Saturday, March 29, 2008

Academic Conference Politeness

Having just attended an academic conference, it may be helpful to list some things not do to in that rather odd and contrived setting. Conference participation is a unique kind of performance art, and conferencing (if that’s a verb) has dangers to avoid.

1. Try not to dress like a hobo (I mean street person). We know that academics are often unkempt and idiosyncratic, but wrinkled clothes that don’t fit are a bit much.
2. If you are a female, don’t dress like an aspiring harlot. Dress professionally, which means smartly, but modestly. Your body is not supposed to be on display, but your mind.
3. When giving a paper, don’t tell the audience what you are skipping. Give them a talk; don’t explain what they would get if you had more time.
4. Don’t complain for not having enough time. That simply shows you didn’t prepare well.
5. Don’t show video clips from Harry Potter.
6. Don’t rely on technology for your presentation; it will too often go wrong, especially for video clips.
7. Speak well in giving a paper. Eliminate “sort of,” “you know,” “um,” “I mean,” and the like. They are annoying and unprofessional. Whatever happened to oratory?
8. Stand up when you read a paper and look at the audience once in a while.
9. If you ask a question after a talk, make it pertinent to the talk. Do not say things merely show what you know in some other area.
10. If you haven’t finished the paper by the time you get to the conference, cancel the talk. Do not fake it. It is too painful for everyone.
11. If you like someone's paper, tell them what you appreciated. This helps the speaker. Don't just say, "Good paper" or "I liked it." This makes the presenter feel good, but doesn't help her better understand what you take to be the strength of your paper.
12. If you are chairing a session, try not to fall asleep during the presentations. This may require a near supernatural effort in some cases.
13. Try to encourage younger scholars who are just getting initiated into all this academic strangeness.


Danny Wright said...


Anonymous said...

Spot on! :)

Douglas Groothuis, Ph.D. said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Douglas Groothuis, Ph.D. said...

Yes, Danny. One plenary session was about targum methods as applied to the adaptation of books to films. (Targums are Aramaic adaptations of passages from the Hebrew Bible. They insert things, revise things, etc.) The speaker went on for 45 minutes about a Harry Potter book and movie. It was a sad example of academic trivia. It was boring and pointless

Jeremy said...

Too often in professional philosophy conferences are merely outlets to stroke our own egos. There is no place more vicious than an APA conference.

My theory is that they spent so much time getting beaten up by the football team in high school that now they're taking it out on others with the only thing they've got--their intellect.

Anyway, as for your rules, I think they're great.

Craig Streetman said...

Thank you for number three. I see this often. It's annoying and easily preventable.

Jim Pemberton said...

Some of these could apply to church.

Jon said...

Can we apply no. 9 to classroom settings, as well? I would appreciate it.

Ben said...

As a graduate student I presented my first paper at an EPS regional meeting over the last weekend. I wish one of my questioners had read the guidelines offered here. He would not have created such a great deal of disdain in the others present by trying to show the lowly grad student what all he knew.

Douglas Groothuis, Ph.D. said...


This is common, sadly. You need to be prayed up and thick skinned.