Went to the Theoretical Roman Archaeology Conference this weekend (yes, for the wag who asked, there is an actual Roman Archaeology Conference too). I’ve been to a fair few conferences in the role of hireling/organiser, setting them up, writing delegate briefing, occasionally speaking or chairing, but this is only the second conference I’ve ever attended purely as a delegate.
It was a bit of a mixed experience, including a few self-pitying moments of complete despondency since, if watching conference presentations can be a bit like standing under a waterfall trying to catch the deluge of information in a cup, then with dyslexia the cup is shrunk to a thimble. To the extent that at the end of more than one session, I couldn’t remember almost anything about the papers presented in it, let alone discuss them over coffee. As someone reasonably asked me, what then was the point of me being there?
Well, for a start, it gave me an idea of what I’m going to need to do to get the most out of the conferences. Being more selective about papers I sit in was my friend’s suggestion. That is probably a good idea, and means I will need to spend probably a good few hours going through the abstracts very carefully beforehand, and perhaps ask the organisers questions ahead so I can choose them. I also have a real difficulty with timetables, times and getting lost in unfamiliar (and sometimes familiar) places. So if I do this, then I can write my own timetable before I go. Something to do for next time. (Yes, dyslexia goldfish brain does suck.)
Dealing with snotty senior academics responding with a personal attack instead of a reasonable answer to a reasonable question is another thing. Of course I’ve the comeback now, and the next bloke who tries it will get a firm and polite response along the lines of ‘ok, however [repeat question]”.
The other reason for going, is to meet folks with similar interests and hear about what other people are researching and TRAC was excellent for this. It also made me think about what makes a good presentation – and realize that even in this kind of academic setting no matter how great your research, you do need to be able to get it across both what the main elements of it are, and what is new and different about it too, both to people who are and aren’t experts in your particular area.