After my last post, friend and fellow scholar Rolf Pendall asked me a pretty good question, which is: can we really justify having a big yearly conference at all, granted the climate effects of all that travel and the disadvantages big conferences have for many scholars, including myself, whose social anxiety makes most conferences rather torturous.
Rolf suggested smaller regional conferences, which is an interesting idea. Riffing on that idea, I thought about maybe doing topical conferences–a symposium on planning theory, for example.
There are some advantages to smaller conferences, even if I don’t necessarily think they would have much climate benefit. (Maybe I am being dense here but I think shorter trips are likely to add up to roughly the same, and I suspect plenty of scholars would want to attend more than one conference under a new, more distributed conference strategy. )
One major advantage would be that smaller conferences would be shorter and easier for parents to manage and for junior scholars to afford–we could probably manage most tracks at ACSP in two days if we separated them, instead of how ACSP demands about a week-long commitment from administrators, from those who have put the radical planning sessions prior to the main event, and a person can wind up staying a pretty long time at ACSP if they moderate a session on Thursday and their presentation is Sunday. Two days is about $400 to $800 savings in hotel and childcare costs over what can happen with ACSP scheduling now. Lots of people fund travel out of their own pockets, and
A smaller conference wouldn’t help me much in terms of my social anxiety, as mine kicks in for any group, big or small. Leaving my house is an effort, so it doesn’t take much to put me off going to anything anywhere at any time. I probably get to ACSP once every three years, and perhaps the right answer anyway: for those of us who just don’t do well in social contexts, emphasizing conference participation less than we have in the past for hiring and promotion would likely be better. I’ve always tried to be useful as moderator, giving feedback particularly to more junior participants on their manuscripts, but I can say I only twice had a moderator do the same for me in twelve years of ACSP.
We could also try timing the conference differently: we could do the big national conference every other year instead of every year. Smaller conferences create new organizing burdens that currently get covered by the bigger conference staff and host universities.
That strikes me as a pretty good suggestion, too, but it shares the same drawback as distributing to regional or topical conferences: ACSP matters for job seekers a great deal. I’m pretty sure I have never succeeded in impressing anybody at ACSP, but that’s just me. We have tons of job networking going on, and if you finish your dissertation and graduate during an “off” year, it would change your prospects quite a bit, and adding an extra year of potential unemployment is way hard on young scholars.
The possibility I like, but the organization wouldn’t, is trimming down the yearly conference to two-three days at most. This involves a lot more work on the part of the organizers, but I do like the idea. Instead of evaluating abstracts, we could limit submissions only to people who submit completed manuscripts by the submission date, we review those manuscripts, and we take the best by tier: by tenured, nontenured, graduate student, giving priority to junior scholars. ACSP wants participants and registration fees (and how else does it pay the bills), but all that leads to a very large conference with a lot of partially baked ideas which may not benefit from feedback anyway, and that don’t reflect all that well on the person giving the presentation.
What idea do you like? Or is there a different one we should think about? I like “planning theory bad