Phew, I just got back from the US and so am writing this entry somewhat jetlagged. I realise how fortunate I am to have a job in which I am able to travel and see exciting cities such as Seattle. It wasn’t all fun-and-games though, I did work very hard too!
The thing about American conferences is that they are pretty intense: they start early in the morning (8.30am!) and pack in as many speakers as possible, not finishing till 5 or 6 in the evening. Americans seem to have really got the hang of this networking lark too, with junior scholars spending much of the conference queuing up to discuss their work with more senior members of the profession.
One thing on everyone’s mind, apart from the study of history of course, was the decrease in funding available for conference attendance and this was a story shared by delegates from all countries, the US, the UK and Japan to name but a few. Many colleagues from the US have been used to having everything paid for when they go to conferences, right down to the last taxi, alcoholic and non-alcoholic drinks and every meal. Now budgets are being limited and while many universities are still contributing to their staff’s conference attendance, this is not the free for all that it once was. Several contributors had to drop out of the conference at the last minute because their funding was cut, and I, too, would have been unable to afford to go to Seattle had I not received funding from my university and the British Academy.
Those people who are not academics sometimes can’t quite work out the purpose of conference attendance and become rather jealous or cross at stories of us going away on glorified all-expenses paid holidays. But conference attending is an important part of the job; not only for career building and personal development, but also for representing your institution abroad and creating an international research culture that our government so values when it comes to doling out its money. On a personal level you can get a lot of exposure for your research and perhaps make connections that will help you get published or get work in the future. So let’s hope that universities don’t cut their staff travel budgets too far and that conference attendance will be part of an academic’s job for a long time to come.