Higher Education

conference business

Jenny has been writing about reviewing CCCC proposals. Clearly she has a desire to be progressive, to make things better. We all now the complaints about conferences, especially mega-conferences like the C’s. She articulates how being part of the review process has made her more aware of the challenges of making changes.

Confernences have been on my mind lately as well. For a couple years I didn’t go to many b/c of the little kids thing. I found it very hard to get away. Also Cortland offers little support and honestly I couldn’t afford to go far. However, since March, I’ve been to four conferences: C’s, C&W, and two regional conferences. Obviously they are very different kinds of events.

From my perspective, I’m not likely to go to a conference that I can’t get support for attending, unless it happens to be within a couple hours drive, which doesn’t happen often in central NY. I’m only going to get support if I’m presenting. So there you go.

So what are the reasons for attending?

  • A vita line? I guess, though this was more important to me when I was untenured.
  • Social networking? I’m not especially good at this, but it’s important to create bonds with colleagues with whom you have common interests.
  • General socializing? Catching up with old friends from grad school and such, always a fan favorite at any conference.
  • General tourism? It would seem a waste to head off to a great city and not see some of it, right?
  • Esprit de corps? maybe this is as pollyanna as the vita line thing is cynical, but it’s re-energizing to get a sense of being part of a larger community.

I’m not really sure where attending sessions falls into these
categories. You go to sessions to support your friends and colleagues.
You go to a session of someone you recognize whose work is of interest
to you, maybe to learn something but also to network. If you were
hiring people maybe you would go to their panels.

As far as learning something. It would make for more sense
for someone to come to this blog than come to my presenation (though
please feel free to do both!). Most of my presentations end up on my
blog anyway (unless I’m turning them into articles, then they’ll appear
elsewhere with greater detail). I’m sure you could learn more from a
day reading articles than a day spent in academic conference
presentations (where the quality is sometimes dubious as we all know).

People will say that a conference presentation is a kind of rough
draft of an article, that it’s a chance to get feeback. Interesting
theory, in practice not so much. Never had much productive feedback to
be honest. Nor do I see it as the audience’s responsibility to provide
me with some.

At the same time, I agree with Jenny about the problems of having
dialogue in a session. In many respects faculty can be worse than
students with their desire to just be passive and their fears of saying
something stupid; and then when they do open their mouths, too often
you either get "What I do in my class is" or "How does this relate to
my pet theory?"

Thanks so much for the "dialogue."

I can see how I would be up for participation in a specific workshop
in which I enrolled or some particular group I was involved with, but
in terms of some random session? No, I don’t really want to be put to
work thanks.

So it seems to me that a conference ought to be a place for
performances/exchanges that require face-to-face (i.e. not reading your
paper to me–though I am as guilty of that as anyone).

If I was going to go to a conference today, what kind of panels
would I want to attend? A demonstration of activities in Second Life or
some other technologies. That’s what I would want to see. Something
that wouldn’t be academic in a "publish in a journal" sense, that
required more interaction than could be done easily in an asynchronous
conversation, and that applied directly to things I was trying to do.

In the end though, I’m afraid the concurrent sessions at
conferences, particularly mega conferences like the C’s, less so with
small, more-focused conferences, are just the excuse for getting people
together. You might as well accept as many proposals as you can and let
people get their funding.

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One reply on “conference business”

“You might as well accept as many proposals as you can and let people get their funding.”
What? And then be accused by non-writing-studies folks of having no standards and no gatekeeping in force during tenure reviews and job searches?
Why not establish a youtube-like site for people who want to upload cccc’s presentations and for others to leave *more constructive* commentary than the standard cccc’s format enables? Or even using youtube itself to upload and distribute conference presentations. I mean, if the issue is entering the 21st century …


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