I am currently at a big national academic conference at the moment, and it has been a phenomenal experience. I’ve heard some fantastic talks by very smart people in fields close to mine, and I’m walking away with some new perspectives on my own objects of study. However, it’s also become abundantly clear that academic conferences are an excellent place to see people behave like narcissistic, anti-social assholes.
For example, I just attended an outstanding plenary address by a prominent historian of science at a prestigious university. After her talk, she was kind enough to stick around as long as we cared to and answer questions. There were probably about two dozen people who stayed until the very end of that session, and nearly everyone wanted to answer a question. We were passing a microphone around, trying to give everyone an opportunity to talk, but there were three people in the group who, once they got the microphone, refused to give it up. They asked their question and then a follow up and then another follow up and then a rebuttal. This got so obnoxious that the president of the association, who was moderating, had to get up and ask everyone to limit themselves to one question. As she did so, the person who presently had control of the microphone, continued to talk over her and demanded that the speaker address his particular answer to the very large, very nuanced problem under discussion. When he was forced to finally pass the microphone, he then got up and left.
While this guy was most certainly the worst offender, there were three or four others who exhibited the same types of behavior: interrupting the invited speaker who was skipping lunch in order to talk with us, refusing to allow others to participate in the conversation, and acting as if their own research on a tangential topic completely invalidated the premise of lecture.
I don’t really have anything more interesting to say about the situation than this: Don’t be that guy.
Another pet peeve: people who radically overestimate the amount of time they have to give their paper and then, when the two minute warning is given, skip huge section of their paper and say something like, “I think I cover the rest of this in my conclusion.”
I had to share this gem from PHD Comics.
If we were to customize this for a literature conference, there would have to be a space for a nearly content-less theme to serve as the round hole into which prospective presenters creatively try to cram their square abstracts. If the conference is held in the Southwest, the theme will always be Borders (or Frontiers or Boundaries, but Borders is more typical), as in “this paper explores the ***borders*** of bibliographic studies” or “this author’s novel concerns the border between such and so.”
And the list of keynote speakers would include a poetry reading.
And having served on the organizing committee for a Very Big Deal conference, I can confirm that the section on Organizing Committee is entirely accurate, except he forgot to include the graduate students who put together the conference folders and staff the registration tables.
I did finally finish.
That was a wonderful panel discussion, folks, and I’m discovering that you can’t take that for granted. This is my fifth conference presentation of the 2009-2010 school year, and not all of them were unqualified successes. There was the Dallas conference for a regional association whose name I won’t mention, which was scheduled for the weekend of Spring daylight savings. I had the 8:00 am panel, and not even the moderator showed up. Myself and the other panelist (the third canceled) presented to each other. Then I organized a panel for another regional conference, only to have two of my panelists cancel on me at the very last minute. Basically, what I’m learning is that people do not have an especially high level of investment in work presented at regional conferences, such that what should be an opportunity to present and get feedback on one’s work really just becomes the opportunity to purchase a C.V. line. Because, let’s face it: attending conferences is really, really expensive. Compared to other graduate students/academics, I enjoy pretty privileged circumstances, but I think William Peace’s post on how prohibitive it can be for the non-privileged rings quite true.
But today’s back-to-back Dreiser panels were excellent. I had the opportunity to meet active, prolific scholars in the field and hear insightful feedback on my work. It’s a nice capstone experience to this particularly grueling semester. It helps that San Francisco is one of the coolest cities I’ve ever visited.
I’ll be back to my regularly scheduled blogging in a couple of days. Right now, I’m going to go get boozy at the reception.