It never fails to amaze me how weird academic conferences are.
At a conference I attended recently, the first session I went to, one of the presenters mumbled about logistical problems and then proceeded to read from her paper at super high speed. Yeah, people were mostly ‘reading’ not presenting. All the while she was pulling her hair in different directions.
Another panelist in an attempt to be helpful turned out the lights during the presentation so we could see the visuals. But the lights system turned out to be more complex than anticipated and for a while it was a disco in there while hair pulling woman kept on going. Instead of giving up, the guy seemed to be obsessed with getting the perfect lighting, only when he did, it was time to turn the lights back on. Turns out he was this really famous scholar too.
In another sessions, the moderator timed the sessions using a standard watch instead of a digital timer, got into a passive aggressive thing with one of the speakers, and sliced her finger across her throat to indicate that speakers had to stop, now! Then at one point in the discussion, she burst out, “Well, I’ve been clinically depressed” to complete silence.
It struck me how this would be considered totally bizarre in any other setting. But here everyone remains totally poker faces through these shenanigans. Don’t get me wrong, I kind of love it. But it does make me want to laugh out loud sometimes.
As I’ve observed earlier, people seem to come to these things in groups and stick to these groups so while there is an illusion of networking, people are just largely talking to their friends while the monitory of us who didn’t come with a posse stand around FOMOishly. When you do reach out to someone they politely spend about two minutes with you before moving on. Except in this part of the world no one passes out cards.
Nevertheless, there were some really good papers and the discussions were some of the best I’ve witnessed. My own panel attracted a small audience partly due to being scheduled early in the morning but I got a great response from those who were there, so that was lovely (and frankly a first and a welcome change from the blank looks I have sometimes been greeted with).
On the final night, there was a dance party with a full-on brass band contracted to play, and it was great! I dithered over whether to go or not, seeing as I didn’t have anyone to go with, but finally FOMO and wanting to listen to the band got the better of me and I went, and it was fun. There were people from the age of 80 down dancing up a storm. I had lengthy conversations with more people here than I had had the entire conference, and ended up getting sweaty as hell dancing, resulting in me having no clothes to wear to the conference the next day and having to attend in a flannel shirt and slightly torn jeans (which again is perfectly fine at these things. heh.). I also noticed a couple of women dragging guys onto the dance floor and then getting really flirty, while the guys looked uncomfortable. One of these was a woman who had been quite aggressive to a guy during a panel, but then I saw them going to dinner together so they had clearly made up, only then she tried to get more handsy with him and he didn’t look happy and then she left.
Overall, this was one of the best conferences I’ve been to, and I think conference should always open with a dance party.