC State History Department. They provided me with $200 primarily to offset the costs of my Atlanta hotel. I drove down to the city with a friend who was also presenting at the conference. We stayed the first night, then woke up early and toured the city the next morning. I used views of the Atlanta skyline and the Georgia State Capitol to soothe the anxiety welling within me and the doubting questions nagging at me all morning. Why did they put me first at this conference? Who is going to care about my obscure topic? Why did I wait until the last minute to buy this tight-fitting jacket and scratchy dress pants? The thoughts lingered until noon came and I took the elevator up to the 21st floor of one of the downtown skyscrapers where the Georgia State classrooms were located.
In my small conference room, populated by a handful of students and an interested professor, I presented my paper. I then waited for my fellow panelist to present and then anxiously received feedback. The process went much more smoothly than I had expected. My commentator liked my analysis and gave helpful advice. To my surprise, the audience found my presentation fascinating and asked me several hard-hitting questions. I even had a full-fledged debate with one of my audience members! Who would have thought that a discussion of 1940s and 1950s historians would have provoked so many feelings from Georgia State history conference attendees?
The rest of my trip went smoothly. I met several fellow scholars and graduate students, gaining valuable insight and possible networking opportunities all across the South. I was also able to hear one of the best lectures I have ever attended by Dr. Steven Noll from the University of Florida. In between lectures and sessions, I compiled notes, learned more about the research process and picked up tips to help me improve both my research and presentation skills. Both days at the conference piqued my intellectual curiosity and helped me improve myself as a communicator and a scholar.
My trip to Atlanta would not have been possible without the generous support of the NC State History Department. They helped pay for my hotel room and the gas required to travel five hours to Atlanta and five hours back. Their funding gave me the opportunity to present my work in front of respected scholars, to view numerous presentations of advanced scholarly material, and to meet fellow students and professors who will certainly help me progress in my academic career. This is neglecting the many walks around Atlanta I took, the buildings I saw, and the exciting fire alarm that I was caught in halfway through the conference. Thanks for everything, NC State!