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On Attending Conferences 精选

已有 15738 次阅读 2009-12-27 22:18 |系统分类:教学心得

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If you are in academia and/or doing research, attending professional conferences is an unavoidable part of life (if you are in industry, you need to attend trade shows which is not under discussion here). I wish to discuss three stages of your professional life and the role conferences play in them. In each profession, there always exists one annual conference which is considered to be THE conference of the year which everyone tries to attend. It is a big affair with a big budget, several plenary presentations, and many parallel technical sessions lasting over several days.
When you are starting out as a young scholar, you go to this conference to see and be seen. It is what is referred to as “visibility and exposure”. You want people to notice you by giving good papers and make memorable presentations. You also want to learn from and meet with others working on problems with similar interests. Thus, you go to as many technical talks as possible and establish your own informal social network through which you become informed with the latest trends and happenings in the field before their formal publication in archival journals (as I have said before, even if you thoroughly understand a paper on the day of its publication, you are already at least 12 months behind due to review and printing delays). It is through such informal networks that you remain on the cutting edge of research.
As you grow and age in your field, you begin to acquire a reputation if you are anywhere successful in your work. You will be asked to take on volunteer work in various editorial and/or administrative committees of your professional society. Annual conference is usually the place where face-to-face meetings of these committees take place.  In fact, your volunteer service often include the organization and running of meetings, conferences, and journals. Thus, you are no longer free to do as you please at these conferences; your time becomes somewhat constrained due to these responsibilities. On the other hand, you also became part of the primary forces that keep a professional society running smoothly and efficiently. You became the “mover and shaker” of your field.
Finally, if you keep up with your research and volunteer service to the profession, then you finally arrive at the stage where you begin to reap what your sowed. You are now an elder statesman of your field. You serve in honorary and advisory positions with relative little day-to-day responsibility but are given many “freebies” such as reduced or free registration fees, free hotel rooms and invitation to receptions. This is the “payback” for the many years of volunteer service you provided to the profession. You probably still attend all plenary lectures or occasional talk that strikes your fancy but there is no more pressure to see and be seen unless you happen to be asked to give a prestigious plenary lecture yourself. Attendance at these conferences are to renew friendship with life-long acquaintances and to say “I am still here (as the famed architect, I.M. Pei, announced in a featured NY Times magazine article devoted to him earlier this year)”. It is the “pleasure of your company” that adds to the conference.
Of course the transitions from one stage to another are never distinct and clear. The three stages overlap and merge. However, one needs to be cognizant of their differences and the part one is expected to play in each.
Aside from this annual conference, there are smaller meetings such as workshops or symposiums. These are usually irregular in frequency, in depth, and more specialized meetings on sub-topics of the field. Attendees usually number not more than one hundred and the gathering is more for specialists.


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