Tuesday, May 5, 2015

The Academic Conference - A Defense

Yesterday a professor at Princeton saw fit to ask in the New York Times "What is the purpose of the conference?" She meant is as a setup for a rant about how boring they are all are, writing:
If everyone is content with the conference as a legitimate custom, why do post-conference sentiments typically range from disappointment to total rage, always expressed in hushed tones?
Yes, sometimes papers are boring and people ask bad questions. I loved Mallory Ortberg's piece "Every Question in Every Q&A Session Ever," which makes some of the same points as this NYT piece and is, in my opinion, much funnier (Ortberg is one of my favorite comedy writers online).

I'm going to say more about this NYT piece later, but let me ask you this.

1. Do you leave a conference typically filled with disappointment to total rage? 

I never have. Rage, really? Sometimes the papers are better than other, but I always leave conferences ready to work, to be a scholar.

2. Are most questions, in your experience, self-aggrandizing or distracted mutterings? 

In my experience, I think something like 98% of all questions are good ones. In fact, I am hard pressed right now to remember a bad one (I do remember bad papers, but they are by far the tiny minority).

But that's just my experience. Maybe I've lived a charmed life. What about you? Rage?