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  "" Registration >> Why Attend an Academic Conference?

The following is an open letter from Peter Rollins (founder) with several reasons for attending an academic conference.

Letter from Peter Rollins
Email: RollinsPC@aol.com

Someone I know was disappointed by the attendance at his session a recent, national— there were only fifteen people present—and shared his feelings with me. Although he was a senior scholar, it seemed to me that he had forgotten the variety of reasons why we attend national meetings and has remembered only the personal performance aspect of the meeting—only one of the facets.

My response to him was not as complete as it might have been, so I here share with members of H-PCACA my thoughts on this matter after twenty-five years of attending and organizing regional and national meetings. Please share these reflections with your friends when they come back from a meeting a bit depressed. Although drawn from the PCA/ACA experience, these generalizations apply to all academic meetings. The following are things you can accomplish at a national meeting:

1. Give a paper.

The sessions can be crowded on some occasions and empty at others. There is no guarantee. The preparation is a discipline in thinking and writing and makes for a good deadline for a synthesis of one's research at that point. Give a good talk and distribute a paper. Do not read a paper. Use the preparation as a discipline to bring your ideas to a commitment; let the audience numbers be a subordinate matter.

2. Get a publication.

Have a perfect copy of your paper ready to hand to an Editor of one of the many magazines represented at the meeting. Having a paper in proper format really is a “dress for success” approach to the opportunity to publish and will impress the Editor with your unusual professionalism.

3. Make that connection.

People at the meeting are going to be interested in what you deem important for study. You can make invaluable connection with such soul mates at conferences in friendships which can last for decades. David Culbert used to call this “making that connection.” We now tend to call it “networking.” Either way, it is heartening to know that others are interested in the same things you are, so take the time to meet new people and enlarge your circle of professional connections.

4. Learn about trends in the profession.

Every profession is a group of human beings. You need to see and hear what these fellow professionals think is important—even if you disagree. The cocktail parties and receptions are often the best places to pick up this informal information. Formal papers may not focus on the trendy aspects as much as hallway exchanges. You cannot pick up the hallway details unless you are at the meeting! How often have I wished that a young scholar had been present for the information exchanged informally between sessions.

5. Learn about grants.

Every national meeting has one or two sessions devoted to grant writing. Attend these sessions and learn what might be fundable. This kind of grantsmanship is good for you and good for your school. It is almost impossible to get such information elsewhere, especially because grants officers are constantly shifting from one endowment or funding agency to another.

6. Meet leaders in the field.

Shake Ray Browne's hand and listen to Pat Browne. Meet the current and previous Presidents of the organizations. These are people in a network of the community of popular culture and American culture scholars, the people who set the tone and tenor of our studies. Meet Brother Paul and share a laugh! There is no substitute for putting a face with a cluster of ideas. This connection humanizes learning; it should make what you do a less lonely and cerebral task because you have met the people you are reading and you are writing for a truly identified audience.

7. Have fun with friends and meet new ones.

Over the years, we can identify a constellation of friends and acquaintances who make up the popular culture and American culture movement. Some we admire, some we deplore and some we wonder about, but all are part of our community of scholars. All are good people who add to the legend and lore of our movement. The receptions give us a chance to let our hair down and to have some free-flowing conversation with our friends, people with whom we have been communicating all year long.

8. Enjoy the region and place.

National meetings are held in different locations to help members tour the nation and develop impressions about the “progress” of our national life. Take time to tour and to gain impressions of the region and city of the conference. Of course, San Antonio was a wonderful city to visit. Go to natural sites and visit local museums. Take advantage of the cuisine of the places we visit. This is a legitimate use of your travel time and funds.

9. Learn how to publish.

Every national meeting has a “publish or perish” session, and every member should attend to hear about the priorities and policies of the magazines and journals which serve as fora for members of PCA/ACA. The session this year was well attended. Six or seven editors explained what they were doing and why.

10. Discover what is available for teaching.

11. The book display gives you an opportunity to do a variety of things:

You have a chance to look at books in our field and to buy some. The Popular Press, for example, had some books for sale for $1.00 each! You also get to meet the Press reps who commision books. This is an invaluable opportunity. These are interesting people who love books and want to find new authors. You may think that they are there to sell books, but they think they are there to meet writers with great projects in their minds and briefcases.

12. Conduct organizational business.

Regional officers and members can get together at the national meetings, using the time to plan regional activities and publications. Take advantage of these moments and plan ahead by scheduling a room for such meetings and placing the announcement in the official program.

You will note that your personal paper presentation was only one of twelve activities at the national meeting. You cannot be blamed for attracting very few auditors when in competition with a number of other exciting topics. However, you can share your ideas with others—including university press representatives—and benefit from the other eleven activities of professional importance at such a meeting.

If just one of the other events goes well, you have justified the trip and the university/ personal support! Finally, numbers do not count. At a regional PCA/ACA meeting on the OSU campus some years ago, I received a complaint from a speaker that only three people attended his session. I asked him who was there. His answer: “Ray Browne, Russel Nye, and Marshall Fishwick.” My response: “You had an host present!” So do not count heads; instead count the fun, the exposure and the stimulation of the national meeting—which includes friendship and the enjoyment of place.

See you at the next PCA/ACA national meeting!

Peter Rollins
Director of Development, PCA/ACA

Click here for responses to attending a national meeting.


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