A harmony of work and play – Working as a conference assistant in the Trextuality conference

Serving as a conference assistant and project intern is an excellent decision. Please, let me tell you why!

The info desk of the Trextuality conference, occupied by two conference assistants (taken by the Trextuality social media team)

I attended the Trextuality conference as an assistant and project intern. The conference was aimed at scholars working in translation studies and textual criticism, as well as neighbouring disciplines, such as literary studies and book history. The conference was held 7–9 September 2023 at the University of Turku in the recently renovated Arcanum building and in Educarium. The presenters’ topics were very varied, so you were bound to find something interesting. Personally, I was most interested in seeing how a conference would be organised. In addition, there were several presentation topics that intrigued me. For example, reference module 2B in the image below.

The afternoon schedule of the second day of the conference

Now that you’ve had a glance at just one of the days of the conference, you’ll probably see why I wholeheartedly recommend grabbing the next opportunity to be a conference assistant! Should you not have the time to dedicate to an internship of three or five study points, you get to participate in the lectures held by the attendees for free. If even that somehow fails to entice you to join, let it also be mentioned the food was very good and very free. I will reiterate, there is no need for a commitment to a project internship. You can just be a conference assistant with no strings attached, and these regular assistants were the majority of our numbers. Should you have the time and inclination for an internship, keep reading. If not, keep reading anyway.

So, you want study points for your efforts. You can get a project internship and three study points for your efforts if you put in around 81 hours of work. You get five study points if you put in 135 hours of work, as with regular courses. The 80-hour mark is pretty easy to achieve, whereas the 135-hour mark will require some special arrangements with your supervisor.

There are usually several different ways to help around, be it before, during, or after the conference. I will mostly be talking with this conference in mind, but much of this applies to project internships done as a part of other types of events as well. For instance, before the conference there were signposts to be set up and the lecture rooms had to be rearranged to suit the conference’s needs. Some of us were a part of the photography and social media teams that created content about the conference during the event. I was a part of the shift list team. Our planning made sure every room and the help desk were always occupied by at least one assistant. 

During the conference, the social media team and help desk and lecture room assistant duties offered a chance to pitch in. In addition, simply attending the presentations held by the attendees counted towards the hour threshold. Due to sick calls, I had to go a little light on attending presentations. I spent most of the conference manning the information desk, ready to help conference guests with whatever questions or needs they might have.

After the conference, there is the option of writing about your experiences for publications, which is exactly what I’m doing right now! These publications can be magazines read by linguists or blogs, such as the one you’re reading this text on.

We, the assistants, were called the T-rex team. The working spirit of the T-rex team impressed me. There were quite a few cases of illness that popped up during the conference among the assistants. Despite this, our line held, and we fulfilled our duties.

A group photo of some of the conference assistants (taken by the Trextuality social media team)

Our supervisors, the actual organisers of the conference, were the masterminds behind the whole operation, pulling it off like the true academics they are. Many occasions needed quick solutions and creative problem-solving that only the organisers had the authority to do. Say, helping with luggage forgotten by the attendees. Whenever we, the assistants, were at our wits’ end, asking our supervisors didn’t leave us on the rocks. We, the helping hands, were in good hands ourselves.

What for me personally made the entire conference was how kind and patient the guests were. If they needed help with something, they were polite, and if we had to find something out for our guests, they waited calmly, without rushing us. Their demeanour was professional and pleasant all around. We also received a great deal of kind words from the attendees in the form of emails sent to the organisers after the conference, which I personally found very heart-warming to hear.

To summarise, if interested, the next time you get an email saying that conference organisers are looking for assistants, grab a friend and volunteer. Do it for the study points, the experience, just to help out if nothing else. The worst that can happen is getting free food and a chance to meet fun people. Doesn’t sound like a bad deal to me.

Text by Ali Lamminen

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