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Western Canadian Undergraduate Conference of Philosophy University of Victoria
While this was not my first experience attending an academic conference featuring undergraduate scholarship, nor was it my first time presenting my own work, the Western Canadian Undergraduate Conference on Philosophy presented me with an opportunity to grow both academically and professionally. Further, this was the first student-run conference that I have attended, and it allowed me to glimpse what it takes for students to stage such an event. Each of these aspects of the conference have encouraged me to continue my academic achievements and to become ever more active is student-run activities.
The Western Canadian Undergraduate Conference of Philosophy was my second opportunity to present one of my papers, the first being in March 2010 at the Michigan Academy of Science Arts and Letters annual conference. Looking back to my first experience and to other conferences which I have since attended, I was better able to prepare myself for presenting this time. First, in preparing my paper for submission, I spent extra time and effort in polishing my writing style, having noted that this made up the majority of the difference between my work in my classes, and the papers that I have seen other undergraduate present. Further, I have found that papers presented by graduate and professional are polished to an even higher degree, once that I must be prepared to achieve in the new future, as I look towards graduation and applying to graduate programs. Next, after attending a number of papers since I last presented, I have seen what techniques and approaches work better than others. Again, I have learned that preparation is key: the least successful papers I have seen have failed due to a lack of preparedness on behalf of the presenter. This time, I rehearsed to an audience of GVSU faculty and students before I traveled, and received great feedback for the real presentation. In this way, I was able to practice presenting a paper professionally, and to ask questions about both procedures and techniques, rather than to learn such things on the fly.
This conference also afforded me a superb opportunity to network with some of my peers. Since the conference was held in Canada, I happened to be the only American in attendance, and this fact broadened my academic network substantially. I made contacts with other successful, involved undergraduate, both from the University of Victoria, and from school across Canada. I also made the acquaintance of Dr. Ronald de Sousa, emeritus professor of philosophy at the University of Toronto, who gave the keynote talk at the conference. I was very impressed with the ability of the philosophy student from UVic who organized and ran the conference. They were only a part of a very large, vibrant and involved philosophy department there, and executed the conference better than I could have imagined. The other presenters from UVic, as well as those from other schools all gave exemplary paper, and, on account of the active student body, many papers spurred on excellent discussion. I look forward to maintaining contact with all of these students as we continue our academic journeys through graduate school and beyond.
The strong undergraduate contingent at UVic was also evident the night before the conference, at a colloquium that they held, featuring Dr. Alexander Nehemas from Princeton, who gave a talk on developing individual character in Nietzsche. Again, attendance and participating were very noteworthy, and the demonstrated the strength of their scholastic community. Perhaps what struck me the most, however, was the great variety of topics which were covered between the colloquium and the conference itself. At previous conferences, I had focused on attending panels and papers which were specific to my own interests, namely ancient philosophy. This time, I attended all of the papers in the conference, on topics ranging from animal rights to theories of consciousness to feminist philosophy regarding pornography. Whats more, the two longer talks that I attended, from Dr. de Sousa and Dr. Nehemas, were also on topics which I would not have otherwise looked into. It was in listening to their presentations that I learned firsthand the value of philosophy colloquia, in that they broaden the scope of ones education beyond what someone chooses to study in class. At GVSU, the student philosophy society regularly hosts colloquia, bringing distinguished professionals from all over. In the past, I had not made enough of an effort to find the time to attend these events because I failed to understand their value. Now, however, I see the value of attending and will make time to go whenever possible.
Such colloquia are not possible without an active and dedicated student body. Both the conference and the colloquium on the previous night were only as successful as they were participated in. GVSU already has an active student population within its philosophy department, but I realize that student activity begins with the individual student making a commitment to be involved. Just as when I returned from attending other conferences, I return now to GSVU energized and ready to become more involved with my classmates and peers, in order to continue to foster an environment of student lead academic inquiry. After returning from the January 2011 meeting of the American Philological Association, I dedicated myself to make time for involvement in GVSUs Classics Society. Likewise, having had the experience that I did at the Western Canadian Undergraduate Conference of Philosophy, I will do my part to encourage as much student participation at GVSU as I can. I was greatly impressed to see what a large, dedicated group of undergraduates could accomplish, and I see no reason that students at GVSU could not do as well or better, perhaps even hosting our own undergraduate conference sometime in the future. While I will likely have moved on to graduate school by the time that happens, I realize that what I do in my final year at Grand Valley could have an impact on the student culture for years into the future.