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Tuesday, 17 February 2015

On conferences

Having just submitted an abstract for one conference, and almost immediately received notification of another, has reminded me of the fascinating beast that is the Academic Conference.

The last twelve months has given me further insight into conference life, from the wide perspective of organiser, contributor and audience, and they are no longer as terrifying as I found them at first. Although the reputation of the Academic Conference is fierce, the ones I have attended have been supportive, stimulating and - I was surprised to discover - rather kindly affairs.

No doubt in many situations, academics are well able to intimidate one another, but at the gatherings I've witnessed, they've mostly been willing to encourage the more junior members amongst them. In fact, on every occasion, its been those outside university life who've proved the most troublesome. The academics have been unfailingly supportive.

What can be observed, in fact, is human nature writ large. Nervousness is heightened; social difficulties exaggerated, pomposity exposed. There's nowhere to hide, and so its best to behave politely and honestly. Someone (and someone usually quite senior) will always be finding it harder. When you  realise and notice this, fear dissipates rapidly.

At an Academic Conference, the experienced can share with the relative novice, pointing them towards fresh discoveries. The novice can learn from everyone, and observe styles of delivery, modes of communication and the way that experts in the research field function.

As well as showing you what you have still to learn, being at a conference makes you realise how much you already know, as well as what you can do to improve. And you realise that those published authors, the 'real' historians, read and revered, are human too.

I'm looking forward to the next few conferences, and will hopefully be presenting fresh papers. Now in my second year of doctoral research, I still feel a novice, but thanks to these past experiences, my confidence is growing and the 'imposter syndrome' is abating all the time.

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