Now that we’re “back to normal,” it takes more than hitting ‘Leave Meeting’ to exit a boring talk! We skip the usual structure of our episodes and speak freely about preparing for and attending conferences as graduate students. We answer listener questions like, What’s the point of going to conferences? Should I attend a conference as an undergrad? How do I socialize and connect with others at an academic conference? How do you manage the financial aspect of attending conferences?
We also spill the tea on people getting roasted after their talks and our best and worst experiences of conference-going! Tune in, because it’s helpful and entertaining – our specialty!
Zora’s Daughters Podcast: Season Three, Episode 5
Co-Hosts: Alyssa A. James and Brendane A. Tynes
Title: It’s Not You, It’s Them: Tips for Academic Conferences
Total Length: 01:34:57
[00:00:00] [Opening Music Plays]
[00:00:28] AJ: Hey everyone! Welcome you back to Zora’s Daughters, the podcast where we share Black feminist perspectives and close read pop culture and other social topics that affect Black folks. I’m Alyssa and I use she/her/hers pronouns.
[00:00:41] BT: Hey y’all! I’m Brendane and I use she/her/hers pronouns. Today, we’re doing our semesterly structure-free episode. Whoop, whoop.
[00:00:50] AJ: Ay, ay.
[00:00:51] BT: So, you’ll just be hearing us speak freely about preparing for and attending academic conferences!
[00:00:57] AJ: Yes, and before all of our non-academic and advanced academics switch off, let me just say that conferences are often where the events happen that later become the tea that is spilled for years to come. Some of which we may or may not be spilling. Whatever will give us plausible deniability [laughter]
[00:01:18] BT: Ha, ha, ha. I mean.
[00:01:19] AJ: You know what I’m saying. We might have some things.
[00:01:23] BT: We have some things. Might have some interesting little stories I know. Even just from AAA last year to the four conferences I’ve been to. Just drama. Drama happens at these places. As well as some good learning and some good socializing. But before we get into that, we just want to thank all of you: our listeners, our supporters, our donors, and our contractors! Y’all, we just love y’all. Thank you. We could not get these episodes created and shared without donations and grants, without our social media assistant and transcriptionists, right, without all of you out there who are sharing episodes, and of course, YOU. Yes, you who are listening or reading right now. Your contribution is plenty but if you’re saying to yourself, I get so much value from this podcast and I want to ensure its continuity, please become a Patron at patreon.com/zorasdaughters. And another way you can support us is by leaving a rating and a review on Spotify or Apple Podcasts, because those really help!
[00:02:36] AJ: They really, really, do. It helps those podcast platforms know that people actually like us and then they suggest us to other people. We also want to say up top that it’s November, so coming up to the end of the year, end of the fiscal year for some. Departments and companies are starting to think about your 2023 budgets so if you would like us to do a workshop for Black History Month, Juneteenth, or any day because it’s Black feminist 365 over here, feel free to get in touch. We’ve done workshops on supporting Black women in the workplace, reclaiming your radiance, and finding joy in community for international companies, universities, and local organizations. We create custom workshops and talks that address the needs of your group and that people actually really enjoy! So, head to zorasdaughters.com for more information and to send us an email.
[00:03:33] BT: Right. We actually probably should get some reviews for those because [laughter] let’s just say, our workshops always hit. Always hit. So, please hit us up! Help us keep the lights on, keep the bills paid [laughter]. But without any further ado yeah, let’s get going on this episode.
[00:03:55] AJ: Yeah. So, I mean, usually this would be where we would have our What’s the Word segment. We are not going to have one today but if we were going to have a word of the day, it would be Sayre’s Law, which I say all the time. I just, anytime something ridiculous in academia happens, I’m like, “Yeah, Sayre’s Law.” Sayre’s Law states that “In any dispute, the intensity of feeling is inversely proportional to the value of the issues at stake.” The law is named after Wallace Stanley Sayre, a U.S. political scientist and, of course, professor at Columbia University. Former. He is now deceased. But in 1973, Sayre was quoted as saying “Academic politics is the most vicious and bitter form of politics, because the stakes are so low.”
