Tag Archives: conference

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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On Conference Travel

Conference Travel | New Faculty

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Conference travel for a new faculty can be a mix of 100 things: fun, energizing, exhausting, tiring, networking, casual, professional, busy, lonely, social, too much, not enough, awkward, and almost any other word you could put in a sentence short of becoming a run on at this point.

You get the idea though. Conference travel as a young (or new) academic can be fraught with things you didn’t expect.

  • How to deal with the dewy faced grad students who try and talk to you but have no idea how to form a sentence.
  • The feelings that come with hours of exhausting networking (if you’re an introvert like me).
  • Networking that can come in almost any form. You’re being scrutinized as a ‘fresh’ member of an area of research and always being watched. (picture Roz from monsters inc.)
  • Opportunities that are a surprise and welcome!
  • Enjoying some of the perks of being new faculty: no more cramming 4 people into a tiny room, you can enjoy the luxury of a room by yourself or with only one other roommate.
  • Being surrounded by people yet feeling alone because you’d rather be with one or two people who are actually your ‘people’ in life.

I’ve been on the road for work. It’s mostly been fulfilling and a valuable use of my time and the universities time. I could not be more content right now as I begin this post in the conference hotel, in the ‘fancy’ robe provided, watching Mad Men, and not talking to anyone. I did spring for a single room this time around because when I booked….well, you know what, I sprung for the room by myself because I deserve it sometimes. I also flew by myself instead of cramming myself into a 16 passenger fleet van with 12 grad students BECAUSE I CAN FOR ONCE.

I planned for some down time on this trip. Instead of filling my schedule the way I fill my fro-yo cup, I made sure my evenings were free and yes: a whole day was free to do what I WANTED. I flew in early for two full days of workshops so I gave myself the day before I presented time to do some fun things. I thankfully had a friend in this city who I went to grad school with and was ever-so-grateful in showing me around, taking me to fun places, delicious restaurants, and giving me the most precious gift of all: her time. I value that more than anything and after the Spring, I’ve come to realize that I do deserve peoples’ time, I am not a bother and if I am, people will let me know.

For perhaps the first time since joining faculty, I mixed business and pleasure, carving out some fun time in order to maintain my sanity. I hit the pavement and put in some miles, making sure I was getting my endorphins flowing and getting plenty of sleep instead of feeling like I had to be social with strangers. I selected sessions and times to attend things at my own pace, knowing that I would want to hit certain things, but not others.

Finally, I took the time professionally to network, chat with other researchers and get my foot in the proverbial door. As I finish this post, it’s more than a month post trip and as I reflect, I still have no regrets about the trip. I explored the host city, got a lot out of the sessions, and grew as a new faculty. I networked well, met new faces, connected with familiar ones, and was thankful for the opportunity.

How do you handle conference travel when you don’t already know everyone?

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Exhaustion 101

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There was a time I was sleeping eight hours a night, enjoying coffee, and generally enjoying a leisurely pace. That lasted 2.8 days. It’s gone. Like a distant memory, my ‘vacation’ ended abruptly when I signed up to get on a plane and fly away for academic business.  Two easy commuter flights turned into NINE boarding passes.  I’m not the only person in the world traveling, trust me, I’ve seen some travelers who have a much harder time getting from point A to point B than I have.

I’m sitting on a plane waiting on engine trouble and I’m in road warrior hell. This is just part of the game right?  I see hundreds of thousands of other professionals traveling in these airports-most are dressed much more professionally than I am.  That leads me to  my next question: how in the HELL does one stay erect, put together, and looking extra fashionable in a full suit and italian loafers or three-inch stillettos and a dress straight off of the runway?  I have trouble keeping it business casual in my khaki’s and (hopefully) clean blazer to meet colleagues at the terminal.  Perhaps it’s experience, perhaps those people don’t have over active (or active at all) sweat glands, perhaps my road warrior status needs to be revoked until further notice.

Whatever it is, here I am.  Now, (two hours later) I’m sitting in a large terminal that thankfully has free wi-fi.  I should be reviewing grants or editing an article, instead I’m blogging.  My brain hurts.  My backside is sore from the merry-go-round of beds I’ve been sleeping on or the lack of sleep my whole body has been getting. What is it about academic traveling that is so great yet so exhausting?  It is the stuff that book-ends it?  The flights? The lines? The “disney world” like atmostphere?

Whatever it is, this is what I know right now: I can’t wait to be home.  PIC is clearly lonely, his comments were hilarious yesterday, “I’ve been alone almost all week! Of course I need someone to talk to!” I feel the same way. Not that I wasn’t in good company all week, but I could go for a shower that didn’t result in a nervous sweat, a meal that’s home cooked, and conversation with someone who understands my gibberish (or is it jibberish?) without me having to detail every nuance of my latest thought in my tiny brain.

Which leads me to my other point on this post: freaking EGO.  Holy hell people.  CALM DOWN!!!  Your ego is large enough for everyone.  You’re not smarter, cooler, hipper, or let me repeat SMARTER than anyone else in the room. When you engage with me in a ‘scholarly debate’ and at a certain point I tell you, “we’re just going to have to agree to disagree” that isn’t code for, ‘yell at me louder to get your point across’ because I shut down.  We’re done. Peace out sucker. Peace the f&%k out…..It’s not just academics.  It’s people in airports too.  What happened to common courtesy?  Line cutting.  Rude college kids heading on trips to Aruba paid for by a magic piece of plastic. Moms breastfeeding next to the TSA security check.  I’m all about the feminist movement, young people heading out on a summer vacation, and everyone needing to get re-booked, but HELLO!!!!  Stop being so dang rude.

While probably not helpful, I made a point to thank all of the folks who line cut last night after one of my flights was cancelled.  You know what? The flight was still cancelled and no one was going anywhere.  I hope they feel better!

Road warrior status in academia is a stripe we’ll all earn as new faculty.  Much of the pressure is self-inflicted because we want to prove ourselves and no matter what anyone says or how they dismiss it, they don’t show up to look like a schmuck.  They show up with their ‘game face’ on ready to try and out-smart you. Whether it’s academics or line cutters, new faculty (and every human being) are subject to different types of exhaustion.  Earning road warrior status is just an imaginary badge/medal, but you know what? I’d take a medal right now and probably sleep with it tonight.  Provided I can sleep with it in my own bed.

As a new faculty, how do you prepare for the gauntlet of academic travel?  How do you manage to keep everything moving when travel plans halt?

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