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From Classroom to Conference: Conducting & Presenting an Ethnographic Study

On October 17th, 2015, I was given the opportunity to participate in the 73rd annual New York State Communication Association (NYSCA) conference held at the Villanova Resort. With the help of Dr. Yifeng Hu, a mentor and former professor of mine, my paper—“Stereotypes and Sisterhood: An Ethnographic Study of Greek Life at The College of New Jersey”—was chosen to be part of the “Are You In Or Are You Out? Aligning Ourselves with Communication” panel, along with three other undergraduate and graduate students. The process of revising, editing, submitting, and then, eventually, presenting this paper at the NYSCA conference was a novel experience, and although it was a bit challenging at times, it proved to be a rewarding professional experience.

Dr. Yifeng Hu (left) and two of her student presenters: Ashley Attinello (center), and Lucy Obozintsev (right). (Photo courtesy of Yifeng Hu)
Dr. Yifeng Hu (left) and two of her student presenters: Ashley Attinello (center), and Lucy Obozintsev (right). (Photo courtesy of Yifeng Hu)
Lucy Obozintsev presents at the 73rd New York State Communication Association Annual Conference. (Photo courtesy of Yifeng Hu)
Lucy Obozintsev presents at the 73rd New York State Communication Association Annual Conference. (Photo courtesy of Yifeng Hu)

I conducted this ethnographic study in Dr. Hu’s Intercultural Communication class. This project aimed to examine the dynamics of Greek life culture on the TCNJ campus, and to either confirm or debunk the negative stereotypes perpetuated by the media about Greek life. Through observing, participating, and interviewing, I discovered that unlike many popular stereotypes, TCNJ Greek life organizations actually promote quite positive values among its members by putting exceptionally strong emphasis on intimateness, respect, friendship, and camaraderie. Throughout the course of this study, I have learned how challenging and time-consuming it is to fully study and appreciate a culture other than one’s own; investigating and immersing oneself into another culture requires a lot of patience and understanding, and I am grateful for the experience.

When Dr. Hu contacted me over the summer suggesting that I submit my paper to this conference, I was excited as well as a bit terrified. The opportunity to present a paper for the NYSCA is undeniably one that could not be missed. While I was excited about this chance to bolster my resume and interact with professionals in the communication field, I was also nervous. However, I knew that I had to put my nerves aside and commit to this fantastic opportunity, and I was fortunate enough to have my paper accepted to the conference.

Before I knew it, it was suddenly October and it was time for me to present my research at the conference. That feeling of excitement and terror consumed me on the night before my panel; being that this would be my first time presenting at a conference, I didn’t know what to expect. However, I had time to attend other panel presentations, and by seeing how positively the audience reacted to each of the presenter’s passionate discussions about their research, I was, fortunately, able to get rid of the latter emotion by the time of my presentation.

During my panel, I gave a fifteen-minute overview of the purpose of my research, my methods of data collection, and the results that I obtained and what they indicated. The audience that I had imagined would be daunting was anything but; they weren’t there to judge me or the other presenters, they were there because they were genuinely interested in learning about our research. In fact, they seemed excited about the work of the presenters, offering valuable critiques and posing questions about the work discussed. A member of the audience posed a question about my research, wondering if there were any possible limitations of my study, or if I had experienced any ethical qualms during my data collection. I was flattered that she wanted to learn more about my study, and happily answered her question.

All in all, the experience of conducting an ethnographic study, as well as proceeding to present this research in front of an academic audience, proved to be challenging, yet extremely rewarding. Not only was I able to experience a culture different than my own, but I was also able to share these experiences with a group of people that were genuinely interested in these findings. Although it seemed a bit nerve-wracking at first, presenting at the NYSCA conference was an incredible opportunity and an overall fulfilling experience.

Article by Lucy Obozintsev