[00:04:49] BT: And look, only someone who has worked at Columbia could come up with something like this. He really was plugged into these conversations because to create a whole law that really actually accurately describes what be going on, hmm.
[00:05:08] AJ: I mean that’s what a law is. A law is above a theory [laughter]. A law means that the theory has mostly pretty much been proven to be true [laughter].
[00:05:20] BT: Wow.
[00:05:20] AJ: So, if you get yourself a law named after yourself then, you know.
[00:05:24] BT: Wow. Physics is making so much more sense now.
[00:05:26] AJ: [Laughter] Yes, the law. That’s why it’s the law of gravity and not the theory of gravity. Ay, ay, ay. Okay, so, we got some questions from Instagram and we’re just gonna, you know, we’re gonna go through some of those questions. But before we start doing that, we just wanna, of course, give the caveat: we’re speaking from our experience as anthropology students, anthropology graduate students, candidates. I have only been to two major conferences, one being CASCA, which is the Canadian Anthropological Society conference, and the AAA, which is the American Anthropological Association conference and then a handful of graduate conferences. And so, I won’t say which ones and I won’t say which years in order to protect the guilty [laughter]. That’s also to say that things might be different, they probably are different, in at science conferences. At least in terms of how you might approach the conferences in giving talks and doing posters and things like that. What conferences have you been to?
[00:06:33] BT: Yeah, I’ve been to AAA, the National Women’s Studies Association conference, I think that was like 2017—whew chile—
[00:06:47] AJ We’re not giving years. We’re not giving years.
[00:06:48] BT: We’re not? Oh [laughter] just kidding. At some point in the recent past, I don’t know. The Society for Applied Anthropology is a really nice small conference. I’ve been to Ford conferences even though, you know, because of what’s happening with Ford this year who knows if they’ll continue to have those moving forward and then I’ve presented and attended a couple of like roundtables. Like the one that was last week the Roundtable for Black Feminist and Womanist Theory. I also realized while I was there that I was an anthropologist among philosophers and was like, oh wow this makes so much sense about why these papers are talking about the things they’re talking about. I just I see something that looks fun online, and I just sign up and I don’t even really take into account whether I’m “supposed” to be there or not but it was a lovely roundtable.
[00:07:54] AJ: It was, I was there on zoom, virtually.
[00:07:57] BT: I was also there on zoom because I could not imagine myself being in New Hampshire [laughter]. Could not.
[00:08:06] AJ: But I think that there were some really generative comments for you and also for your fellow panelists, so that was cool. But conferences. One place to start is what are they good for?
[00:08:20] BT: Yeah, why go?
[00:08:21] AJ: What’s the use of attending them? Okay, for me I would say that it’s threefold. So, one, you are exchanging knowledge, right. You get to share your work, sometimes receive feedback, and then other times you get, you know, and then at the same time you get to hear what other people are working on. Two, is the networking opportunities. It’s a time where you can meet people whose work you’ve read or work that you should read, and for people to get to know your work. And three, socializing. This is the biggest one. Conferences are supposed to fun, you get to catch up with your old cohort mates, you have random professors buy you drinks, and you know, [laughter] they become a drinking buddy. It’s a surprise, it’s a shock. And basically, what you get to see at these conferences is that academia is high school, but the geeks are the most popular [laughter]. What about you? What’s the use for you going to conferences?
[00:09:29] BT: Hm, yeah, I would agree with all three of those. I think that for my own personal use though, I mainly use conferences to network or to socialize. And, or I’ve heard of people going to conferences when they want to apply for different jobs and things like that. So that’s also part of the networking. You, you know, you give business cards, you shake hands with folks, you kind of do this informal interview processes if you’re interested in certain positions. And there also have been conferences where they do workshops with different editors so if you’re trying to get your book published or something like that you can also attend those. AAA does, I think, a pretty good job of having different kinds of workshops for people who are in different stages of their career. There’s also, I know that the association of Black Anthropologists does an annual mentoring event. And so that’s also like a really great event if you’re a Black anthropologist and you wanna know more people in your stage of your career, it’s like a really great event and you get to talk to some of the like OGs there too. And they’re always fun because it’s like how did you do this during the time of like segregations [laughter]. Why are you laughing. I mean that always my questions, right, like how did you do this at the time when like Black people were still trying to be admitted to like none HBCU institutions.
