More on stealing conferences

Laura McLeod

When I read the original post I felt very uncomfortable, in part because of that ‘blokish leftism’, but also because it is cheating and lying. Call me humourless if you want. I prefer my jokes to be a bit cleverer than that, if that’s ok. But I also think that the authors know that there is something morally wrong about ‘stealing a conference’, otherwise they wouldn’t have felt compelled to hide their names.

Before I go on, I cannot overstate my belief that we all need to do as much as we can to support PGRs and ECRs. We especially need to support those who, for whatever reason, do not have access to funding. Some PGRs do have funding for conferences – almost as much as stable academics who have research expenses from their universities – so the picture is, as ever, a little more complicated. But yes, I am passionate about the need to make sure that academia does not exclude the precarious researchers.

I have two points that I want to make. First, relating to the financing of conferences, second, relating to BISA support of PG and ECR researchers.

The financing of conferences. BISA is a charity, so I think that makes all its finances transparent. Go and ask for them if you want. But let me say this, hotels, universities and other venues cannot see anything other than those cartoon dollar signs the moment they hear the word “conference”. I have heard quotes that would make anyone weep. The hire of AV? “Sure, that’s £20,000!” It’s worse than saying “wedding”. Just say “conference” and watch the price for anything quadruple. “Stealing a conference” isn’t really targeting these people walking around with cartoon dollar signs. It’s attacking BISA, and they are the wrong “them” in this case.

BISA support of PGRs and ECRs. I can talk a little more here, as (laying my cards on the table here) I’m the convenor of the Gendering International Relations Working Group (GIRWG), which is supported by BISA. BISA is a charity. So, actually, cannot make a profit. Revenue has to go back into the charity! And the intended target of these charitable activities? Yep. PGRs and ECRs. And I can assure you, it has been made very clear to me, as the convenor of a WG, to do things that are accessible to PGRs and ECRs. A great example of this is the 2011 International Feminist Journal of Politics (IFJP) conference in Sussex. BISA gave GIRWG £1800 to support the IFJP conference. Much of this money was used to pay for PGRs and unemployed scholars to attend this very conference – travel and hotel accommodation. Let’s get this clear. BISA gave money to GIRWG to support conference attendance of precarious researchers. That doesn’t sound like that BISA itself is “chewing up and spitting out the next generation of scholars-with-no-future“. It really doesn’t. I myself, as a PhD student (perhaps starting to be a while ago, but I still like to delude myself that it was not that long ago), attended a fantastic conference in 2006 for free, thanks to BISA money. That conference was a formative experience for me, and I can only hope that those who benefit from BISA money to attend workshops and conferences also feel the same.

BISA also support the totally fantastic PG Network: I cannot believe it, this is a totally amazing network who run conferences, first year PhD workshops and general networking stuff. I am in awe of the people who manage to find time from their PhD to run this network. Kudos.

And what about ECRs? BISA already has a reduced membership rate for ECRs, but also there are plans in the making to make available research grants specifically for ECRs. But also the BISA conference itself has lots of helpful sessions for ECRs – such as the “meet the editors” sessions for RIS and the soon to be launched EJIS. Both of these journals are important for ECRs to publish in to open up career opportunities.

I could go on. But I’ll finish on one note. BISA spends around £70,000 a year to fund research. That is a huge amount of money. Opportunities to access small and one-off pots of money in academia are getting smaller, and BISA are providing a really important role here in providing this. They aren’t the people that you need to “steal a conference from”. I play a very minor role in BISA, so I have no idea if BISA do actually generate any income from the conference. I suspect very little. I suspect that the conference breaks even, and necessarily so, so that membership fees are ploughed back into the association. BISA works very hard to provide opportunities for precarious researchers in the UK. Don’t steal from them. Don’t cheat and lie.

8 thoughts on “More on stealing conferences

  1. I’m finding these responses to that post very inspiring, particularly given my own experience of BISA this year. Not having done much conference organizing it is interesting to hear about some of the other side of it. I do know it takes a tremendous amount of work. It was something I thought about on the train home from London.

    One of the things missing from THE post was that stealing a conference means you can’t/won’t present. Often funding is available for PGRs and ECRs who are presenting–although I’d argue not nearly often enough. There are, of course, all kinds of problems at conferences–the persistence of all or mostly male panels, the cliquish nature of certain groups of academics etc. but I think there are far better ways to resist that will in turn put back into the academic community of PGRS and ECRs. Try going to a few panels where you don’t know anyone on the panel–it can be very disheartening for those who are scraping together the money to go and pouring lots of effort into a paper only to present to a nearly empty room because everyone has gone to see their friends present the same paper they’ve seen several times. Invite someone you don’t know well to come for coffee or dinner (preferably with those friends you missed seeing present!) and help by introducing PGRs and ECRs to more advanced academics (even if you are a PGR you can help by introducing other PGRs to people at your University with similar interests). I think we’ve all run into that person at a conference who is constantly craning their neck to see if there is someone more important or interesting they could be talking to. If you order an expensive meal and wine while someone at your table sticks to a salad and tap water, split the bill by what you ordered and don’t slip into letting those without a per Diem subsidize your meals (rare, but I had a colleague whose bank account was decimated by this!). Post papers on the conference website so that those without a current affiliation can access them, or offer to share your paper or other things you’ve written via e-mail with those who currently don’t have library access. Be mindful of the labour behind the often lavish conference setting (this was particularly poignant at this year’s BISA given the theme was inequality). Welcome academics with young children into your paper–don’t assume all academics have a ‘little lady’ at home for childcare. If you live in or near the city hosting the conference offer your sofa to a PGR without funding, use social media to coordinate sharing hotel rooms, or even post suggestions about how to share or get airport transport cheaply.

    As a newly minted ECR, I enjoyed BISA in spite of the problems that seem endemic to larger conferences. However, I’ve often found smaller conferences to be very welcoming and an excellent place to get feedback and interact with researchers who are more advanced in their careers. These conferences are also often cheaper to attend and have fewer panels running simultaneously so your chances of getting a good audience to give you feedback is greater.

    By and large I’ve had great experiences at conferences as a PGR and I think the majority of conference organizers and more advanced researchers do a fantastic job of welcoming in PGRs and ECRs. I’ve found many of them to be generous with their time, ideas, advice and reading. I do think there are things we can all do to keep the academic community a welcoming place, but I don’t think stealing conferences is the way to go about it.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Hi Lee, so sorry – only just spotted this nestling in FAC’s inner recesses! Thank you so much – that’s so kind and sweet of you to say! Can I tempt you to join us over on ‘About’? We’d love to have you (dudes are *super* welcome!)


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