Making the Most Out of An Academic Conference: 10 Recommendations (Part Two)

November 16, 2011
Posted by Joe Gorra

In my previous post, I offered five recommendations for how you might have a worthwhile experience at an academic conference:

  • Intentionally plan your day.
  • Don’t over-book your day.
  • Consider some main factors for having a worthwhile conference experience.
  • Be choice in your choice about which conference sessions to attend.
  • Learn to intentionally listen to a presentation

In this post, I offer five further recommendations.

6. Visit book publisher vendors to take advantage of any conference discounts, opportunity to meet authors, get the latest released catalog, preview forthcoming books, sign-up for any give-aways, etc.

7. Visit the city. Try to carve-out some time to experience some of the surrounding area of the conference location. It’s most unfortunate, if your only experience of San Francisco, for example, is the conference venue. Get some local coffee, find out where the nearest used/antiquarian bookstore is, splurge on a stellar restaurant, enjoy the outdoors (weather permitting), try to catch some entertainment at a local concert, sports event, etc. Perhaps this means that you fly in earlier or stay later or both for the duration of the conference.

8. “Network” for the sake of collaborating, not for the sake of building your own kingdom. Generally speaking, we can all feel the need to want to belong, to be a player, to be known for doing something important or having important associations. But sometimes academic conferences can be a helpful and harmful tool with these desires. Be adequately circumspect. Try networking inclusively, both to get to know those with whom you could co-labor and with those that might not fit that “job description.” But don’t network out of mere utilitarian reasons. Get to know older scholars, if for no other reason than to discern how you can pray for them. Make yourself available to emerging scholars, with ample patience and encouragement.

9. Be an encouraging and enjoyable presence. Five useful suggestions, especially at an academic gathering:

  • Don’t try to impress people with what you know. If you must “name-drop,” do so for the sake of someone’s encouragement and betterment.
  • Listen more than you speak, and you can discover aspects of your experience that might otherwise go unnoticed.
  • When in conversation with someone, focus on them and don’t be distracted by the star power of SCHOLAR “Great One” that passes your visual field.
  • Don’t reduce people to their ideas, beliefs or perspectives. It’s easy to “brand” someone as something, especially those with whom you disagree.
  • Yes, even hurting, lonely broken people attend academic conferences. Don’t shy away from encouraging people that hurt. Offer to pray for people right then and there if they want it. That’s not a religious or churchy thing to do; it’s a humane act.

10. Discover, with gratitude, ways to serve the academic Society for which you are a member. Maybe that is as simple as …

  • Encouraging friends and associates to become a member of the Society.
  • Help to promote other people’s work in the Society.
  • Maybe you help moderate a session next year.
  • Helping to explain to non-academic influencers (e.g., pastors) the resources that are produced from Christian academic organizations.
  • Volunteer to help with any on-site conference labor.

Attending an academic conference can be a rewarding experience when approached with intentionality, some planning and foresight, and knowing a little something about what you want to get out of it for the sake of benefiting others.