Things I Learned in the Hot Tub at my Conference

Academic conferences are number 74 on the “100 Reasons not to go to Graduate School” blog.  Yes, conferences can be stogy, boring affairs where good papers on good panels are rare, and productive feedback from discussants is even rarer.  But academic conferences are also the best opportunity to make connections with like-minded scholars.

As a young scholar, I viewed each academic conference as a race to attend as many panels as possible on subjects of interest.  Now I see academic conferences as water stops in a longer marathon, a moment to reconnect with like-minded scholars and regain lost enthusiasm.  My best conferences are those that leave me excited to get back to campus to start new projects, finish projects I’ve been procrastinating on, create a new course, etc.

So many of us get caught up in preparing our offering to the conference that we miss valuable opportunities to cultivate existing or establish new relationships with other scholars.  Here are some (perhaps too obvious) tips for taking advantage of the potential oasis of academic conferences:

  • Choose panels prior to the conference to make sure you have ample time for networking with like-minded scholars.
  • Choose panels based on potential or established relationships with other scholars rather than just the panel theme.
  • Don’t be afraid to leave a panel 20 minutes in if you think your time could be better spent in conversation in the lobby.
  • Attend as many formal and informal social events as possible with like-minded scholars.
  • Schedule breakfast, lunch, and dinners prior to the conference to reconnect with like-minded scholars.
  • Every meal should be shared with someone.
  • Schedule time to sit in the lobby to meet new like-minded scholars.
  • Talk to everyone.  In the lobby.  In the elevator.   In the hot tub.
  • Spend at least one evening in the hotel hot tub where the best conversations tend to happen.

Tell us about your conference experience/advice!

Caroline Heldman
Occidental College

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