Academic Conferences are the Worst

Sutherland Professional conferences are an incredible bore.  I attended a conference this past weekend where I had my first opportunity to moderate a panel.  We had four papers to fit into a 75 minute slot so I needed to be tough on the speakers in order to leave sufficient time for questions.  The panel title was broadly drawn around Nineteenth-century America" so it was somewhat difficult to keep the Q&A focused on questions that could be addressed by all of the presenters.  I find academic conferences to be absolutely draining.  There is nothing natural to have to sit in a seat for 75-90 minutes at a time and have others stand up in front of you and read a paper or read from a Powerpoint screen.  And remember we do this three or four times a day for the duration of the conference.  After roughly 100 years of this why haven’t we been able to modify the framework in ways that are more conducive to learning and scholarly exchange? 

What I find even more disturbing are those presenters that are completely oblivious to the fact that a panel does not revolve around themselves.  I listened to one presenter who went 15 minutes over her alloted time without a care in the world.  The moderator tried to flag the speaker down but to no avail.  Something happens to people when they present; it’s as if the universe itself is reduced to their own mental space.  I actually find myself wanting to jump up and literally strangle presenters who engage in this behavior.  Whenever I present a paper I make sure to time it down to the second.  I have no interest in droning on and on and I would be disappointed to learn that I stole time from someone else who also spent valuable time preparing their talk.

I have the perfect solution to deal with these types.  Whenever a speaker goes over the alloted time the audience stands, points, and lets out that screeching noise that is used in Invasion of the Body Snatchers.  That’ll do it.

2 comments add yours

  1. I could not agree more. It is amazing to me that in a profession that [supposedly] prides itself on innovations in teaching, using new technologies, etc., the standard format for conferences remains the three-people-get-up-and-read-papers approach. It is stiffling, and unless the speaker is presenting on the precise subject that one loves the most, it is tough to sit through it all. I suspect that academics all know this but are afraid to say it out loud. Just ask folks who attended the AHA if they went to any panels while they were there–many attend few, and many attend none!!

  2. I have to say that I had a pretty good experience at the AHA this past January and that was because I took part in a roundtable discussion with four other participants. Each of us had 10 minutes to say a few words which left plenty of time for interaction with the audience. The roundtable format is much more satisfying.

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