I’m happy to own up to something: I don’t like going to conferences. Out of the handful of conferences I have been to since starting my PhD I have found them frustrating, dull, stressful, too busy, too long, too short, too overloading, too expensive, too broad, too specific…really it was easier to please Goldilocks with porridge than me with a conference. I can, however, rank my general distain for conferences in priority order.
Firstly I dislike conferences that are too broad, and those that are too specific. This is partly due to the nature of my research – I fit in between a couple of large areas with related interests in several others. It is extremely difficult to cultivate a reputation/network/whatever you want to call it in multiple areas at the same time, and it is probably a bit daft to try. Large conferences offer me the opportunity to hit on many areas of interest, small conferences offer me the opportunity to hit on one aspect in particular, neither represent value for money in terms of hits per registration fee.
That brings me on to the cost issue. Conferences are expensive, in terms of fees, accommodation and travel costs, and in terms of time. Is it really necessary in an online world to require people to travel half way around the globe to listen to professors pontificate about work already published because they are too worried about being scooped to talk about the work in progress? Would it not be cheaper to have an online element where participants could listen to the talks and view the powerpoints from the comfort of their own office? Would it not also encourage greater participation? Simple fact: as a new academic I do not have the funding available to go to conferences. Even if I did have some spare money in the budget, it would not be going anywhere near conferences whose registration fees are over £100, and which require expensive travel/accommodation arrangements.
Of course, someone will try to argue that watching presentations online defeats the purpose of a conference – to network. Well, can we all be honest for a moment? Are the networking opportunities presented at conferences actually useful or are they more use for a boozy night out courtesy of the boss? Poster sessions – too big, too crowded, coffee breaks – down time needed, not chit chat and prof impressing, lunchtime – eating. I do more networking via Twitter from my office than I ever have at a conference.
I don’t like conferences because they are difficult to get into if you are an outsider to the field, expensive and offer limited opportunities to network in an online world, and I think I’m going to give myself a break from feeling guilty about it.