On conferences

Over a  more than a month ago, I wanted to write about the ISA post-trump executive ban. This would be my second failed attempt this (academic) year to attend a conference in the US.

I went through thinking hole, of what made it important initially to think that “I had to” attend at least one international (read: US) conference in my 3rd year of the PhD. In Egypt, the UK is international enough, really, and equally difficult to get to. Before starting my PhD, even though I had been in academia for quite a bit, and done my share of (international) conferencing, no conference had ever been a “had to”. It is quite remarkable to trace how this ‘having to’ conference, an unwritten rule of being in academia came to take hold in just few years. I was wondering what would happen if I suspend this imperative for a bit (mind you, “I had to” suspend it anyway).

I went to a big conference afterwards, and did a personal experiment with myself, I experimented with being otherwise in the conference with very minute details. Like keeping my daily routine of setting my to-do-list on breakfast instead of socialising or networking with everyone who was there . I stuck socially to the people I felt comfortable with, rather than those who are usually targeted for future collaboration, etc. And when I felt socially exhausted I hid in my room, and caught up on the work I had to do, instead of just showing up half minded.

It was very unsettling as well, very lonely in a setting geared towards intense networking, and I think if I didn’t remind myself that I am experimenting with it, I wouldn’t have kept it for two days.

Anyways: the piece  on the ISA was kindly hosted by the sociological review and can be accessed here. I have to say besides bouncing ideas and the support I get from colleagues here at Warwick, the one piece that was put into words what I was thinking at the time is Cathrine Goetze’s, I think hers made some of us feel less alone- one of the things that writing I believe should do; offer companionship and togetherness. There is a project looking into the the working of conferencing in academic life, which I also like: Conference inference.

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