I am on my way back from a conference. Yet again I wonder why we spend so much time and money on this stupid conference travel.
I got up at 3:40 and I am quite grumpy, so be forewarned.
I had an invited talk at this meeting that’s very large and fairly prestigious to be invited to speak at; that’s a shiny bullet on the CV. However, since they are large and prestigious, they cover very little for invited speakers, so this endeavor was at nearly full conference cost, which approaches stratospheric. Also, it’s the middle of the semester, so I left on Sunday and am coming back today (Tue), in order to teach my Wed class (my graduate student taught my Monday class). The outgoing and return trips lasted nearly a day each; each direction included two long flights and a couple of hours of driving to/fro the airport so I could get the best-priced ticket. So that’s 3 days of my life, 2 on the plane, 1 at a conference where I worked on my talk in the morning and in the afternoon gave a talk and attended the rest of my session, then chaired another session, and that was basically it. My invited talk was well attended, as was my whole session; however, in the session I chaired thereafter, by the end there were about 5 people in the audience. Tell me how is it worth to any funding body to spend over $2k in order for that speaker to deliver a talk to such a tiny audience? Sure, the speaker gets to hear others, but I fail to grasp how this mode of transmission, which works so well for small meetings (you talk! others talk! you hear cool things! you meet other people and talk with them!) can be justified for gigantic meetings with many parallel sessions and a high sticker price, other than as a way for the organizer to raise money. Indeed, conferences have become ridiculously expensive, and you see the effect in many cancelled talks — people decide it’s simply not worth it to travel.
On one leg of the outbound flight I swear the air smelled like farts. You would think my nose would adjust over the 4 hours on the plane, but no such luck. Prior to the return trip, circa 5:30 am and before the caffeine kicked in, an old dude sitting next to me at the airport farted, loudly. What the… fart?
I was supposed to meet a bloggy friend for dinner, but she’s ill (get well soon, L!) so I planned on writing up the homework solutions for my class after the talk and maybe reviewing some proposals, or at the very least working on the award nominations for two my colleagues. Every fuckin’ thing is due this Friday. Oh yes, I also have to create the midterm, also due on Friday. In the light of the mountain of impending work, I decided to watch movies on Amazon prime instead. It was an excellent idea and an apparently much-needed break.
A Big Love Story (also here) is a very sweet movie. It makes you smile and feel very warm and fuzzy, as a good rom-com should, but unlike most of the genre, it has an appealing story, it’s not formulaic, it’s well acted, the leads have great chemistry, and you end up caring for all the characters (leads and support actors alike) as they all feel real.
Falling… (also here) A beautiful medley of a number of short stories, with unusual story telling, and each cast member in two different roles; the movie has a very indie feel, with very understated acting. I enjoyed it.
On my way to the conference I finished “Ancillary Sword,” the sequel to Anne Leckie’s “Ancillary Justice“. I greatly enjoyed it, even though the writing was somewhat redundant at times (e.g. Kalr Five’s affinity for ancient china was truly beaten to death; everyone has a bit too much tea). However, I love the character development, the details that go into the narrative. Breq remains a compelling protagonist for whom you can truly root, and there are several new characters that you get to know and care for (the new Ship, Mercy of Kalr; Liutenant Tisarwat; Translator Dlique; Medic; Kalr Five).
On the way back I read “Yesterday’s Kin” by Nancy Kress. It was interesting, the plot is pretty cool, but considering that many seem to think she’s among today’s best SF writers, I was definitely not blown away. Honestly, it feels like she banged the book out in a week; that’s fine, people have to eat/pay mortgage/whatever, but the book turned out meh. The plot is compelling, granted, and it’s an easy read, but there is minimal, seemingly pro-forma character development and it feels very shallow. I can assure you I did not grow to give a rat’s a$$ about any of the characters in the book. However, it reads as something that is Hollywood-ready, easy to mold into a screenplay for a summer blockbuster with scientists, aliens, and a potential end of the world.
If this is the same conference I am thinking of (given the description and the dates), I went there once (as a postdoc) a few years ago. Travel costs and registration fees were definitely stratospheric-qualifying, but I have to say that it had the best conference reception I have ever been to, and the largest exhibit (with the most gifts ;-)) I ever saw. I don’t know if that year was a fluke, but it left an impression on me. The scientific program was good, but now that I have to take care of expenses I am not sure it is a good cost-to-benefit ratio (definitely not for a contributed talk or poster, maybe for an invited talk).
I have to agree with you, smaller events are much, much, better than the mega conferences (which are mostly a good opportunity to see friends from previous stages).
Unless you use the time at the conference that is not dedicated to your area of specialization to do something constructive e.g., organize a team meeting with colleagues/potential collaborators from other institutions, or go to a session on something you would like to get involved in and where the potential for meeting people is high, or attend a session where a potential hire is giving a dissertation talk, then I agree that these big meetings are a complete waste. In fact I don’t go to them unless one of the three criteria above are satisfied.