By James Steur, Ph.D. Candidate, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign

In this blog post, I’m interviewing Gustavo Diaz (pictured at left): a recent PhD graduate and Postdoctoral Fellow at the Center for Inter-American Policy and Research at Tulane University. Gustavo has attended MPSA six times and offers practical tips to maximize your experience at the conference. With MPSA just around the corner, his perspective offers a helpful reminder for both new and veteran conference goers alike – take it easy, and network smarter not harder.

James: Individuals newer to academia may not be familiar with the purpose of conferences. In your view, what is a conference? And what is the purpose of a conference?
Gustavo: A conference is a meeting where academics present research at different stages of progress, usually before sending it for review. The main purpose of attending a conference is getting feedback on your work, to network, and to catch up with friends and colleagues at other institutions.

James: How many conferences have you attended over the course of your career?
Gustavo: Across formats and fields, I averaged around three to four conferences a year before the pandemic (2020). Now, I average two to three a year. Some of that is the pandemic, and I have narrowed down what conferences align with my research interests.

James: How many times have you attended MPSA?
Gustavo: I have attended MPSA ever since my second year of grad school (2016). I was accepted for 2020 but didn’t attend because of COVID. It has helped that I was relatively close to Chicago during my Ph.D.

James: What makes MPSA a unique conference in comparison to other conferences you’ve attended?
Gustavo: It happens at the same place every year, and in a very exciting part of Chicago. That means you can plan well in advance to attend, who to meet, and what to do. It’s easier to connect with colleagues at other institutions when you know they will be there. Some people really like it as an excuse to visit and enjoy Chicago. I once met a scholar who loved to come to MPSA every year to get their dose of civilization.

James: What is a common misconception about conferences you hear frequently?
Gustavo: That they are high-stakes events. In some disciplines, conference papers are as important as journal publications. In political science, the expectation is usually that people share early work so that the feedback from peers makes it impactful. A lot of new attendees stress over having full paper drafts.

But honestly, anything you can put on paper or slides is good to get feedback on. By the same token, most people usually do not have a draft of the paper by the time they apply. But, as your career gets busier, you may want to adopt this practice.

James: Are there particular opportunities that MPSA offers you would suggest for younger scholars to capitalize on?
Gustavo: The Junior Scholar Symposium is a great opportunity to get other people to read your work really closely and give you feedback without presenting at all! I did this in graduate school and enjoyed the experience.

James: Over time, how have you changed the way you participate in conferences?
Gustavo: I used to try to go to as many panels as possible, and worry I wasn’t networking well or being social enough. I realized that as long as you keep up the good work, meeting people happens organically. Before you notice, you go to MPSA to catch a handful of panels relevant to your research area, and you fill your meetings with colleagues or people whose work relates to yours. It really happens very naturally, and I think I worried a lot more than I should have about networking well.

James: How would you suggest preparing for research presentations?
Gustavo: In a conference presentation, you only have time to make one point. Resist the temptation of putting “everything” in your paper into your presentation. Show one of the most interesting aspects of the paper: the theory or some interesting findings. Don’t show all the findings because people will lose track of what you say. The presentation should be what makes people interested in the project — not the whole paper.

James: Any final tips or strategies about conferences you’d like to share?
Gustavo: Take it easy at the conference. Many people approach conferences by going to every possible panel and being at the top of their game in every setting.  Take it easy. Go to your panel and visit a few other panels. Have one or two meetings where you meet people. Remember that MPSA happens in downtown Chicago, so enjoy the area.


About the Author

James Steur is a Ph.D. candidate in political science at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.  His research interests include  political psychology, political behavior, and the role of emotions in citizen  decision-making.  He is a first-generation student, passionate coffee drinker, and excited to be blogging (for a third time!) at MPSA. You can find James on Twitter at@JamesSteur






About Dr. Gustavo Diaz

Gustavo Diaz is a Postdoctoral Fellow at the Center for Inter-American Policy and Research at Tulane University. He studies comparative politics and political methodology. Substantively, he is interested in political economy and political behavior in the Global South, with a focus on how information shapes electoral accountability and representation. Methodologically, he uses tools from design-based causal inference and machine learning to improve research design in experiments and observational studies. You can find him on Twitter at @Gusvalo or on his website.