Harrison Middleton University

Conference Conundrums

Conference Conundrums

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March 1, 2024

Thanks to Alissa Simon, HMU Tutor, for today’s blog.

Every spring, I am fortunate enough to attend the Southwest Popular/American Culture Association (SWPACA) conference. Every year, I come away with such enthusiasm for next year’s conference. How refreshing to be engaged in lively roundtable discussions with friendly and interested peers! I enjoy learning the breadth (and depth) of other’s special interests. It’s just so fun to meet people who are also interested in popular culture. Opportunities feel endless because of the broad sweep of the SWPACA call for papers, which, in turn, makes the presentation schedule extremely daunting.

As always, I came away from SWPACA 2024 with ideas for next year. Of particular interest are two areas which had fewer presentations this year: Food and Culture, and War and Culture. I have presented papers on food before and really enjoy this area of research. War is a topic outside of my regular research. However, I have attended many of these sessions in the past, which now informs my desire to talk about some war-oriented literature. The sparsity of presentations in these two categories surprised me, particularly during a time when we see war in our daily news feed and food on our daily social media feeds. (It’s as if our focus on each meal is a salve to the contemporary angst of distant suffering. Notice that even our language reflects our food obsession in the term “feeds.”) And yet, no one talks about what that might mean. So, expect some blogs oriented toward war literature in our near future.

While I hope that the sessions I attended will work their way into future posts, until then I just have to say that people study some fun and amazing stuff. Rather than being a “fluffy” area of study, popular culture is actually an incredibly enlightening look at human nature. I cannot recommend it highly enough.

Unfortunately, due to the great offerings, I missed many appealing panels. In fact, conferences present numerous complications. If you’re preparing for your first conference, I listed a few of my difficult experiences below and attempted to offer some imperfect solutions.

Overlapping schedules

My largest conference regret is missing a session that I am truly interested in. Often compelling topics overlap, and though I would want to attend presentations in multiple places at the same time, it’s simply not possible. Instead, I have to select the one that will be most beneficial to my research, most beneficial for making connections, or the top of my interest list. If possible, I can try to coordinate with another attendee to get notes from what I’m missing, or plan to meet up with the presenter at a later date. Most importantly, though, make the most of what you do attend. Take notes, listen intently, ask questions, and enjoy what you select. Trade contact information with any potential collaborators.

Missed opportunities

Though you will have to miss some sessions, consider meeting up with presenters at social engagements. Attend the evening events. While waiting for a session to begin, introduce yourself to the people around you. For example, if you attend an event on Moby Dick, talk to those around you. Remember that you have a shared connection in Melville. The people in those sessions are future collaborators, research partners, and helpful readers.

Leaving Early

Sometimes life demands that you can only attend a portion of a conference. In order to get the most out of your time, network early. Prioritize the reasons for your visit. Did you come to network? Then highlight the people you want to meet most and find their sessions. Consider emailing them if you cannot attend their presentation. Did you come to learn about publishing opportunities? Then visit the publishing area first. Make a connection, ask questions, and possibly schedule a meeting. Did you come to attend a specific subject area? Make sure to highlight all the panels to ensure you attend as many as possible. Maybe even reach out to the area chair via email or in the first session. Most area chairs attend all of their particular sessions if possible.

Hopefully you will be able to attend an in person event soon. In the meantime, happy researching, reading, and writing!

Photo credit: Shutterstock/ coronado

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