Conferences and how to survive them

Hmm, so far I’ve only been to a couple, so #whatthehellwouldIknow?

But after a recent one up north, here’s my advice to myself

What I have learnt

Conferences are to be regarded as a dangerous thing – a potenital waste of time/distraction. There are of course ones I SHOULD go to, but a much larger number that I should NOT. And even when I do go, I need a specific (and strategic?) set of objectives. NB this is distinct from methodology crammers and summer schools perhaps

Lessons to self
To know before you arrive/register; When does your section start, and where? Which of the panels are you on?
You can sort out which panels you go to afterwards, once you’ve got the conference book in your hand

Laptop and charger
Mobile (fully charged!)
Video camera and charger
Dictaphone spare batteries, transfer cord
Pens and paper
Sheets of “academics to network with” “concepts and papers to track down”
Paper copy of your paper
Business cards
Memory stick(s)
Your presentation emailed to yourself, and on laptop, and on memory stick
Clothes (collared shirts and all that)
Healthy snacks (dried apricots etc)

Variable quality
Wretched tiered theatres
Some waffle


And here’s my resolutions should I ever climb to the dizzying heights of being a section chair/panel chair/discussant

Section Chair
Start and finish on time
Use the “crowd-sourced applause” to keep people to time
Encourage people to intro themselves to someone near them both at outset and before questions
Try to get in videoed?

Upload your paper in good time
Have really good powerpoint presentation
Keep to time with your presentation
Keep your answers short (don’t be a dick)
Audio/video yourself if everybody else is happy)

Have a feedback sheet! With a bribe attached

Have your comments in writing? [like anyone has time?!]
Praise sandwiches- pick out the positives
Keep it short if possible
Be specific
Be direct
Be unambiguous (don’t mince your words…)


And a cynic would ask – Why do academics go to conferences?

  • For the same reasons dogs go to parks
  • To chest beat and display
  • For the potential entanglements
  • To see another city
  • Because everyone else is going

Something by Stephen Rose, no, on the leisure of the theory class…?? Why are they always in nice places rather than Skegness (compare with politicians “fact-finding” missions)
Motives of attendees
PhD students trying to get experience, attract the attention of people dishing out the post-docs
Journal editors trying to spot potential stuff to put between the covers
Established academics (post-docs) trying to attract the attention of people dishing out lectureships/tenure
Academic “stars”. Come to bask in the glory? Most diligent, but some get away with not saying very much, recycling stuff

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