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Sunday, 07 October 2007


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My wife used to call me an intellectual, a term I long resisted as connoting impractical detachment and abstruse obsessions. Lately, though, I don't mind the term so much because another, even more awful, word has been applied to me [Read More]


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I think there's a subset of essay-readers who don't deserve the opprobium you've assigned them: newbies. I know that I, when I started doing conferences, read mostly shorter essays, rather than fluent presentations. I'd never seen conference presentations that did anything else -- and for a few conferences, even though I went to a lot of panels, I didn't see anything that really challenged that model of conferences.

I agree that conference presentations need to be different than essays, but I also know that an awful lot of graduate advisors let students get away with reading essays in seminars, don't let students get a lot of teaching experience (especially lecture experience), and don't really supervise their conference presentations as such.

The Constructivist

I'm with you on this (and with ahistoricality's caveat), but you're making me think that we should just do away with traditional conference papers period. Just post each panel's papers on a conference blog and save the f2f conference time for discussion, first among the panelists, and then with the audience. Then everyone can take it to the comments area on the panel post. S my perfect conference would be:

1. arrive Friday evening for dinner and drinking, having read conference papers in your free time since they were posted on Monday of that week;
2. have discussions in panels on Saturday, freeing time for more
3. dinner and drinking Saturday night
4. and breakfast/brunch recovery/continued discussion before
5. departure mid-day Sunday
6. and continued bloggy commenting for another week, at which point comments are closed and the conference is over.


I'm sorry I couldn't attend your presentation. I'll consider putting my presentation up on my blog. I thought about what you said about creative commons licensing, and that makes sense. But do you worry sometimes about putting your ideas out there too soon? I suppose there's an understanding that stuff put on blogs is necessarily in the rough.

I don't think I did a very good job of revising my diss chapter into a talk. I made it shorter, but that's about it.

Dr. Crazy

You know, I'll say this, though: I'd rather have a person read an essay and keep to time than give a talk and rudely go on and on, however entertaining the person might be. It may not be intellectual vanity that drives those who read their papers but rather, in contrast to your point, courtesy. I agree that a conference paper is a very different animal from an essay that one publishes, and ideally one should have the fact that people are listening and not able to reread dense sections in mind when one prepares to speak at a conference. But speaking for myself, if I don't read, I will go on and on, and that's not fair to those on my panel or, ultimately, to the audience who shows up.

Karl Steel

having read conference papers in your free time




That's a fine point, but certainly they've attended enough lectures to be able to tell the difference between those which consist of essays-read-aloud and those which were intended to be talks.


I'll comment more on that in a day or two, as it's the heart of this week's talk in Chicago.


But do you worry sometimes about putting your ideas out there too soon? I suppose there's an understanding that stuff put on blogs is necessarily in the rough.

The thing is, you're already putting your ideas out there at the conference. Were someone in the audience to have little-to-no integrity, they could abscond with your idea and you've have little-to-no way to prove ownership of it. This way, the idea's mine. It's been date-stamped, everyone knows what I said and when I said it. There are other advantages to:

The random Googler who stumbles upon your work, finds it interesting, contacts you, asks you to present/co-write/edit/&c. This has happened to me a few times already, and I hope it happens many, many more. (Who wants me? I'm cheap? And, per the most recent post, cuddly too.)

Dr. Crazy:

That makes a lot of sense, actually. I free-wheel through class, and could continue free-wheeling indefinitely. But that's not quite what I'm getting at here. As you say:

ideally one should have the fact that people are listening and not able to reread dense sections in mind when one prepares to speak at a conference

This is much more along the lines of what I'm talking about: reading from a text prepared with the intent to deliver it to a room full of people, very few of whom have eidetic memories. (Quite possibly, none of them do.) But yes, you're correct, the last thing anyone wants is to give me license to prattle on and on, because I'll use it ... which is also bad for me, because not only do I offend the audience and my fellow panelists, but the longer I blather, the more likely I am to say something uproariously stupid.

I should add: this weekend's conference was blessedly free of essays-read-aloud.

Lou Deeptrek

"My work is difficult and impressive. You're going to find it difficult to understand. That is because I am impressive." - I believe this is a direct quote from a recent very important talk that I shared, to their strange resentment, with my fellow bus passengers - other highlights included brilliant phrases like: "Even though I will do everything I can to explain it to you, you will not be able to understand it, but do not feel bad, it is not your fault that you do not have a great intellect like I do" and "Kazaam!"...

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