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Conference trip

As a research scientist, technical conferences have been part of my work life for the last twenty-something years. To start with, as a very junior researcher, I was really keen and eager to attend conferences, and it was always something of a surprise when my supervisor encouraged me to attend to present the research papers “for the experience, and to build a network” (except of course when the conference was somewhere really desirable, like Hawaii, when the students don’t get a look in!)

After a number of years, when I was a more senior researcher, my enthusiasm for foreign conferences began to wane. I find foreign travel on business really hard work, the conferences always try to cram too many sessions into too few days, so the hours are really long and you get little time to see the sights of whatever city you happen to be in. I remember one conference in East Berlin a few years after the Wall came down, when all that I got to see of the city was by asking the taxi driver to take a detour down Unter Den Linden and the Brandenburg Gate on my way back to the airport. And I realised that, if all you get to see is the inside of the conference hotel, then a Marriott in LA is indistinguishable from a Sheraton in Denver or a Hilton in Lausanne. I found that I started encouraging my junior authors to attend the conferences and present the papers, on the grounds that it would be good experience for them, and they could start building a technical network……

A few years further on in ones career, it starts to get harder to avoid conferences, as one gets invited to help organise them – either as a member of the Technical Programme Committee, or more seriously still as the Chair. I’ve not reached those latter dizzy heights yet, but for the past three years I have been on the Programme Committee of the main international conference in my particular discipline. That’s been pretty bad timing, actually, as I was invited onto the committee just after Christopher was diagnosed, with the conference itself happening just the month after he died, when I was in no fit state to attend. I’ve continued to discharge my duties on the programme committee for the past few years (helping to drum up papers, and peer-reviewing abstracts and final drafts of the papers) but haven’t felt up to attending the conference itself. Fortunately, the chair and co-chair understood the circumstances, so it wasn’t a big issue, and they were happy to accept whatever level of participation I felt able to offer.

This year however, my boss was determined that I should grasp the nettle and re-engage fully with the external research community. He has been adamant that I should make the effort to attend the conference and would accept no excuses (and I tried several!). Despite not wanting to go, I actually enjoyed myself more than I thought I would. The community was very welcoming and seemed really pleased to see me back again after a few years’ absence, and I caught up with lots of old acquaintances and ex-colleagues. It was very hard work though, especially when I found myself “volunteered” to chair one of the sessions. But I think it did me good, and certainly forced me out of my comfort zone.

{ 3 } Comments

  1. pauld | 27 September 2013 at 6:38 pm | Permalink


    this is what you and all your remaining colleagues need, the power-nap-pillow

  2. Gillian | 27 September 2013 at 8:45 pm | Permalink

    I like it! Though I’m not entirely sure how one would breathe……

  3. paulD | 28 September 2013 at 12:27 pm | Permalink

    click on the video, it shows you, theres a whole in front, some guy actually wearing one in public !, must be American !