What We Love/Hate About Conferences

The season of conferences.

January 27, 2020

For many of us it is the season of conferences: attending, presenting, submitting proposals, finalizing presentations. What does your spring look like as far as conferences? How do you handle conferences if you have child/elder care responsibilities? And what do you love/hate about conferences?

Mary Churchill, Boston University, Boston

Since 2014, I have gone to the annual ACE conference each spring. This year is different. Instead, this spring I am presenting at two academic conferences: the Eastern Sociological Society (ESS) in Philly in late February/early March and the Comparative and International Education Society (CIES) in Miami in late March. In the past couple of years, I have moved into a space that is quasi-academic and quasi-administrative, and as I have made this shift, I have also shifted the types of conferences I’ve attended. ACE is also in California this year, and that is a travel time commitment that I am unwilling/unable to commit to. Given that both are in March, I felt like I had to choose between CIES and ACE, and I believe that I have more to contribute to the CIES conference where I will be presenting on how we transitioned our international programs through a merger/closure. I know I’ll miss my ACE colleagues, especially those at the women’s network leadership conference! Next year it’s in Washington, and I’ll make sure to get it on my calendar.

Anna S. CohenMiller, Nazarbayev University, Nur-Sultan, Kazakhstan

Living internationally and being connected to many U.S. organizations has presented challenges in selecting conferences and managing travel with two young children. I am now in my fifth year in Kazakhstan, and the first few years, I brought my family with me on each trip. At times I had an infant attached to me throughout the conference. I was deeply involved in AERA (the American Educational Research Association) and then the EERA (European Educational Research Association). Now I am about to embark on the first set of conferences without children. I had considered the trip to CIES that Mary mentioned, but the distance is just too far to go solo. Instead, I will go to the ECQI (European Congress for Qualitative Inquiry) in Malta. I’m excited about my presentations, one on innovative pedagogy for teaching qualitative research and another, a workshop, on a book I’m writing for Routledge about researching in multicultural contexts. But it will be a new experience to be away, for us all. Fortunately, I have a spouse who works from home and who is able to take over. The kids have been prepped and look forward to the presents I’ll bring home. So, when the second conference of the spring comes up at HRI (Human-Robot Interaction in the U.K.), where I will present on innovative language learning in using a robot, the family and I will be experts on the process.

Elizabeth Ross Hubbell, Academic Impressions, USA

We always host one of our three Women’s Leadership Success in Higher Ed conferences in March, so Q1 is often getting ready for that. There’s so much planning that goes into the agenda, working with our amazing panel of six speakers, working with the hotel for logistics … but once we’re off and running on Day 1, it’s such a transformative experience! Over 100 women from all across higher ed gather for three days of skill building, networking and empowering each other. It’s truly a gift to be a part of this!

Marcelle Hayashida, University of California, Irvine, Irvine, Calif.

I elected to serve on a planning committee for a large national conference in March, and I’ll also be giving a presentation at that same conference on technology and mental health on campus. Conference travel sometimes takes me away from my family, but it sometimes presents an opportunity to connect with family, as well. When my son was young and I had a conference on the East Coast or in the Midwest, I would buy an extra ticket for my son and meet my East Coast parents somewhere they could get to fairly easily (e.g., Indianapolis, Baltimore, Tampa or Atlanta) and I could take advantage of grandparent time. My parents would take my son to an aquarium, out to breakfast or to a children’s museum. These are really precious memories that he will always have of exploring a new city with his grandparents. Sometimes my family stays behind, and the new traditions involve getting a refrigerator magnet and/or key chain for my stepdaughter from every city I visit. In addition to presenting and taking advantage of networking opportunities and conference sessions, I also try to create some free time to explore local attractions (the Alamo in San Antonio and Preservation Hall for jazz in New Orleans are a few favorites), find a local exercise class (exploring a Nia dance class in Portland, Ore., was a highlight), and get some sleep. Although I sometimes return from travel a little physically run-down, I always return home energized about my profession, grateful for the opportunity to present and happy to connect with colleagues around the country.

Lee Skallerup Bessette, Georgetown University, Washington, D.C.

I’m in a weird space now in my hybrid role: one foot in faculty development, another in ed tech, yet another mythical foot in digital humanities/pedagogy, and wherever I might have a fourth foot in online learning design. Maybe it’s toes. My role overlaps with a lot of different fields and professions. The first challenge is that the ed-tech conferences are expensive. Like, really, really, really expensive. And, for whatever reasons, many of the other more affordable conferences have all been on the West Coast (which, again, pricey!). I have some PD money for conferences, but last year one conference wiped out the entirety of it, and I didn’t feel like it was worth it. So I’m planning to go to a couple of smaller conferences in the Northeast, as well as Canada (I am so looking forward to the beer tent at Congress). It’s kinda nice not to be traveling so much; 2019 was a heavy year for travel for both my husband and me, and it’s been good to both be home on weekends to spend time with the kids. We managed by slavish devotion to calendaring -- as soon as we know something is happening that we might be required to travel for, we put it on the family calendar, to indicate to the other that we’ve called dibs on those dates.

Bonnie Stewart, University of Windsor, Canada

I used to only attend conferences that invited me, because I was precarious and based out of a small regional airport from which travel was hugely expensive. Last year was my first year on the tenure track and my first living in the center of the continent, which are both pretty significant game-changers. It was also my first year with a conference budget, which I promptly blew on a single conference in Ireland because I wanted to catch up with colleagues from around the world … plus, well, Ireland. Je ne regrette rien. But this year, I’m being a little more strategic. Like Lee mentions above, ed-tech conferences are expensive, and I’m trying to fly less all round, so while I do still have one big conference trip planned for spring, I’ve gotten involved in more local-range events that will enable me to skip the flights and even bring students along. One I’m excited about is Canada’s national Congress for the Humanities and Social Sciences, where we’ll launch OTESSA, the brand-new Open/Technology in Education, Society, and Scholarship Association. Another -- hot off the presses! -- is the summer Future Challenges Institute here in Windsor. I’m excited to welcome scholars in my field from all over the world to Canada.

Readers, what about you? What do you love/hate about conferences?


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