DIY · going public · jet lag

Conferences: How Many? How Often?

In the last thirty-six hours I’ve flown from Halifax, Nova Scotia to Edmonton, Alberta and back. The trip out took me twelve hours (thanks to a four hour layover in Pearson Airport) and the trip back took eight hours. I left Alberta Saturday night and arrived home at 6am on Sunday. I’m jet lagged, a little behind on my work, and still have a lecture to write, but if you’re asking yourself ‘was it worth it?’ I can say that for me, this time, the answer is yes! 
The topic of conferences has cropped up here multiple times. We’ve considered why conferences are so bad and offered examples for how to make them better. There have been posts and responses that discuss the ethics and practicality of recycling conference papers. We’ve also written about the joys and complications of conference season. Lately, I have been wondering how many is too many? And, when you’re not on the tenure track and don’t have access to conference travel funds, how often should you pay out of pocket to attend a conference?
Like the author of this article and the author of this one I am of the mind that conferences are a great way to get a sense of your field, especially as a graduate student. I started attending conferences as a Masters student and throughout my degrees I went to LOTS. This was made possible both by my mentors who build conference travel funding into their RA budgets, as well as my choice to attend association conferences like ACCUTE which offer travel support for graduate students. But, if I really wanted to attend a conference and felt like it was going to be useful for my professional development I paid for it myself. Yes, even when I couldn’t really afford it (which was most of the time). Wise? I’m not sure, but I can say that attending conferences has been integral to building my confidence in my own work. Then again, it takes a looong time to pay off conference travel if you couldn’t really afford it in the first place.
I’m lucky right now. Though I am still in a contract position I am qualified to apply for some conference travel support through my university. This year all of my conference energy is focussed on the same project, meaning that unlike previous years when I’ve written papers that are conceived of specifically for the conference I want to attend, this year I am only submitting abstracts that come from or will turn into chapters in my manuscript project. This seems like an obvious tactic for the busy academic, but it has taken me years to realize that conferences can function as self-imposed writing deadlines for projects that extend beyond the twenty-minute presentation!
But not everyone is in a position to apply for travel funding, and in a job climate that seems to demand bigger! better! more! the pressure to attend as many conferences as possible and achieve Maximum Networking Time can be, well, daunting. While I’m no authority on the matter my feeling is that when funds and time are tight it is best to focus your energies on one significant conference in your field per year. Significant might mean big (lots of other interesting papers!) or small (no concurrent panels! sustained discussion over days!). That decision is ultimately up to you, you should decide what is best for you at this stage of your career and wallet. When you do choose a conference, ensure that you’ll make the best of your time and money by preparing a paper you’re proud to present
When they are well-curated and moderated conferences can be a wonderful way to network, to get a sense of your field, and to encounter emergent topics of study. Be realistic, do what is feasible for your schedule and your budget. 
What are your thoughts? How many conferences do you attend in a year?
best laid plans · broken heart · emotional labour · having it all · jet lag · kid stuff

A conferencing we go!

I find myself in the unusual position, this week, of parenting solo while my husband is on a business trip. This has never happened. There are business trips aplenty in this household, but it’s always me traveling. And I always go alone. Solo. Like a wolf.

Well, that’s not strictly true, but the exception clarifies the rule: once, when my girl was six months old, my department sent me on a graduate recruiting trip to my alma mater, and I said that since I was breastfeeding I could only do it if my daughter came, and if my daughter came I could only get any work done if my husband came too.

Can you believe they paid for all of us? We saved on hotel costs by all staying with my husband’s parents, but really! Three of us flying thousands of kilometres to do a recruiting trip! It was crazy, of course: my daughter fussed for the entire flight, there AND back, the time change was hell, my boobs were like rocks every time I left my daughter for more than 90 minutes, my husband was solo parenting in someone else’s house, out of our collective routine. Nobody slept. I hardly remember a thing. I barely knew if I was coming or going, it was 40 below, and I was worried about everything. Good times!

Yeah. So now I travel alone.

I’ve been to Denmark, England, Alberta, British Columbia (yearly), Northern Ontario, Maryland, California, and Michigan (three times) without my family. I’ve ordered room service and luxuriated in hotel robes. I’ve done yoga on pebble beaches. I’ve plucked oranges from trees growing along the sidewalk. I’ve slept in. I’ve done audio tours of historic buildings. Of course, I’ve also cooled my heels in what feels like 50 versions of the same awful, soul-sucking airport, having my dignity and shampoo alike confiscated. I’ve sat through innumerable presentations in uncomfortable chairs with very poor coffee to sustain me. I’ve crammed myself into hotel rooms the size of my bathroom. I’ve had jet lag and panic attacks and indigestion.

I do know that I get a lot more work done, and that I’m better able to manage the various stresses of traveling when I’m alone. I know I’m freer to network, to devote myself to conference sessions and meeting colleagues, and making the most of the book fair, then getting enough sleep and alone time to do it all again the next day. But I really do wish I could share the Viking Museum in Roskilde with my husband, bring my girl to see the tulip festival in Ottawa, lie on the rock beach at Brighton with them both so we could all have the sense memory of that incredible sound of waves and pebbles ebbing and flowing. I have one particularly pitiful memory of a four hour layover in Amsterdam where I set myself up in an airport bar and closely examined all 2000+ family photos on my computer, in chronological order, a sped-up version of This is Your Life that seemed to rip my heart in two.

Academics have to go to conferences. It’s an inescapable fact of professional life. If you have a family, there are two ways to play it. Either you turn that conference in England (say) into a family vacation, bringing everyone with you, and staying some extra time before or after the working part of the trip–or you don’t. I don’t. And if I’m being perfectly honest, that’s probably the best arrangement for me and my family.

What do you do?