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Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Professional Conferences Can Be Highly Illuminating

I'll come clean: it's been a few years since I've been to a professional conference. I've been a little busy with the babies and the diapers and the bottles and the potty training and somehow haven't been able to get my act together to apply, write a paper to deliver, and then be away from the family for a long weekend. But, this past weekend, I finally jumped back into the conference waters, and let me tell you -- it was fantastic.

I'd forgotten how exciting it can be (dork alert! dork alert!) to be surrounded by a giant batch of people who are passionate about the same subject as you are, who do research and have ideas you've never thought about but are very glad to consider, who will give you feedback and professional advice.

In short, this conference reminded me that a couple of days of intense conversation can be really rejuvenating to one's own research, which otherwise often feels as if it happens in something of a vacuum.

I learned a lot at this conference, stuff about the history of India, about emerging online resources for doing nineteenth-century studies, about the periodical press. And, I learned the following, which nuggets seem worthy of sharing.

1. Good towels are like manna for your skin. In fact, they are such a very good thing that if you have forgotten just how good they are, it means you should probably do yourself a favor and buy a few new towels. There was never a better towel in a hotel than those at the Doubletree Guest Suites in downtown Minneapolis: bath-sheet sized, thick and plush as a schmancy spa robe, pristine white. I stayed at a "W" hotel in New York once (and THAT is some swank hotel where you don't want to take your children, let me tell you), and even they -- with their amazing Bliss body butter and other out of this world bath products -- didn't have towels that could compete with Doubletree.

2. Patrone Silver is serious. If you like scotch and don't really like tequila, you will like Patrone. And if someone insists you should try it on the rocks with a lime, you should not believe her little song and dance about how she's had all kinds of tequila and THIS tequila produces no hangovers, and it is like magic tequila or something because she can drink eight shots of it in one evening and still be sober and happy that night, and well-rested and happy in the morning. Because while eight shots will no doubt make someone extremely happy, there is a high likelihood that the sadness of drinking too much will certainly follow. So just go all "la la la la LAAAA, I can't hear you" on her when she tries to get you to order a second one. Because truly, one of these drinks is a beautiful thing. Beyond that, I take no responsibility for your happiness.

3. Light rail that actually connects where you are to where you want to go is the awesomest thing a city can provide. $1.75 from downtown to the airport. I dare you to beat that.

4. When you give a table full of academics a few pints in a pub, you will hear a lot of funny stories involving celebrities and animals. Not usually in the same story. But sometimes, yes.

5. Super famous academics, the kinds whose careers you can only dream about having, wear their hair in braids on off-days, just like everyone else.

I'm pretty sure there are some words to live by in that last one -- something about not being afraid to talk to people who seem so far beyond you on the career track, about having confidence, and so on. All of that is true, and she was very nice to me, and not condescending at all, and treated me like a true colleague despite the vast chasm of difference in our levels of famousness. But, for the next few days at least, I'm going to remain stuck on the fact of the braids themselves. Long silvery braids on a highly distinguished Professor Emeritus. Most excellent.


Momo Fali said...

You are a dork and I love you for it.

LceeL said...

Not a THING in the world wrong with being a dork. On the other hand, if every dork in the world looked like you, everyone would WANT to be one - and then where would we be?

ree said...

Sounds like it was a wonderful wonderful time. And yea, that tequila stuff? No way.

Audubon Ron said...

Just got back from a university level biofuels conference. I.AM.GLAD.I'M.HOME. also, don't expect biofuels to save the planet and oil consumption just yet, actually in your life time.

mep said...

From one dork to another--so glad you had an inspiring weekend!

I think I'll be dreaming about those towels tonight.

E... said...

Now I'm wondering who those braids belonged to...

Nanny Goats In Panties said...

What does that say about me that #3 (the one about the light rail) spoke to me the loudest? Am I really that cheap? DON'T answer that!


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