You know…sometimes I think it is a little luck as another post suggests. Other times, I think the conference committee takes liberty in suggesting what the field ought to be. In some cases, it seems the more obscure or exotic the better, at least in some I’ve been a part of. My concern is then that there is little application for such obscure research – at least I find there may be little application at the moment for me. Then again, what is deemed obscure today may be rather informative in the future.
I think some national conferences have their pet lines of research and theory – and if your paper seems to fit these lines of research or theory, then you get in. At times, this makes conferences seem like clubs for those who can best speak the language. I try to get to one conference that’s a new one for me each year and one that’s an old standard for me each year. I learn from both. Often one of these conferences is not in my primary field – for example, this fall, one of my students and I presented at a criminal justice conference. If my student had not had an interest in it, I would not have attended. The folks at the CJ conference seemed to like our research – it brought in new perspectives, they said.
I’ve run some small conferences – and realize that some people do turn in rather unfinished work for their proposals. I know that conferences are a bit of a crap shot anyway – often the research is only partial when submitting an abstract anyway – and you have to propose a completed project, even though the research is not truly completed.
As a tenure-track academic – my advice for emerging scholars is to seek a mix of old and new conferences and avoid getting in a rut. That being said, I’m on the faculty of an interdisciplinary program that likes to see us having a variety of research rather than a single topic.