Wednesday, April 12, 2006

The Horror! (An Academic Conference Post)

Once upon a time when I was a girl of 24, I attended my first grown-up academic conference on my own. Now, it wasn't my first grown-up conference, but the others I'd attended with the hand-holding mentor who directed my undergraduate thesis (whom I really should contact, as without her mentoring who knows where I'd be). This was the first time I showed up at a conference totally alone, totally knowing not a soul. Oh, except for the anti-mentor (my undergraduate academic adviser, who told me that I wasn't a good enough student to get into a "real" graduate school) who was there and who pretty much ignored me, just as she'd done when I was her student.

Well, I've got a sparkling personality, and so I made new friends quickly, and I went on to have a fucking fantastic week complete with many late nights, many cocktails, and even a few smooches. (Oh, to be young and stupid, again.) At any rate, my paper was scheduled for the very last day of the conference, at like 8 AM. I was out the night before this paper until very late consuming vast quantities of wine. I seem to recall getting approximately 4 hours of sleep, and I hadn't slept much on previous nights either, so I was operating on a deficit. And so then I go to give my paper, and two things happen: 1) I had just a few sentences to go but the moderator was a nazi about the time and so interrupted me at 15 minutes on the dot. Asshole. 2) In the question and answer session, a person, whose work I admire and whom I'd cited in the longer version of the paper, asked me this crazy 3-part question that was totally complicated and serious.

Now, this is every grad student's nightmare, right? The crazy 3-part serious question? From the expert? Somehow - I don't know if it was the sleep deprivation or what - I answered that fucking question. It was my moment of glory - people came up to me afterwards to compliment me on answering The Question. It was like this unbelievable test and I'd passed.

But I just got some news today. Some horrifying, horrifying news.

You know that person, the Question-Asker? The one whom I really admire and all? The one who nearly stumped me at my first on-my-own conference?

He's set to be the respondent to the panel on which I've been accepted to present at MLA, should the MLA have the panel. What did I do to deserve this cruel twist of fate? Just what?

14 comments:

hot mess said...

oof, that hurts. hurts! disarm him with anecdote? or booze?

also strikes fear into my heart that the same will happen to me at Fisher Price My First Conference Presentation in a couple of months.

NL said...

What is with that whole reading-the-paper bit at humanities conferences? Isn't it...weird? And awkard? Just reading?

Dr. Medusa said...

As you have told me, Dear Crazy, the respondent has to say nice things about your paper or he/she will appear to be an idiot. And it's true.

Dr. Crazy said...

Oh, Dr. Medusa, I had totally forgotten about that! Yes, this makes me feel better (at least a little bit) though I do still feel like if the panel goes that I can't half-ass it now, and I like always to feel like I can be in a position to half-ass things :)

As for the reading at humanities conferences.... You know, I've never thought of it as weird or awkward, but then I'm a girl who spent quality time as a kid doing readings in church, so public reading makes sense to me. It's just the way that we roll, I guess? I can only speak for literary studies, but a there is an art to a well crafted conference paper, to delivering it and to developing the argument, and part of the thing that's interesting in listening to a paper is seeing how that comes together - the argument and the performance of the argument.

gingajoy said...

glad to know i am not the only one to have presented with morning-after breath...

at least this time you know ahead of time! and even though it's scary, at least you actually respect this person and you are no longer 24 yr-old-just-getting-your-theoretical-legs self (or at least, if you are like me, you can now fake it better;-))

this is good news. hope the panel goes!

Tabitha Grimalkin said...

You handled this person brilliantly the first time -- there is no reason at all why you can not do the same again.

timna said...

how long ago was it (you don't have to answer that!), but is it possible that the expert might not remember?

Anastasia said...

I'm with tabitha. you won the race already. this is your victory lap.

itinerarium said...

The obvious answer, m'dear, is to go out for excessive drinks the night before. If I'm in town, I'd be honored to accompany you...

Cats & Dogma said...

Well, you answered his hardball questions as a grad student...why shouldn't you be able to handle it as a professional?

And it's not like you gave him the smackdown when you answered his question the last time. He won't be out for blood....

But just in case he is, I'll be there with a shot of bourbon in a hip flask for you as soon as you leave the podium.

Inside the Philosophy Factory said...

I think it is great! I hope the uber-person respects someone who CAN answer that question.

Brian W. Ogilvie said...

Nl -- critics and historians deliver written papers because they respect their audiences and want to deliver a carefully crafted argument in a short time without skipping over essential steps or belaboring the obvious, both of which are potential dangers when you ad-lib a talk. A distinguished sociologist at my alma mater once told me that when he told his colleagues that he was giving a paper at the SSHA (Social Sciences History Association) meeting, their reponse was, "Oh--historians are a tough audience. They actually expect you to prepare your paper in advance!" There's an art to reading a prepared paper without being dull, but frankly, it's not that hard to anyone with something important to say and an ear for the cadences of English.

And Dr. Crazy -- in my experience, as speaker and commentator, commentators generally respect presenters who can handle their questions. Unless they are sociopaths, but then, there's nothing you can do about them. I hope the panel is accepted and that you have fun with it!

PHrauD said...

clearly, you need to get massively pissed the night before, have a few snogs, and be fucking fierce all over again!

Dr. Crazy said...

Hiya all :)

Thanks for the love and support and offers of drinks! At any rate, the point at the end of the day is that it probably will be absolutely fine. 1) I'm sure that The Question was not as memorable to the Question-Asker as it was to me and 2) I'm sure he's a completely nice person. As I've looked back over that conference moment, I really think he was giving me the opportunity to address things that needed to be addressed but that (necessarily) I had to edit out of my paper. In other words, I think The Question was actually generous, and I think it also meant that he was engaged. I know I've asked The Question to grad students - not on purpose, but inadvertantly, just because I was engaged with their papers and I wanted them to say more - and I know that it wasn't a mean-spirited thing. Also, at the end of the day, I really appreciated that I had that experience early on in my career because after that I felt kind of invincible in terms of giving conference papers. I don't know. I may need to write more about things related to conferences - I have a bunch of things to say about them, apparently :)