My first academic attempt at a conference presentation was not a total catastrophe.
I presented my research progress at Doing Doctoral Research: Your Voice which aims at allowing doctoral students to present their research, at whatever stage of the PhD. As I am still in the process of collecting data I decided to focus my presentation on my general research questions, design, and the motivation for the project as a whole.
I explained that my research interest stems from my own experiences as a music student at a university, the similarities and differences of those experiences of my friends who were at conservatoires like Eastman and Juilliard, and the frustrations voiced by working musicians I have encountered during my time working in the music industry. The room was full of educators and education researchers, not necessarily anyone who understands what the conservatoire experience is (another impetus for this research – provide a gateway to understanding).
The whole PowerPoint is likely to bore, so I'm not providing every slide, but I've provided a bit of a taste for the presentation.
At the end of the presentation, one of the well intentioned questions I received was (approximately) this:
You said yourself that the arts conservatoire is a very small, specialized part of the higher education landscape, so why should we care about this research?
Had the room been filled with music educators and conservatoire administrators, I doubt that question would arise – but the point is a good one. I am interested in the conservatoire student experience because I have a music degree – I've been there. I am interested in the welfare and support systems of music students. In a broader Higher Education (the capital HE) perspective, this research matters because these students are not insulated from HE policy implications like student fees, funding, career planning, etc.
So I am left to think about how best to frame this thesis in a way that calls attention to music students as a small but important piece of the higher education landscape.