CIES 2019: Lessons Learned from a Conference Novice!

We are aware that the CIES updates are long overdue but as the saying goes — better late than never! CIES is an acronym of Comparative and International Education Society. The Society hosts annual conferences, and every year, IEDP cohorts participate in the conference in various ways. In this series, we will provide different perspectives of and experiences at CIES 2019. Today we have Sydney who has graciously offered to share her CIES experience!

Okay WOW, how do I even begin to talk about CIES?? This was such an interesting and exciting and overwhelming week, it is hard to even know where to start. Since I can only speak to my own experience, I suppose I will just tell you all about my own lessons learned. Here are some of the reminders that I’ll be carrying with me when I (hopefully!) head back to CIES next year.

  1. Presenting (your poster). Lesson number one is don’t freak out!! So many IEDPers presented at CIES this year, and I know the majority of us did poster sessions. (A major congrats to those of you who presented papers, panels, and roundtables). I know personally, that in the weeks leading up to CIES, I was so so nervous. CIES being my first academic conference, I worried that people were going to ask terribly hard questions, or scrutinize every word, or that our poster itself would turn out illegible, or that I would forget it on the plane….haha. Gaby (my fabulous poster partner) and I spent an absurd number of hours working on our poster’s color scheme and alignment and image quality etc., and, while I’m very glad that we did, none of our fears came true. CIES turned out to be an incredibly student-friendly atmosphere, and the people who stopped by our poster were genuinely interested in hearing us explain about our work. Shocker! And like every single professor told us a million times: if anyone asks you to something that you haven’t thought of, just say, “That’s a great point, I’ll be sure to consider that” and move on. To anyone considering presenting a poster who may feel nervous at the project – DO IT! We both felt super accomplished afterwards, and were so glad that we did.
Looking professional at our poster presentation with my wonderful poster-partner, Gaby!! Having someone to share the process with made CIES so much more fun!
  1. Sessions. “THERE ARE SO MANY OPTIONS, HOW DOES ONE EVER CHOOSE AHH????” – Me, every single morning of CIES. Honestly, at any given point in time there were probably 10 different sessions that I was interested in attending at once. Especially since I’ve been focusing on early childhood, which seemed to be the major hot topic in San Francisco this year. My tip here was that, planning is key. A big shout out to my cohort-mate, PT, who forced me to sit down a few days before the conference and ear-mark all the sessions I wanted to attend. By having a good list of what sounds interesting to you beforehand, you can save yourself a lot of time and stress later. I also learned the importance of looking up, not only what the session is called, but also who is speaking. There may be two very similar-sounding panel sessions on, for example, measuring the impact of an early childhood intervention, during the same times-slot, but one session may be led by a person whose work you’ve read extensively in your classes. It’s a cool opportunity to hear them speak. Another tip – follow around your professors! They know what’s up. One of the most interesting sessions I attended, I only happened upon because Dr. Thapa said he was going, and I last minute decided to join.


  1. Don’t be afraid to talk to people. Okay, so this one is mainly directed towards myself. But for any introverts out there, you will be fine at CIES too. The conference is full of tables of a ton of different education-related organizations, just waiting for people to approach and ask questions. 1) It is okay to just walk right up and start talking. It is not weird. 2) For anyone who knows that they are going to feel weird anyway, it can be helpful to develop a couple questions in your mind just as a starting point, to begin with! A cohort mate and I also became team mates for a bit, and walked around to tables together. It was definitely helpful to have someone as support when striking up a conversation. Honestly though, CIES really was a friendly place. People were very open to speaking with students, answering questions, and sharing their business cards. So, don’t be afraid to ask.
The view right across from the conference hotel…, it was okay.
  1. Enjoy and explore! CIES was definitely exhausting, but I was SO glad that I got to take some time to explore the San Francisco. Being in a conference, surrounded by people all day, can be very overwhelming. One day a cohort mate and I were able to pop out and go for a long walk along the water, another day we tried out a build-your-own ice-cream sandwich shop (omg), and after the conference each day I made a point to see a new part of the city. There were also groups who met up before and after the conference to do even more sight-seeing. Obviously we are there to attend the conference, but I personally think that taking a much-needed break here and there gave me the mental energy to make the most of my time while meeting people and attending sessions. Next year, CIES won’t be in San Francisco, but no matter where it is, there will always be something worth exploring.
Taking a conference break to walk up the tiled steps! (The stair climbing was well worth it. Take a look at the view from the top!)

Being a CIES rookie myself, I know that there are probably 9284092 more lessons that I have yet to learn on how to maximize one’s conference experience. But in the meantime, I certainly enjoyed San Francisco, and am looking forward to trying again. To everyone in our cohort who attended – GOOD WORK TEAM, WE DID IT!! And to everyone who may be joining the cohort next year – can’t wait to see ya there!


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