I don’t go to many academic conferences any more. Perhaps when I make some substantial headway on my next major research project I will hit the conference circuit again, but for now my writing and speaking has focused more on popular audiences.
Yet I do believe academic conferences are important. While I was a graduate student I attended them and presented at them frequently. Back then I could have really used an essay like Eszter Hargittai’s “Conference Do’s and Don’t’s.
I have never been much of a cold-turkey networker so I would spend conferences trying to attend as many panels as possible. I would feel guilty if I did not attend a session during every time slot. I never really tried to meet important senior scholars in my field because I had a strong aversion to sucking up to them. These scholars are busy and don’t need a bunch of young sycophants following them around in the hopes of getting them to read a dissertation chapter. So rather than trying to find a seat at a high powered dinner, I was more than satisfied eating with graduate school friends who, like me, were on a budget.
According to Hargittai, I did absolutely nothing right. I was clearly not getting the most out of my conference experience and was not advancing my career in any significant way. I can’t disagree with him.
The bottom line is that conferences have never been my thing. I hate the name-tag staring, the pretentiousness, the bombarding of book editors with half-baked proposals, and the general parading of the professional classes in the halls of big city conference centers. When I go to a conference today I normally attend one or two conference sessions a day, hang out with friends, spend considerable time in the book exhibit, meet with a few younger scholars who have contacted me in advance, try to see some sites in the city, order room service, and occasionally take a nap.
I prefer to take in the conference on my own terms. It is less stressful.