Thursday, October 13, 2005

Go West, Young Man!

I leave today for an academic conference in Phoenix. Spending the weekend away should be a good opportunity for me to obsess about forget my personal woes.

Still, I have mixed feelings about academic conferences. On the one hand, I really enjoy listening to the paper presentations. It is exciting hearing research so new that few others know about it. Fresh scholarship can rejuvenate your own interest in research and writing.

On the other hand, I suck at networking.

One of the many chinks in my academic armor centers on my slowness in meeting other academics across the nation. Part of the goal of these types of conferences is for young scholars to hunt-down senior colleagues and gain their attention. Without being too zealous, you want to be able to chat with them and explain why your work is interesting. GayProf, however, is a shy, shy, boy.

Others excel at this type of socializing. They are the academic-equivalents of Scarlett O’Hara. They don’t sit at tables, because a scholar only has two sides at a table! Instead, they become the center of a small group of scholars who seem mesmerized by their wit.

There are still others who attempt the O’Hara model, but fail horribly. It is not uncommon to see a typical Prof. BigName cornered by an overeager grad student. “Oh my god!” the grad student squeals, “I LOVED your last book so much! It touched my soul! Let me tell you what I did! I ripped out the last two pages and made a cup of tea out of them so I could drink your wisdom! -- Will you write me a letter of recommendation?” I am not an O’Hara (though I would KILL to wear a hoop-skirt), nor am I a sycophant.

Only one part of these conferences really bothers me: the dreaded “wall of shame” during meal time. What is this wall? Just like in highschool, mealtimes show your place in the academic world. Groups of scholars gather together, laughing and giggling at the center tables in restaurants. Scholars, though, who did not make new friends eat alone. Restaurants always seem to line us up against a back wall, out of the way, each with our own individual table. We then study the conference program intently, hoping we don't leak sadness. Sigh.

Seriously, it is not that bad. I actually look forward to academic conferences, oddly enough. Plus, any opportunity to escape Texas must be welcomed. So, dear readers, think of me this weekend and send good vibes for social bliss.


Adam said...

Well sir I'm glad that you're happy about traveling out of Texas. However as a former Phoencian (its what they are called but it is HARDLY deserving) I must warn you that Phoenix is a vapid city.

I am the same way at conferences though. Im just not good at small talk. But once I get into a topic with someone I have no problem and I really enjoy myself.

Take pictures of the Valley of The Sun for all of us to see.

Helen the Felon said...

I'd sit with you at lunch, A.

God, I bet you'd look stunning in a hoop skirt.

GayProf said...

Adam: Thanks for the good thoughts. I wish I had known you were from Phoenix as I could have used some restaurant recommendations. People there would not give me the name of good places to eat. Either they did not know; the city is committed to keeping outsiders out of the good restaurants; or there are isn’t any good food in Arizona. It was odd. . .

Helen: I would bet that I would much rather have lunch with you than anybody at the conference.

In terms of the hoop skirt, I don’t think I have the waist for it. Best stick to my star-spangled panties and eagle-encrusted swimsuit.