Saturday, October 14, 2006

Conference notes

- If your session is advertised as a roundtable, that means you won't all read 20-minute-long papers one right after another.

- If you change your paper title and your subject slightly, that's fine. If you promise to tell me, for example, about ghosts in Williamsburg and you end up talking about FBI files, I will be upset. When the next presenter also changes his topic, I will get up and leave the room. It also makes me bitter that my panel didn't get accepted--I mean, I should have just submitted a more fashionable paper topic and then changed it to whatever it is I really want to talk about.

- Ran into Fantastic Adviser and confessed to session hopping. "That's what you're supposed to do," she said. "Getting up and leaving is a way of telling people their work isn't very interesting."

- In the middle of a grad student breakfast I crashed, one of the most distinguished professors at the conference leaned over and whispered, "Speaking of body modification, did you circumcise Lucas?" When I answered in the affirmative, he lowered his head, struck his forehead with his palm, and turned away. I leaned over and whispered, "Well, I didn't do it myself," which made him actually giggle.

- Lowest ebb: Watching a mock conference interview. I realized I'm in a good place relative to my peers in terms of CV stuff, and apparently much advanced in terms of teaching, but my interviewing skills and my ability to speak off the cuff about my work and my field? Probably not yet up to snuff. Also? I don't think I'll ever be able to answer the question, "In the intro course for undergraduates, what three books do you feel absolutely must be included to represent the discipline?" And yes, I have taught the intro course twice.

- In response to the above question, the answers that immediately popped into my head were "Funny ones. Seductive ones." For the record, I'm using My Year of Meats by Ruth Ozeki as well as a course packet. Is MYOM seminal to the field? I think not. Is it a useful text that students really enjoy? Hell yes. Would I love to teach a course that covered only MYOM, Devil in the White City by Erik Larson, Last Report on the Miracles at Little No Horse by Louise Erdrich, and Gardens in the Dunes by Leslie Marmon Silko? Oh yeah. Is it just because I really like those books and I know students will, too, because I've used three of them in a course? Uh-huh. (Are you sick of me writing like Donald Rumsfeld talks? I imagine so.)

- I saw a presentation Fantastic Adviser gave to graduate students in material culture. I am sooooo fortunate to have been able to work with her. Seriously blessed.

- The panels I attended were boring; the roundtables were great. I was moved to take notes at only one session. Does that make me a bad scholar who lacks curiosity or a good scholar with discriminating tastes?

- Do not read your paper to me. Seriously. What are we, in fifth grade? No, I don't care if it's just what's done in your discipline. Grow a backbone and make some eye contact.

- Middle Eastern studies + American studies + roundtable format = lively.

- I love me some university press book exhibits, especially with 20-50% discounts, although Blackwell Publishers? Your books are ridiculously expensive. Do you really think academics and museum folk can afford such prices? Even at 50% off, those two books were a MAJOR splurge for me, especially that first one--I had to use my extra-special graduation gift money.

- The logo for the major association in my field is in serious need of an overhaul. It looks like an airline logo from the 60s or 70s:

- When I pay $15 for a breakfast, I want more than pastries and scrambled eggs, even if there is a presentation involved.

- When traffic in the book exhibit is slow, editors like it when you ask them how they got into publishing. They're chatty folks.

- A few senior scholars declared my field to be full of energy and "hot." Then where are the jobs in it?

- People seem fascinated by my egg studies. That cracks me up.

- Conferences are no fun at around 2 p.m. each day. That's when my blood sugar is low, I'm cranky, and I'm ready to throw in the academic towel. If I get a good snack or an early dinner, I can last well into the evening.

- I worked up the chutzpah to go to a reception hosted by one of the universities where I'm applying for a position. It went well.

- I also pitched my dissertation to a few editors. I'm sending in proposals soon.

- So, in sum:
Panels = boring if there's reading going on
Roundtables = interesting
Schmoozing = fun after the initial first-contact awkwardness
The specter of interviewing = paralyzing

- It's good to be home.


Jeff Mather said...

I had the good fortune of going to the AHA annual conference five or six years ago, and I can still remember the really good presentations and sections, especially the three "papers" about 19th century pan-American geographic literacy, cartography, and nationalism. These had lots of pictures. I like pictures.

And, in a separate section, Mary Beth Norton presented "The Devil in the Shape of a Tawny Man," a synopsis of her (then-much-anticipated) book about New England witchcraft scares. She actually brought handouts for the audience with important dates in colonial history, which I thought was mighty inclusive.

Nothing has yet lived up to that in my science and engineering circles, though the anthropological examination of color vision at the 2006 Electronic Imaging conference was really good.

Anonymous said...

People seem fascinated by my egg studies. That cracks me up.

Egg jokes! I love them!

I have to say also that I really getting to peer over your shoulder like this. It's like getting all the fun out of a graduate degree in American Studies without having had to do the work!

New Kid on the Hallway said...

Jeff Mather's comment makes me laugh, because I was just about to write: It was the historians who read their papers, right? We always read papers. Some of us are even good at it, but many...not so much. But it's what we do. I apologize for our boringness.

However, now I will just say: Yes, AHA! Entertainemnt and fascinatingness abound! Really, they do! :-)

(But tell the truth... it was the historians who were boring, right?)

Queen of West Procrastination said...

That was great! I was shouting out, "Amen! Preach it, sister!" I whole-heartedly agree with you on every single point of that. (Can you tell that I've been recently conference-ing?) Especially on the matter of reading papers out loud. Ugh. At the last conference I was at, we had someone who read her paper off of her laptop screen. Seriously? You didn't even print it off?

And I agree with NK: those were historians, right? Were they also using PowerPoint badly?

Anonymous said...

About the blood sugar... have you tried Odwalla bars? I bring them along, now. Though it doesn't hit me until about 4:30.

Jeff Mather said...

Has Powerpoint hit the humanities? (I mean "hit" as in "whacked.") The AHA conference had maybe two presenters using PP, everyone else read synopses of their papers. It seems that there's so much less engagement with the audience once a computer becomes part of the presentation.

Science and engineering conferences are suffused with grad students giving extremely bad presentations where they read their Powerpoint slides word for word. It's like the slides come up, the presenter's brain turns off, and the audience (understandably) goes to sleep.

(I'm trying not to make these same mistakes next month at an industrial conference. Oh, my glamorous life!)

Do you know about Presentation Zen?

Anonymous said...

NOt just papers--people seem compelled to read their powerpoint presentations, too.

I like your comments. SInce I'm trying to figure out a way to go to the CIES conference in Baltimore this winter I think I'll take them with me as a guide!

Also, I'm with "phantom scribbler"--I'm already sending my classmates who are PhD students to your blog for some advice and support.

Anonymous said...

Here's a methodology question:

How are you selecting egg imagery without either reviewing an impossibly large number of images or being biased toward your hypothesis in selecting a smaller number?

ScienceWoman said...

People seem fascinated by my egg studies. That cracks me up.

Darn, Phantom beat my to my comment. I can't help but think about Humpty Dumpty.