An introvert’s guide to the academic conference. Yes, ‘conference’ means ‘converse’ so saddle up

… it just happens to be one where everyone is silently watching, and judging 👍

To the introvert an academic conference is like being at a party where there is just one person you feel comfortable talking to. Your mission is to work out who they are without interacting with anyone else, and then have a cheery convo with them while avoiding attracting anybody else’s attention. Now we’re doing all our conferences on Zoom, the hour of the introvert has come at last. As a professional introvert this makes me happy. But not too happy, that wouldn’t be very introvert-y and might end up with me engaging in persistent eye contact, wanting to know stuff about the other person, not reviewing every interaction a thousand times over the next month to check if I was embarrassing, and dancing on the stage at nightclubs. Slippery slope.

First steps to understand how to approach the academic conference is to grasp what it is for. A conference is several different events happening at the same time. A conference is: An academic news aggregator and sorter of ‘what everyone should be caring about right now’. A site of several rites of passage, into, through and out of the academic career. A consensus creator and problem former. A place of renewal and crisis management where the institutional health of the discipline is reviewed. A sometimes commercial entity. The place where people talk at other people for 15 minutes without saying anything related to the title they submitted 6 months ago. That disco. You may have noticed some of these are not going to be replaced by an online conference.

For the PhD researcher or early career researcher there are some graspable functions served by it: socialisation, joining a peer culture, starting to take measurable risks with your ideas, getting quick feedback, seeing frenemies and scouting out places you might like to work. I like conferences because they push people together, and at their best create a collective effervescence of ideas and people. At their worst … well, there’s a lot been written about that, alienating professional jousting and such. Generally we’ve got a bit better at limiting the irritating stuff and deliberately creating space for the good stuff. There’s also a lot going on in relation to access around the conference that isn’t acknowledged such as fees, immigration led constraints on attendees’ travel, the medium used for an online conference, and when it is being held (thanks to comments from two super smart students for putting that at the front of my mind). See Craig Lundy, Free the academic conference

Some links to get you started in working the conference:

How important is it to present at conferences early in one’s career? (Part 1)

How to write a killer conference abstract: The first step towards an engaging presentation.

Conference small talk – the definitive guide

 

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