Saturday, April 12, 2008


One of my big tasks this spring was organizing the annual conference of the principal academic society to which I belong. Some of the most useful conversations I've seen in the blogosphere lately revolve around things like the process of getting tenure, planning new courses, working with colleagues, or various pedagogical issues, but I haven't yet seen much discussion of conferences besides reporting on the quality of individual panels or social events.

Here, then, for your enlightenment and instruction, is my Participant's Guide to the Academic Conference, from the (somewhat jaded) point of view of the organizer.

1. It will be much appreciated if you register by the registration deadline, rather than waiting to register on-site. Organizers need to have a reasonable idea of how many people to expect. Presumably you know fairly well in advance that you're going, especially if you've needed to purchase plane tickets, so why not share that information with the organizers?

2. If you have received a request (or, indeed, several) to confirm whether or not you will be attending the conference dinner, please respond to this request; it is very simple to email a Yes or a No. This is far preferable to casually mentioning to the organizer on the day of the banquet that you don't plan to attend, or that you've suddenly decided to attend and bring three guests.

3. It is not recommended for you to call the organizer at her home on Friday night to ask for a digital projector to be provided for your panel on Saturday morning. The organizer has many talents, but she is not able to make equipment materialize out of thin air; that is why she asked you to indicate any audio-visual needs with your proposal three months ago.

4. It is not appropriate to refuse to pay the registration fee for a conference on the grounds that you will only be attending for one day.

5. It is equally frowned upon to ignore several suggestions to update your long-unpaid membership in the organization hosting the conference, especially when you are participating on two different panels in that conference. If you are benefiting from your connection to the organization, the least you can do is pay the (quite paltry) membership dues.

6. It moves into the realm of the genuinely heinous for a single person to commit every one of the above-listed sins.*

7. Most of you, of course, are not guilty of these acts. If you register on time, show up for your panel, take part in discussion, head out for some social outings with your fellow conference-goers, and generally enjoy the collegial interaction that is the main point of all these things, then you are entirely responsible for the conference's success, and the organizer loves you. Thanks!

*Yes, that really happened, and of course this person is a well-respected, well-paid full professor at a large R1 university. Nevertheless, he is now blacklisted from all future meetings of this organization, and God knows I'll never do him any favors.

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