Tuesday, August 26, 2003

previous entry | main | next entry | TrackBack (8)

Tips for conference rookies

Yesterday I received the following e-mail request:

[C]ould you please post some advice to poli sci students who are going for their first time to the APSA [American Political Science Association] Conference this week?

We aim to please here at DanielDrezner.com, so here are my Top Five Tips to Newcomers on Attending Conferences [Does this apply to non-poli sci conferences?--ed. My hunch is yes, but having never attended other ones, I won't swear to it]:

5) Lower your expectations. If you're thinking that most of the papers you will hear presented will be of the same caliber as those you've read in class, you're in for big letdown.

Most of the papers presented at a conference of this scale are either works in progress or first-drafts. Most of the people presenting these papers are early in their careers. Some of the papers will be really interesting; most of them won't. If you attend two panels that contain at least two interesting papers in each panel, you've had a good conference.

Conferences such as APSA are much more bearable if you a) go with a friend; and b) bring or buy a book for the dull patches.

4) Build your network. You will undoubtedly notice a few people going to all of the same panels as you attend. Strike up a conversation and find out. They'll probably be working on something similar but not identical to you.

3) Stake out big-name panels early. If you see a panel loaded with prominent scholars, check and see what room it's in. If it's a small one, be sure to go early. Savor the fact that you'll be comfortable for the next 90 minutes while big names will have to crane their neck from the back to see what's going on.

2) Carefully monitor fluid intake. Conferences are basically a vehicle to assume elevated amounts of coffee, water, and alcohol. Try to consume all three in moderation -- you don't want to be dashing to the bathroom at every break between panels, which is when all the good schmoozing takes place.

And the most important piece of advice I can offer:

1) Take your friggin' name tag off when you leave the hotel. Otherwise you look like such a geek.

[Um... what about good papers or panels to attend?--ed. You mean besides my panel, which probably has the most number of bloggers? Jacob Levy has been kind enough to collect some interesting possibilities, although it really depends on your own interests.

UPDATE: This post triggered a rash of responsesKieran Healy offers some excellent tips, while Invisible Adjunct and Apartment 11D offer some excellent predictions.

posted by Dan on 08.26.03 at 08:41 PM


I avoid problem #2 (the bathroom rush between panels) by going during panels - including my own. What are they going to do? Kick me off the panel? Too late, suckers!

Other tips:

6) A good college football or MLB game should not interfere with a panel, including your own.

7) Remember that fame in academia means that 15 people know your name. If you see somebody who is talking to at least 4 people, ask for an autograph.]

8) The tip of your tie should reach to your belt buckle level and not have been purchased at the local five-and-dime store.

9) You are the most important thing that ever happened to political science. Act that way.

10) In the book exhibit area, rush down right away to find out who is giving tootsie rolls and keep walking by that booth and snagging them when the exhibitor is not looking. You can call that lunch.

posted by: John Lemon on 08.26.03 at 08:41 PM [permalink]

11) When asking a question at a panel, keep it short. Nobody wants to hear the 15 minute presentation of your paper that got rejected. That is why it was rejected.

12) The hotel bartender does not want to discuss Derrida with you. He (or she) probably lives a nice life. However, if your Marxist inclinations lead you to believe he or she is a member of the exploited proletariat, what you can do to help alleviate this is to leave a f***ing tip. Trust me, they would rather have a 20 - 25% gratuity than support in their structurally-determined struggle.

13) Related to the above, if you feel a need to talk Derrida to the bartender, quickly realize that you are a pathetic loser. There is a good chance that you will be employed at an Ivy League school.

14) When you are out with your friends, don't tell anyone that "we're gonna get crazy." You're an academic and if you knew anybody outside academia, you would realize that even your most vivacious moments are mundane by the standards of normal society. However, if you still feel the need to get crazy, leave your nametag on and go to the roughest part of town.

15) Tip. The bellhop gets a $5 minimum tip or $3 per bag, whichever is higher. Don't leave less than a 10% tip anywhere as it sullies the name of us who do tip much more.

16) If you get a sudden impulse to work out in the hotel gym to prove to your colleagues that you are more than just a bunch of brains, avoid that tendency at all costs. I can't tell you how many geeky looking hunchbacks dressed in a polo shirt and black socks try to impress their more stupid colleagues by tugging rapidly at a rusty Nautilus.

17) If it comes down to a choice of Drezner v. Lemon, choose Drezner. Lemon is likely not at his panel because he is pee-ing. Drezner can't attend mine. Ha!

18) When deciding where to go for dinner, don't hover in the main hotel lobby for more than 5 minutes chatting. Be efficient. There is something called a concierge. Use that service. There is nothing more depressing than the site of 400 academics milling around the hotel lobby unable to choose a dining spot and chatting about Derrida to alleviate the tension caused by indecision.

posted by: John Lemon (again) on 08.26.03 at 08:41 PM [permalink]

Apparently Jacob Levy doesn't think much of my paper. Hmmmph! Me does detect a "famous name" bias in his list as opposed to posting "the most interesting titled papers or panels."

posted by: John Lemon (one last time) on 08.26.03 at 08:41 PM [permalink]

#4 is probably the most useful advice item. Thinking back on my first conference experiences:

- Don't hide in your hotel room the entire conference. Go to some panels and crash some receptions.

