University Writing & Research Conference

Elsa Katz presenting at the writing & research conference

The University Writing Program hosts the semiannual University Writing and Research Conference every fall and spring semester. At the conference, University Writing 1020 (UW 1020) students from the semester before who have been nominated by a faculty member share their research and writing experiences with an audience. 

Writing is a social act. The conference is designed as a capstone opportunity for faculty as well as students to see what their peers in previous first-year writing courses have accomplished and to get useful takeaways for future course planning.

Spring 2024 Event

Student Presenters

Students present work completed in their UW 1020 course for an engaged audience and receive useful feedback. 

Preparing for Questions

Public scholarship, in some sense, is simply an excuse to prompt dialogue and future scholarship. Consider your presentation in that light as you prepare to answer attendees’ questions.

Some questions may ask you to elaborate on work you have done but did not have time to include. (Savvy presenters often drop verbal footnotes that lament their limited time and suggest taking up some matter “in the Q&A.”) With any luck, the audience, the moderator or your co-presenters will push you to consider other approaches, examples or emphases you have not yet considered. Such questions invite you to think out loud, improvising your part in a scholarly exchange: a frightening but ultimately exhilarating prospect.

Strategies for Improvising Responses

Give yourself a moment to think. No one expects on-the-spot genius. And even the briefest delaying tactic (“Huh, I’ve never thought of it that way, but you’re right: that could be an interesting approach. Let me begin to answer by …”) can give your brain a chance to process the question.

Ask the questioner to elaborate on their question. A well-meaning question is an invitation, not a test. Take some time to examine the question with your questioner ("Can you clarify your question?"). A question is itself an example of thinking out loud, and they may appreciate getting another chance to frame it properly. They may have an example or comparison in mind they have not revealed (“That’s interesting; what made you think of that?”). Or there may be a question behind the question (“Have you been working on a related project that inspired your question?”).

Acknowledge the limits of your own research and knowledge. No scholar has enough time to explore every nook and cranny of their subject. It is fine to be more interested in some things than others (“That wasn’t where I focused my research. I was more interested in …”). But it is also wise to accept questions that point out your limitations for the gift that they are (“Why, no, I didn’t come across that information/writer/approach in my research. Tell me more.”)

Watch: Advice and Tips from Past Conference Presenters 




Faculty, graduate and undergraduate students, administrators and other community members may moderate sessions. The University Writing Program strongly encourages broad participation from faculty, whether as moderators or nominators.

Role of Moderators
  • Play a key role in what is often the most significant presentation experience students will have as writers and scholars in their early undergraduate years
  • Help students communicate their work to attendees who may have limited experience with the academic conference model
  • Bring a perspective from beyond the presenters' immediate UW 1020 classrooms as they stimulate discussion among presenters and lead Q&A with the audience
  • Enhance the sense of research and writing as social acts that can engage, create and shape public discourse within the university and the larger community
Conference Day Logistics

Please plan to arrive approximately 15 minutes prior to your session’s start time. There will be a small packet of materials waiting for you in your room including table (name) cards, a program and audience surveys. Students are likewise encouraged to arrive at least 10–15 minutes early. UWP faculty will be circulating to help deal with equipment and room set-up issues, but you'll want to take the lead here in making sure all the equipment works and that student PowerPoints are ready to go.

Guidelines for Moderating a Session

The most common approach is to introduce each presenter and let all presenters speak (gently reminding them of their time limits, if necessary) before opening up the floor to questions. This is where your help is most needed, because students in the audience are unlikely to be accustomed to conference etiquette and practice, and may need to be drawn out. (Conversely, you may find it necessary to keep faculty members in the audience from taking over the session.)

You might find it helpful to get the ball rolling with a question of your own, especially where the linking thread among the presentations might seem thin. It can also work well to encourage the presenters to ask questions of one another.

When the session is nearly over, thank presenters and attendees.

At the end of each semester, faculty members are asked to nominate students to participate in the following semester’s conference.

Audience Members

The audience — consisting of students, faculty, librarians, community members, friends and family — plays an important role by actively encouraging a dialogue that explores relevant questions and issues.

Taking Inspiration

For students who have not yet completed UW 1020, the mid-semester conference is an opportunity to see the work that your peers produced in classes from the previous semester. Use the presentations as inspiration when you begin working on your own research project.

Brainstorming Questions

A “good” question opens discussion rather than closes it off. And good questions come out of engaged, active listening. As you listen and take notes, ask yourself two questions:

  1. What have you learned? How has this presenter or session challenged what you thought you knew about a topic?
  2. What is behind or beyond this presentation? What larger histories, broader theories or wider range of experience does the session gesture toward?
How to Construct Good Questions
  • Listen for questions that presenters themselves pose but do not pursue. Scholarship poses questions, explicitly or implicitly. Which ones interest you?
  • Listen for keywords. Scholarship often works by asking us to think through new definitions for familiar concepts. Are you finding these new definitions useful? Are there dark areas they leave unlit? Are there other ways YOU might redefine these keywords?
  • Listen for the intellectual problem or larger public issue the presentation addresses. Do you accept their challenge to the scholarly consensus or the conventional wisdom? Do you want to hear more about the intellectual stakes or the practical implications of their challenge?
  • Draw connections among presentations. One purpose of public presentation is to create opportunities for a dynamic cross-pollination of ideas. Point to ways that the presentations complement one another and ask presenters to comment. Are you seeing unexpected convergences, or equally unexpected divergences? Does the discussion you’ve heard in other conference sessions have anything to contribute to this one?
  • Draw upon your own experience and knowledge. Scholarship is not produced in a vacuum. What experiences, theories, or ideas have you been working with, as a scholar or as a human being, that might be of interest to the presenter(s) or your peers in the audience?

Past Program Events

Past Years