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Wednesday, April 05, 2006

ISA Conference: A note from a newcomer

Yup, finally I cannot escape from going-to-conference demand anymore. As PhD student and academic (the horror...), it is a normality to go to conferences. To mingle with other PhDs and promote your own research, not to mention to do lots of networking, as you never know whose name card might be useful to find a job after you have finished your too-long degree.

Exactly for these reasons I always refused to go to conference before. I never think myself or my research as important. How can I promote something when I don't think it deserves any advertisement whatsoever? Plus, I cannot see myself going to complete strangers to shake their hands, exchange name cards, and try to survive the intellectual small talks. Mon Dieu!

Unfortunately, I am in an environment where people believe bragging is an inevitable or even a necessary policy in climbing social ladder. I am tired of hearing how important a conference is and that I SHOULD go to one..bla bla bla. I am also tired of hearing people talking about how 'lucky' they are to be accepted in a conference. Acceptance in conference equals to high quality?

So, let's go to conference, my little head says. Let's see what the fuss is all about. So, next time when those people start, "The conference was..I met...how wonderful...how important it was...yada yada yada", I can finally say something that should shut their mouth forever about the subject!

Finally, my paper's abstract was accepted, meaning that I can present a paper in International Studies Association (ISA) conference in San Diego. Hurray *cynical tone*. Plus, they picked me, randomly, to be the chair of panel. Another hurray *still cynical tone*. At least I can go to San Diego gratos.

There, one advantage of being PhD student. You can go to conferences around the world for free.

I went to a conference, I come back and gain a new experience. Has ISA converted me to be an enthusiastic PhD student? I don't think so.

ISA is one of the biggest (and probably important) conference for academics and students in international studies and social science. The program of the conference is more than 200 pages, full with tens of paralel panels every day.

There were a lot of people, students and professors alike. They come from universities around the world, USA, Europe, Africa, Australia and Asia. Unfortunately, I didn't find any Indonesian scholar there. Most of the Asian scholars come either from Japan or South Korea.

The panels covered wide area of interest and research. While the annual theme for this year is North-South Relation and Gender, panels on foreign policy, environmental studies, political theory, security studies, and even intelligent studies provided too many choices that force you to sit down for hours to decide which panel you'll go to.

Panels that really attracted my attention was the panels about women trafficking and sexual exploitation. It's a pity that I couldn't come to any, since I had to give priority to environmental studies. Anybody interested in a paper on that issue can contact me. I can download it from the conference website.

As predicted, there were many people, too many. It was interesting to see how you can tell who the people are just by looking at how they are standing or sitting. PhD students usually looked a little bit lost and prefer to stay in group of friends or at least with a friend. PhD graduates usually looked like busy-bees, talking with their established network or book publishers. Professors were relax, sometimes come with their family, enjoying the semi-holiday. Meanwhile, well-known professor would always have group of 'admirers' tailing him/her along the way.

It was an intimidating crowd, I must say. If you didn't know anybody, you'd easily feel out of place. Like me...

Well, it's true that I came with Xaf. But then, being an independent woman, I refused to tail him along. Beside, his research interest is totally different than mine. We wouldn't be able to stay in a same panel without one of us feeling bored after 30 minutes. So, I did what I usually do, going solo.

It was actually quite fun. I could care less about what people think of me, since nobody knew me. I could go to any panel, sat there, listened to others, without feeling obliged to make smart comments. I was still out of place, but then I was an audience of a show.

I guess the reason why some people looked so lost was because they focused so much on making other people listening to them, but not on listening to others. If the main objective was to meet people and do self-advertisement, being alone in such a crowd must be sad.

All in all, it was a good experience. I could finally meet some of Xaf's friends, and enjoyed California sun. My panel went fine, I didn't say ummm too often, and didn't have shaky voice.

I did smile a lot, though. Old recipe never dies. :)

Did I do networking? Nope. I only exchanged card once, and it was a friend of a friend. I am a hopeless case.


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