Monday, August 31, 2009

How Do I Love Conferences? Let Me Count the Ways

I am no Shakespeare, but I do think that the APSA conference is just lovely. Ok, that is going overboard.

But I am a big fan of the big conventions, despite all the whining at the Poli Sci Rumor blog, and I have accidentally come up with a top ten list for my deep and abiding affection for traveling to distant and not-so distant places:
  1. Networking actually does work! Who would have thunk it? Bill Ayres (the co-author, not the terrorist) and I met at a Washington, DC APSA, and from there we co-authored a few articles and then the cool book on the Irredentism that did and didn't happen in Europe after the Cold War.
  2. Networking actually does work, part deux! I had an email conversation which led to a meeting with three folks at an APSA in 2001 from McGill who wanted me to apply for a job here. And I did and here we are.
  3. Networking actually does work, part tre! I developed a very productive relationship with some scholars I met at the ISA poker game in San Diego more than a decade ago. These scholars have read my stuff, have contributed to my edited volume, and have provided professional advice.
  4. I often but not always receive useful feedback on my presentations and papers from discussants, co-panelists, and audience members.
  5. I have read a great many papers as a discussant, and have learned much from some, a little from many, and nothing from a few. I hope I have provided useful feedback, but sometimes the topics and approaches are far outside of my expertise.
  6. I have often met with current and former graduate students to provide continued mentoring/feedback/free beer.
  7. I have participated in a variety of useful meetings: with co-authors, with editorial boards of journals, with the folks who advise the Minorities At Risk project, and others.
  8. I have occasionally interviewed people for jobs at my institution--these have actually never led to a hire in my experience, but perhaps it has for other departments and candidates.
  9. I used to learn a fair amount from going to panels. But now I use most of my conference time to meet people, particularly as my attention span has been destroyed by the internet, grading and parenthood. I still go to a few each year, but nothing like my eager early days.
  10. I meet friends from grad school, from past positions, friends via shared research interests and/or previous networking activities. This is, of course, the best part.

I am a bit pessimistic about the future of the professional conference--I am guessing that rising fuel costs will eventually make it prohibitive for universities and grant agencies to fund professors to do stuff that has a great deal of value but none of it that can be easily monetized.

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