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What really happens at academic conferences


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Over the years I've heard a lot of rumors of the not-so-professional behavior/subculture at academic conferences. Has anyone else come across the sense that the conferences do not always bring out the best in people or have a few instances been blown out of proportion?

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I have seen prominent scientists in my former field (oceanography) get into full on yelling matches with each other during a session, and then go out to a bar for a beer afterwards grinning like old friends. This is the extent to which I've seen unprofessional behavior during an academic conference although admittedly, I'm pretty young/naive and may be missing out on all the big gossip :P

My biggest moment of realization was when I saw that no one goes to all the sessions and instead hangs out/does touristy stuff/drinks all day. I did 3 solid days of going to every offered session before realizing this and peacing and hanging around Portland. <_< I'm such a sucker.

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Guest Gnome Chomsky

I went to a conference in Washington DC and Orlando. I was good about spending the majority of my day going to different sessions and meeting people and making contacts. I must admit I got pretty wasted every night on both conferences. In DC I peed on at least a dozen national monuments.

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Conferences in the sciences, if you're lucky, are one of the few chances you'll have to get drunk with nobel laureates and other such impressive figures.

But yeah, most people go to one or two sessions that they're speaking in/know someone who's speaking in, and the rest of the time is spent networking and catching up with people you get to see only at conferences, frequently over copious amounts of alcohol.

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Oh, I think it's ultimately quite productive.

I can't count the number of fantastic ideas that I've heard start this way- you get a bunch of really intelligent interested people drinking and drawing diagrams on napkins, and ideas flow and collaborations start.

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Oh, I think it's ultimately quite productive.

I can't count the number of fantastic ideas that I've heard start this way- you get a bunch of really intelligent interested people drinking and drawing diagrams on napkins, and ideas flow and collaborations start.

I agree! Ideas do not only come from the staid conference room: they often come from less "serious" discussions among colleagues as well, perhaps even more so.

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I finally found the article I was thinking of in making this post: http://graduatestudentstories.org/tag/academic-conferences/

It speaks of the topic of how certain female attendees "network" at conferences. As a female, I am often disgusted by the way some women dress at academic conferences (super tight, short sweaterdresses etc.) and how the men stare like dogs at every female.

Thoughts?

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I'm not sure what you meant to link to, but I'm not finding anything relating to conferences, per-se, on that site.

Aside from the fact that the first post has a heck of a lot of bitterness to, well, pretty much everything.

But to the point, I think some women dress like that in every slice of life, and some men stare like dogs at every female elsewhere as well. In other words, why would you expect academic conferences to be completely exempt from such behaviors?

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I had a professor chat with me and then proceed to dance crazily next to me. Mind you, this was a professor I JUST met and it was at a concert (at the conference). Probably one of the most hilarious things that's happened to me.

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In my experience, after presenting at my first conference and getting wicked drunk with people I respect, I decided that I was going into the right field. It was a particularly cool experience because it was a 3-day conference, and the 2 nights were spent camping at a nearby forest. And pretty much everybody camped, including Deans and Chairs. A very unique experience, especially because you knew how hungover everyone was the next day.

I found it really comforting and reassuring that I got along with everyone I met quite, and felt much closer to them in terms of interests and personality than with people in the other fields I was considering (esp. medicine). I thought that was a pretty good sign. Also, it's true, you can get some great ideas while chatting informally. This is greatly facilitated by alcohol.

Edited by radiomars
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  • 3 weeks later...

Both.  I've seen and heard about professional academics (from the little-knowns to the big-wigs) getting a bit loose at conferences, but a lot of productive and scholarly work goes on at them, too.  Conferences are pretty work hard/play hard in my field.

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At the first conference I went to, I was expected to cut and smoke my own cigar. (??) But I think that behavior varies widely by person & discipline, and that conferences are usually helpful. Everyone at a conference has the same goal: to advance intellectually, to network, and to have fun (possibly get drunk, but...eh!).

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I have to say... I'm nervous about going to conferences. I don't drink nor do I like to hang around bars or drunk people, and so when I hear about all the things that go on at these conferences that are centered completely upon getting inebriated, I'm turned off and worried that I will be kind of ostracized. I just have a feeling that navigating these conferences will prove to be one of the hardest things for me in my grad school years...

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I find conferences are all about networking...that networking might look differently than the traditional 'here's my business card lets talk', but it's still networking! 

 

I will always take in the keynotes and then any interesting sessions, but normally my days/evenings are spent drinking/eating with other professors and their graduate students. I think the best time at a conference is when your supervisor goes...I always find I meet more people with him around!

 

I think there's always stories about unprofessional behaviour, love affairs, and drunken brawls...but I think those are urban legends! 

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Dal PhDer--you're still alive! Missing you over on your blog!

 

Anyway, I've been to just one conference so far--people were very chill. A lot of networking, drinking, eating, sharing of ideas, encouragement, and patting each other on the back. This year I'm excited for an upcoming conference in Puerto Rico!!! The hotel rooms are selling out like crazy already... I love my field!

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