The Chronicle of Higher Education recently republished a very helpful essay, “How to Make the Most of an Academic Conference,” by Thomas J. Tobin (September 23rd online). As valuable as this piece is, it fails to include a number of suggestions that can transform a merely good conference experience into a truly exceptional one. Accordingly, University Life encourages readers to take the following recommendations out for a spin:
— Go to the zoo. That’s right, the zoo. There’s nothing better than skipping a day of conference sessions to make time for a zoo visit. Zoos are great; don’t let the objections of wildlife activists deter you. If there isn’t a decent zoo in the city where your conference is being held, don’t attend the conference. On the other hand, the San Diego Zoo rocks, so attend every convention you can find that meets in San Diego, even if the convention has nothing to do with your field or discipline. You won’t regret it.
— If your conference has an awards luncheon or dinner, make sure to attend. When the basket of bread is passed to you, place one roll on your plate and dump the remaining ones into your conference tote bag. Try to be inconspicuous, but don’t sweat it if someone sees you. Secretly, they’ll admire — and envy — your chutzpah.
— After a plenary session, go up to the featured speaker and ask her or him to autograph your neck with a Sharpie.
— Some conferences have silent auctions to support graduate student travel stipends or other worthy causes. On the bidding sheet for a signed copy of a book by a noted author, write “I’ve read this and it really sucks.”
— When you’re presenting at a panel session, place a small waste basket and a roll of toilet paper next to you in clear view of the audience. Announce that “I had a tray’s worth of spoiled shrimp cocktail at the reception last night. Those of you sitting up front might want to move back a row or two.”
— If your conference begins with a high-profile public acknowledgment of the indigenous peoples whose land is now occupied by the host hotel, sit in the front row while dressed as John Wayne in “The Searchers” and stare with great intensity. Your sense of humor will be appreciated.
— As the chairperson goes around the room asking individuals why they chose to attend this particular session, respond that “attendance is required by my detox program and parole officer. By the way, it feels really hot in here. Is anybody else sweating up a storm?”
— Assemble a three-course dinner from the complimentary Twizzlers, Jolly Ranchers, and fun-size Snickers provided by publishers at their display booths. Celebrate later with a feast in your hotel room as you watch reruns of “Friends” while relaxing in bed. Don’t forget those dinner rolls you saved from lunch!
— Back to the Silent Auction. Find an elaborate, handmade, one-of-a-kind item donated by an attendee and write on the bidding sheet, “what the hell is this?”
Your next conference can be forgettable or memorable. It’s up to you.