- If you haven't decided on a subfield or research program, crash multiple panels in the fields you're considering. You will probably find out fairly quickly whether or not pursuing that research agenda is your cup of tea (but beware of outliers).

- See if a faculty member or senior grad student will take you under his/her wing for a while. This is a good way to expand your network quickly. Plus if people have high regard for the faculty member/grad student, you will gain reflected glory. This is a particularly effective strategy if the faculty member is a big-3 journal editor or the former executive director of a certain regional association that shall remain nameless.

- Don't expect to remember the names of everyone you shake hands with.

- Yes, most conference papers suck, even (or should that be particularly?) at APSA. On the other hand, the correlation between a good presentation and a good paper is low. And bear in mind that the presentation is probably just a somewhat condensed version of the presenter's next job talk.

- Corollary: bring a notepad. I've gotten quality dissertation brainstorming done while listening to someone prattle on about their research. Plus, if someone does say something marginally interesting and relevant to your research, you can write it down for the next time you need to cite-dump on that topic.

- Some academics have reputations of having rather colorful conference appearances. Seek them out if you have nothing better to do.

As for Lemon's point 6, I will be unavailable Saturday from noon to four for the Ole Miss-Vanderbilt game, and this is a non-negotiable point. Since that's roughly the timeslot for the "100th anniversary celebration activities," I doubt I'll be missing much.

posted by: Chris Lawrence on 08.26.03 at 08:41 PM [permalink]

My two cents, from legal conferences: Bring a pen and pad or notebook to the panels. You'll look like you are taking notes, but really you can write anything you want, including draft blog posts, to-do lists, or even ideas you may get (listening to bad ideas from a panelist may give you good ideas of your own, and you don't want to forget them after you've sought further enlightenment at the hotel bar).

posted by: Crank on 08.26.03 at 08:41 PM [permalink]

Apropos #4:

4a). Have an unpretentious business card at the ready. Present it casually and do not repeat any of the information it contains. Be prepared to answer questions about your school's football team, just in case.

4b). When approaching big names, ask two silly personal questions. This is an excellent mnemonic device. Every other poser will ask arcane pointed questions which lead to embarrassing Good Will Hunting type situations. You, on the other hand, should appear as if your curiousity is already satisfied by said celebrity's brilliant presentation. When he or she wants to escape, you will be remembered as someone less tedious, which improves your chances of being invited for drinks. (Important note: Ask both questions in one sentence, insure they make people laugh.)

posted by: Cobb on 08.26.03 at 08:41 PM [permalink]

All conferences where papers are presented are alike. Working conferences are different, but only slightly. The advice is all excellent.

Corollary to Cobb's (4b) - which is brilliant - if you do get into a conversation with someone, find out if they have kids. Everybody likes people who ask about their kids (if you're at a conference with Donna Haraway ask about her dogs).

Always accept an invitation to be introduced. Always accept an invitation to go get a drink. Never accept an invitation to go jogging.

Never read anything but your own handwritten notes in public. Never use PowerPoint and avoid any panel where someone threatens to use it.

Have handouts that say something additional to your talk. Have enough handouts so that you can give them to people who didn't attend your panel.

posted by: Martial on 08.26.03 at 08:41 PM [permalink]

Pretty much every bit of advice I've seen here applies equally well to all of the Religion and Mathematics conferences in which I've taken part. The only thing that might change is the relative importance of the points.

I would definently place the "Bring a notepad in order to work on your own ideas" suggestion quite high in the list. My first (to be published) paper got off the ground in just such a situation.

posted by: OmerosPeanut on 08.26.03 at 08:41 PM [permalink]

This brings back many happy memories of meeting my late step-mother at the APSA conventions when they were in the Palmer House in Chicago. Those were the days!

- H

PS -- my own advice from American Philosophical Association conventions is to abstain from caffeine if it makes you too talky and impulsive. Especially if you are job-hunting.

posted by: Heather on 08.26.03 at 08:41 PM [permalink]

If you are in Philly at the convention center, eat at the Reading Terminal Market next door. MMMMMM. Real cheesesteak

remember! No Swiss!

posted by: Robert Schwartz on 08.26.03 at 08:41 PM [permalink]

If you're supposed to talk for 10 minutes, don't show up with a 20-minute presentation.

posted by: Seb on 08.26.03 at 08:41 PM [permalink]

And I don't care if you haven't seen your old theory professor in the past 360 days (i.e., since last year), directly in front of the escalator is NOT a good place to chat.

They do not sell cabbage patch dolls at the book exhibit on Sunday. You do not need to crush people who are simply on their way to the bathroom.

Buy Lemon's new book which was displayed prominently at Prominent U Press.

posted by: John Lemon on 08.26.03 at 08:41 PM [permalink]

It is not worth a half hour of your life to stand in a narrow hallway waiting to check your email since anyone important enough for you to get an email from is probably standing in line next to you waiting to check his email. However, if you are not waiting in line to check your email, but instead can't wait for another installment of www.danieldrezner.com, the ignore aforementioned rule/suggestion.

posted by: John Lemon on 08.26.03 at 08:41 PM [permalink]

Remember that a 20 minute presentation slot at the time of your acceptance really means 15 minutes but closer to 10 on the day of your presentation. Be ready to cut, and fast.

posted by: Drew on 08.26.03 at 08:41 PM [permalink]

Post a Comment:


Email Address:



Remember your info?