Saturday, 11 April 2009

Lessons for Next Time

photo by: Rustman

I was at a three-day conference this week. I met up with some academic friends from the circuit, I attended a few fascinating presentations from various fields (something that always makes me feel less isolated and more inspired about the academic enterprise), and I received a lot of positive feedback after my paper.

However, it was also terribly exhausting. These days, even heading to the shops can be a small test of character so I am not sure how I thought mingling with over two hundred cerebralites would be a supple experience. I have been assured that this general ickiness is thesis-related. But just in case things don't change after submission, I have written myself a list of things I need to read before the next conference:

Your Pre-Conference Reminder

  1. Arrive with some sense of stillness. You are always zonked by the time you walk past the first set of publishers' stalls after registration. Pack earlier. Leave the evening before for relaxation.

  2. Give a positive comment before questions and comments (because you're almost always enthused by the research going on out there!).

  3. Avoid responding vocally to phrases like 'transferable skills' or 'employability' in other people's presentations unless you have written down my question or comment beforehand. It's essentially an emotional response and should probably be left to eye-twitching unless an answerable question can be posed or a measured comment can be made.

  4. Remember to take a watch or finally buckle and trade in your 2004 phone for one with some useful applications (and some degree of attractiveness). Having to ask a fellow participant to provide your wake-up calls each day (via mobile phone) isn't smooth.

  5. Avoid the biscuits at afternoon tea. They make you zone out during the last session and contribute to your erratic responses to certain buzz words.

  6. Be more accommodating and subdued when accepting feedback. Maybe don't say, in response to someone suggesting you read more Bourdieu, that while you like his work, you think that most empirical researchers tackle the agency-structure problem by producing one paragraph that summarises his concepts of disposition, field and habitus and then simply present their findings. That's probably unwisely presuming that audience members (in front of their peers) know that the spirit behind very nearly everything you say in any context is good and that of course you appreciate their advice.

  7. Red wine at the social events is not your ally. It doesn't matter that everyone else is drinking loads of it. (Actually, I think you learnt this from last time and did well on this front. Keep up the good work!)

  8. Account for the extra time needed to unwind before falling asleep each night. Travelodges, one of the premier destinations for student-participants, are strange institutions with lots of noise and pinewood, unnervingly young staff, arbitrary heating and no phones (and therefore no wake-up calls). You know you need optimum conditions for a restful sleep.

I like the picture above as it suggests coyness (which is how I feel about my reminder list), but I realise that toes touching also suggests feminine meekness, and may be anti-feminist of me. I may go off it and change it.


Ink said...

Now that is a great list. Conferences can be admittedly bizarre experiences, and this made me laugh.

Sounds like you had a good presentation experience, though (and I applaud that you made that comment about B. in response)!

John Flood said...

Each conference has its own feel and the trick is to work out how you're going to fit in with it. If you haven't, do read David Lodge's "Small World", one of the best descriptions of the conference circuit yet. One year I had conference in 4 different continents and sat with at least one other presenter 3 times.

The intellectual component of conferences is generally low. You get more of that from seminars and workshops. The power of the conference is to build networks, to be seen, to trade gossip. It is also the opportunity to meet friends often those from home. Oh, yeah, save us from famous theorists: lets put Bourdieu, Luhmann, Habermas et al on endangered list. We'll let them go extinct.

Having said that I know colleagues who never go to conferences which is a shame.

Finally, that red wine is often your ally. No one ever remembers what's said, so it doesn't matter what you said yourself--how stupid or brilliant you were.

John Flood said...

Stewart Lee is at this moment doing a riff on why he hates the Travelodge!

Academic, Hopeful said...

Oh bless Stewart Lee. He's the best!

Thanks for your comments and reassurances guys.