So you’ve arrived at the conference venue and you’ve registered.
You’ve got your conference bag and had a quick look to find the printed programme. There’s other papers in there too. Publicity leaflets about forthcoming books. Publicity materials about the venue. Publicity materials about the city you’re in, often in the form of a pocket map. There may be some additional conference information, and if you’re lucky some of this will be helpful. There may even be some conference logo-ed blank paper (we got four sheets) and a biro that will last for the duration of the conference (mine lasted a few hours).
OK, that’s probably all good. But it’s not enough to get you through the next few days.
Here’s five basic conference survival essentials that won’t be in your conference pack. These certainly weren’t in our ECER bags, but several conversations I’ve had over the last few days suggest that these might be good (read this as important) things to get sorted early on in your conference.
1. Food. It’s vital to work out how to get water, coffee and lunch.
This is not simply a matter of finding the outlets, or observing where the conference organisers are setting up the tea/coffee stands. It’s also about working out how to get to these just a bit ahead of the rush. If you’re too early you look refreshment obsessed. Too late and you stay parched and empty for hours.
Being ahead of the pack requires a calculation about how far your seminar room is from the location of the food and how long it will take to get there. (It’s just like an airport really… It will take you five minutes to get to gate 43… ) Next, you need to work out how you can make a casual and nonchalant exit from the packed seminar room a touch before everyone else. (Sit near the door.) It’s got to be just offhand enough, or it’s got to seem seriously urgent. A sure strategy to achieve the latter effect is to get out your phone so it looks as if you’re leaving the room to respond to an urgent phone call. Who’d argue with a pressing call from work?
1a Free food. There’s also some calculations to be made about the evening conference events. The cheap wine. The mass catered and generally fried hors d’oeuvres. The mystery casserole.
At the end of the conference day everyone’s more than a bit tired so there’s often a very undignified and un-scholarly feeding frenzy. Of course, filling up on the free stuff so you don’t have to buy dinner isn’t an option for everyone. For a start there usually isn’t enough free food to go round (and it’s not really free, you paid for it in your eye-watering conference fees). You therefore have to work out whether you want to be one of those people who elbows their way to a good helping of what’s on offer, or be the other variety of conference goer who retains their dignity, takes what’s left after the elbows have had their way, and saves their appetite for later.
2. Loos. The general principle for conferences is that there’s never enough loos, there’s always a queue and two of the loos won’t work after the first half day. (Well that’s how it is for women. I wouldn’t know about the rest of you.) Just like the food, you have to work out when the likely loo rush time is – generally at the start of breaks, and at their end – and you need to make sure you go at other times – unless of course you’re happy standing in the long line trailing out into the corridor.
3. Clothes. You have to wear conference clothes that you feel OK about. So, do you want to appear formal? professional? laid back? Whatever you decide, you also need to be comfortable. (The conference is not the time for wearing in new shoes. Too much standing around.) And choose something that doesn’t wrinkle too much, unless you like being fashionably dishevelled – now is not the time to be worrying about getting creased. And, wear layers. You need something to put on if the air-conditioning is arctic, and something to take off if the room resembles the local sauna. And of course, when you’re actually presenting you have to wear something that you feel both good and comfortable in. It’s stressful enough doing the presentation without having to worry about how you look.
4. Getting online. All conferences have online facilities. Eduroam is everywhere, so make sure your access is already sorted before you leave home. (Unless your university IT people are on tap, it can be hard to get eduroam arranged by remote control several hundred kilometres away from base.)
Why get online? Well, being online is particularly good in those sessions where papers miss the mark. Gaze directed to your screen, you can look as if you are taking assiduous notes or tweeting cleverly, when in fact you’re doing your email, reviewing a journal article, marking an assignment or booking your next holiday.
5. Travel. Make sure you know the local travel situation. Out of town universities are always accessible by public transport and the conference will usually tell you what route to take to get from the city. However, what they don’t generally tell you is how much change you need to have, how to work the ticket machine, whether they check you’ve got a ticket at all (just in case you don’t have the money and the machine is broken, you understand) and how often the buses/trains run. Conference materials also often forget to tell you how to hail or book a cab. Don’t get stranded at the venue late at night when everyone who knows this information has disappeared.
There. That’s a small conference starter survival kit. Five things that may or may not come in handy, but as well to be prepared.
Have you got more that you’d add to this list?