Saturday, April 05, 2008

Questions for the Academic Blog-o-sphere

Some grad student friends and I (my work buddies) were having lunch this week and began discussing the expense of going to the major conferences in our fields. Now, each of us is in very somewhat different fields, but their conclusion was that going to the major conference in your field each year wasn't that important. Last year I attended the large conference in my field for the first time and a very small conference, not directly within my field, but related to my master's research methodologically.

Attending the large conference was stimulating because I was exposed to sub-fields and "star" scholars that I never would have understood otherwise. I got much more of a sense of what is hot in my field than I could from reading journals. The large conference was mostly a total bust in terms of networking though. I felt terribly out of place the entire time. The paper sessions didn't allow enough time for questions and people weren't very open to people waylaying them after their talk. The conference was so huge that I felt completely lost and dwarfed by the event.

The small conference was much more fun. My friend and I got to talk to some experienced researchers using similar methodologies. People actually attended our paper session despite the fact that it was scheduled for the last afternoon of the conference.

This year I'm going to major conference again, only this year it's going to be much more expensive since I have to pay for travel and airfare. This year I'm presenting my thesis research. So in the coming years, as I'm developing my dissertation research, how often do I need to attend the major conference in my field?

The thing is, it's fr*cking expensive.
$500 for airfare
$300/night for a hotel room (Ok, you could share, but still.)
$20+/day for food
$75 clothing to make me look less like a homeless person

Total= $1300 (minimally)

That's almost a month's wages for me.

Second question. There's small conference coming up in June at Visitation U. It's interdisciplinary, but very much related to my interests. I emailed the organizer to get more info about cost. He suggested that I might moderate one of the panels. How worth it is moderating? I guess it would give me something to do if I want to go to the conference anyway. If I only have money and time to attend one or two conferences a year how should I choose? This small conference seems like it would be better for networking, but it seems that I'm going to have to sample a variety of small conferences until I find the few that I really fit with. Last year I attended one small conference I really loved and one that I never want to go to again. I never would have guess which was which without attending each.


The History Enthusiast said...

I am by no means an expert on this, but from what I know, it is not necessary to attend the major conference in your field every single year (when you are a grad student). My major conference is the AHA, and I plan on going next year, and then the year(s) that I am on the job market. Even though I have research I could've presented this year and last year, the cost was just too much for my little budget to handle.

I think the key is to find balance and to know what works for you. The money that you would have to use to travel to far-away conferences may be better spent on research expenses, for example. I try to present at at least one conference a year, and then I usually try to attend one more. If you are having great networking opportunities at smaller conferences, then maybe stick with that this year, and try something else next year.

EcoGeoFemme said...

I'm interdisciplinary, so there are three major conferences each year that I choose from. I always go to one and some years go to two. I think they are vital for starting a career both from the networking standpoint and for learning what's on the cutting edge. And even though I haven't published any papers yet, there are people who know me and what I do because I've presented my work at meetings.

I have found that the 'lost' feeling dampens with time. The more conferences you go to, the more people you know who introduce you to people they know and so on. Though it's definitely easier at small meetings.

k8 said...

While I've attended my field's big conference about every other year, I actually prefer smaller conferences. I meet more people and I feel less overwhelmed by everything going on. Also, don't count out regional conferences. Again, they can be good places to network since they are smaller and you might have the option to drive to them. I almost always propose a paper for conferences I drive to. Also, I don't go to a conference unless I am presenting at it. We don't have a chance of any reimbursement if we aren't presenting.

Sisyphus said...

If by "major conference" you mean the MLA, I would say it's not really worth it. It's too focused on job stuff to have room to schmooze up with people in your field.

I would go every year you can to whatever major conference most closely matches your "field" of dissertation though --- if there's a major eighteenth-century lit conference and that's the time period you work on, for example, or you're a medievalist and you go to Kalamazoo. It will take a few years before you really start to feel like you know people and are making connections, so you gotta just start as soon as possible and try your best to network. (It sucks at first.)

But meeting or at least being seen by the big people in your field will help you in the long run. And remember, all those nice, slightly-frightened first and second-year profs who are willing to talk with you will be really settling into the grooves of professorship and your field and able to help you with stuff when you're finally ready to go on the market or publish --- so all is not lost if you can't connect with the current big names.

JustMe said...

yah, major conference is a lot of money. for hotel, i always share and haven't yet stayed at the conference hotel, i think most grad students don't. i am saving that for when i actually have a t-t job. i would say that major conference is worth it, and that i felt totally dwarfed the first time i went to, but the second time time was so much better. and i think it's good for me to practice and get used to presenting. and i think there is value in moderating. not only networking value, but also in the experience. anyway, yah, i wish depts. would give people (esp students) realistic funding...

trillwing said...

Unless you're totally committed to networking (and have a plan for doing so), don't bother staying at the pricey conference hotel. Find another one nearby that's less expensive.

Also, I don't pay for far-away conferences out of my own pocket. Unless they're on my coast, I just can't afford to attend them unless someone else pays. Of course, the year or two you're on the job market, it's a different story, and you may have to suck it up and pay.

I'm a fan of smaller conferences, especially ones where I know one or two key people who are going to be there, and who I know will be willing to include me in their intellectual and social circles for dinners, lunches, etc. I wish someone had explained the importance of this to me early in my grad school days. Now I have more confidence and am more savvy about networking, and I think that will help me at future conferences.

trillwing said...

Oh, one more suggestion--try to get on the organizing committee for the grad student portions of the conference. I've never done this, but I know someone who has done so for the major conference in her field, and it really put her on the inside track.

Eddie said...

Moderating looks great on the vita!