Conference 101: Post Attendance Reflections

Conference Reflections {New Faculty}

I took this pic at the Alamo.

I came, I saw, I conquered. And that was not even counting the conference.

Traveling for conferences can be a mix of fun and headaches all rolled into one delightful ball of travel. Our annual conference was in San Antonio, a city I’d never visited, so I was looking forward to experiencing what the city and the conference had to offer. Our group bonded and spent the night together at DFW with the glamorous cots they provide. The little sleep we all got was made funnier by 3 a.m. and then it was “no holds barred.” We all show our true selves after 3 a.m. folks.

We arrived in San Antonio at breakfast time, showered, and decided that sleep was for quitters. We powered through day one like champs. I was warned before we left home that I would be underwhelmed by the methods and science happening and like good colleagues: they were right. In a STEM multi-state research meeting, a group had done a survey with an N=12. 12? Woof. I had no trouble speaking up. Discussing my research, how it related, and what I could offer to the group as a tangible benefit. It was eye-opening to see and hear the fears and trepidation of my colleagues from across the country and how afraid they were of diving into some research that would require more IRB approval than any of them were used to doing. I have done this type of approval for over 1,000 people so it was a no-brainer. I offered to help immediately and assure them it would be OK. The only way to make the profession better is to help move it forward right?

The vice president of diversity at the local land grant was the guest speaker and she was fantastic. I felt uplifted, optimistic, and then we had to sit through a purely Christian prayer before the next meal. There were clearly NOT christians in the room, at least one woman wearing a hijab, several other monikers of people who were anything but christian. I’m not “bashing” on christianity, but the point is this: if you’re already an organization who is “known” for not being diverse, then don’t make it worse. Think hard about what you do to segregate your potential audience and how you discriminate against people who don’t think or work like you do and offer up alternatives-offering a non-denominational prayer would have been more appropriate. Not everyone loves “Jesus” or “Our Lord” or “Heavenly Father” in every religion.

I sat through a set of research talks where all the presenters brushed around the tough topic of discrimination, prejudice, and racism. Our profession still hasn’t done a great job with these things and they continue to skirt around them. I spoke up. I couldn’t help it. Having those tough conversation is hard, truly uncomfortable, but totally worth it. I’m a minority and I can no longer count the number of times I’ve been discriminated against since moving here. I cannot stand it, but I also cannot ignore it. I have those conversations. I point out to students and peers how their language is inappropriate. I explain why it’s incorrect. I don’t scold or reprimand, I simply say, “do you know how that could be viewed as racist to me?” and go from there. The faculty I listened to are so concerned with international travel, but they fail to provide their students with appropriate tools to cope in those settings because they don’t know how to cope themselves.

I had great exchanges with my colleagues. As a first year faculty in this profession, I felt welcome, I felt safe speaking up and sharing my work and my experiences. I felt as though most folks were receptive to me as a professional. I had a GREAT TIME overall and the city was a great host. I visited the Alamo, I walked the river walk, I ate and drank to my heart’s content, and our flights back were smooth and uneventful. I am so happy I went. I got to know my colleagues, I got to know our grad students, I was happy to network with other faculty and grad students. Most importantly, I got a feel for what kind of research I wanted to do to raise the bar in this field. The kind of work that NEEDS to be done, not the kind that will get accepted.

I share all of this to remind myself and you: we have to cope with the good and the bad. I’m proud of myself. As a faculty member who just finished my first year in this department, I felt confident. I felt good. I felt like the science I was and am doing is solid and I’m not afraid to push that envelope to be better. I don’t complain without offering solutions. Offering to help the other faculty was a small price to pay, being heard about what it’s like to be a minority in a predominantly white professional group isn’t an issue. These things become issues if I didn’t speak up, if I wasn’t brave.

It’s HARD as a new faculty to walk that line. I don’t want to piss anyone off, but I also don’t like the feeling of complacency I got. Having hard conversations is UNCOMFORTABLE, but they’re worth having. I am a minority in science and damnit, I’ve earned my place at the table. I will not be diminished because I’m the wrong ethnicity for the majority of these folks and I refuse to back down. I will behave, I will be diplomatic, but I have a voice and I’m turning into a damn good researcher, even if it doesn’t feel like it every day.

I was just as glad to be home and asleep in my own bed. Unlike the rest of the world, I didn’t make any plans for the long weekend. I slept, I gardened, I took naps, I put food in the fridge and made some delicious meals. Those were things that had not been happening prior to the end of the semester. Tomorrow begins “summer writing schedule” for me and I’m looking forward to some incremental progress on several things.

As a young researcher, it’s important to reflect and keep moving forward. It’s all we can do.

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