Saturday, January 15, 2011

Conference calculus

So, as suggested by Ajnabieh, I'm giving a bit of thought to how we (I) figure out which conferences to attend and why, in any given academic year.  (Never mind the little, one-off things that our friends put together and invite us to do.)  At the moment, there are three major annual conferences on my radar screen:
  1. Major Pseudology Conference.  This is the ginormous, overstuffed, pan-Pseudology conference that almost everyone hates, everyone badmouths, and everyone attends anyway.  Given my disciplinary training and expertise, this is the conference most likely to generate prelim interviews for me.  I'm in several smaller interest groups within the umbrella of the larger organization, which have their own little meetings during the big MPC, during which I have to be quiet, applaud at the right moments, and try not to embarrass myself in front of people who could hire me in a year or two.  (Already failed at that effort, I fear.)  On a better note, there are always lots of old grad school friends there, and it's good to catch up with them.
  2. Area Studies Conference.  This is relatively large, too, but not like the 800-pound gorilla that MPC feels like in practice.  Pseudologists make up a comparatively small percentage of the membership, most of which comes from other social science and humanities disciplines.  This, naturally, is reflected in the hiring opportunities that articulate themselves around the conference.  Essentially, after having scouted things out, I have concluded that ASC is probably a waste of time if I'm single-mindedly focused on getting a job.  It is, however, useful for publicizing my work to colleagues in other disciplines who don't read Pseudology journals.  And, for that matter, it can open doors to publishing opportunities in the journals that maintain a high profile at ASC.  As I somewhat hazily recall, there are also some fine opportunities for late-night bull sessions at the hotel bars.  ASC people can drink, that's for sure.  A fair number of grad school friends here, too, but not as many as at MPC.
  3. Secondary Disciplinary Interest Conference.  I joined SDIC a year ago specifically to expand my access to timely job postings, which are often reserved for dues-paying members.  I've never even seriously considered going to SDIC, since money, time, and utility were all concerns in previous years.
This is where things start to get unsettled for young and itinerant pseudologists, since, depending on the nature of our work, we can keep adding SDICs at an alarming rate.  Pretty much everyone under the sun goes to MPC, and most people tend to have an appropriate ASC that they'll check in on every other year or so.  But beyond those virtually inevitable conferences, we can also seek out smaller conferences dedicated to narrower research interests.  Aside from the costliness of joining so many SDICs, it presents some confusion in choosing where to focus our efforts.  We're all interested in four or five or six discrete topics all at once, any one of which could bear professional-development fruit.  You all know what membership and registration fees are like.  Who wants to pay all that for five different organizations when one isn't even freaking employed anywhere yet?

More to the point, I don't know anyone with the money, the time, and the energy to keep up with that many conferences.  You know you can't do all of them each year, so you start thinking that you shouldn't bother with some of them at all.  And yet, what if that conference you're thinking of ditching is The One Conference?

I think you get the idea.  At the moment, I have confined myself to a single SDIC, although to date I've never even gone: I just pay dues and get the associated journal.  Frankly, I was beginning to think that I should bag SDIC altogether and concentrate my attention on MPC and ASC, even though it's almost impossible to do both of those latter ones in the same year.  (They're practically on top of each other for timing, and yet somehow never in the same city.)  SDIC, since it has to date yielded me nothing but slightly easier access to some journal articles I probably could have acquired elsewhere without much trouble, seems uncomfortably like a vanity membership — kind of like padding the CV.

EXCEPT...the newest wrinkle for me is that the short-list interview I've just landed is for a position firmly situated within the purview of SDI, rather than Pseudology proper.  I know: crazy, right?  My mind needs to be in five places at once just to handle all of it.  Since this is the single best lead I have on a job right now, I don't dare discount SDIC.  Indeed, if I get this job, then I would think that I'd be expected to go to SDIC on a regular basis, perhaps even more frequently than I would go to MPC.  Weird.

So anyway, those are my three, and my current mercenary thinking about each one.  How do you good people all run this calculus?


  1. My calculations are pretty simple:
    1) Submit an abstract for everything
    2) If I'm rejected, it's out (unless it happens to be in a city where I have a lot of friends and thus free housing and the transportation is cheap)
    3) If I'm accepted, figure out if the finances/timing works
    4) Go to as many of 3 as I can afford, and 2 only if 3 doesn't come through
    5) Go to local conferences regardless

    Generally, this puts me at 2-4 conferences per year, which I think is also about as much conferencing as I can stand.

  2. I totally hear you! I do interdisciplinary stuff (the national Fruit Studies Conference, for instance) as well as have the option of going to a lot of different literature conferences. Lately I just stay home and grade things ---- cheaper and I keep missing the abstract deadline dates.

    Major Pseudology Conference sounds like the language people's MLA: big and impersonal and boring. I go for (the hope of) interviews but lately haven't even bothering with panels or submitting anything; it's just been a chance to visit friends. But there are still good opportunities to network with Important People if you work it; it's just that they are all busy meeting up with their old friends themselves.

    Actually, my friends who have advisors/committee members who actually meet up with them and introduce them around to a couple big names have had way more success than I have with publishing and getting a job, so think of that when you make these plans too.

    (Ok now I'm googling around and trying to figure out if you would be off to gamble, drink coffee, or ... what the hell do they do in Canada? I don't know. Ooh ooh! clearly you should go to SF!)

    Another way of deciding between conferences of course is to pick the place with the best food, or the place you haven't been to before and would like to take a trip there. OTOH, whenever I tried a new conference I found it to be isolating and not quite as fun the first year, since I didn't know people to talk to them between things. My Specialty Conference got to feel really great a few years in simply because I knew a lot of people from lunch and being on panels with them (although I haven't gone in a few years as they rotate places and they did first England and then a bunch of places in Canada. Phooey!)

    Finally everyone keeps warning me that the conference papers need to turn into something afterward, so submitting random one-offs just to get a conference line on the cv is not good. (hello, me later this year!) So whatever can/will be most helpful to turn into publications.

  3. My view is the same as Shedding Khawatir's
    1) Submit an abstract for everything
    2) If I'm rejected then that's ok..unless I've friends there..etc etc (same reason Shedding Khawatir)
    3) If the paper is accepted figure out if its doable re: finances and timing.