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.