[00:11:08] AJ: Right.
[00:11:09] BT: But yeah. So that’s for me though. I’m like, I’m always down for a good like panel. I give papers sometimes. I try not to do more than two panels at a conference, most conferences I only do one. And I don’t really expect to get like a lot of feedback at those places, it’s much more of like me practicing presenting and practicing seeing if my ideas make sense. And you can usually tell by the questions that people ask if you’re being clear or if you need to like expand or draw back on certain things so I really enjoy that part too.
[00:11:53] AJ: Okay. So, one of the questions is how do you get your paper into an academic conference?
[00:12:05] BT: So, there are multiple ways to do that. You can sign up for, like usually people who are trying to do a panel and they don’t really know or envision who’s gonna be on it as they’re designing it will put out a call for papers and you write up an abstract. That was actually how I got into my first conference at the Society for Applied Anthropologists. I just responded to a call for papers and that panel actually wound up turning into an edited volume, which is really, I think, really cool. So, like to see that kind of that paper evolve from there to a chapter in a book. So, that’s where I’ve normally seen like call for papers. Sometimes you might receive an invitation from a panel organizer if people know your work. And other times you can just submit, depending on the conference you can submit posters. I don’t know if you’ve ever done that, like submit an individual paper or poster to a conference?
[00:13:07] AJ: Yeah, I’ve done a poster and I’ve done papers at graduate conferences and its pretty similar deal. You just, there’s usually a call for papers or there’s an abstract of a panel and you can submit your paper to that specific panel. And then the people who are organizing it, they’ll read the papers and then they’ll put them together. And similar with conferences. The conference organizers, if it’s a smaller conference then they will read the papers or the abstracts—usually it’s an abstract that you submit—they’ll read the abstract and then they’ll group people together based on the similarity of their content.
[00:13:47] BT: Yeah.
[00:13:48] AJ: Try to find themes and things like that.
[00:13:50] BT: Yeah, and no one’s—well, let me not say no one, cause there are some truly exceptional people out there—but usually nobody’s paper lives up to every word of their abstract [laughter]. So, the abstract always feels, especially for me, like always feels aspirational. Like this is what I want this paper to say. By the time you finally work through all of life to sit down to write it, iot probably lives up—at least for me—lives up to about fifty percent of that and then I’m like okay let’s hope these questions help me figure out the rest for it.
[00:14:28] AJ: Figure out the rest.
[00:14:29] BT: Or the responses help me figure out the rest or you know its above me once I submit it, so that’s how I feel.
[00:14:38] AJ: Yeah. Literally no one is looking at the abstract while you’re doing the talk and saying, hmmm, this abstract and what you said don’t match up. What happened to this question that you said you were going to answer? [Laughter] No, I’ve never seen that happen.
[00:14:55] BT: It’s between me and my ancestors [laughter].
[00:14:56] AJ: Exactly. That will only happen if you submit a paper to a journal but that’s another [laughter].
[00:15:02] BT: Oh, yeah, whew.
[00:15:04] AJ: That’s a whole other story. Okay.
[00:15:06] BT: And we’d have to bring someone in to talk about that one [laughter].
[00:15:10] AJ: Woo, that would be a good one. Journal. Well, I’ve published but I wouldn’t say it was a real publication, I don’t know. And you’ve published now, so we could do an episode on it but tell us if that’s something you would be interested in. Let us know on social media and we’ll plan something like that for next season. Next semester. Okay. Should I go to a conference as an undergraduate? Alright, I’mma take this one [laughter].
[00:15:39] BT: Take it.
00:15:41] AJ: I did not. I never went to any conferences as an undergraduate, but I was in psychology. So, in—for the most part, in psychology—unless you were doing research—conferences, didn’t even know about them. So, I would say it depends on the conference. I think something like the AAA might be a little bit intimidating unless you’re gonna be there with a professor or a mentor who’s going to be introducing you to people. But if you’re going to a graduate conference that’s being held at your university then it’s a good way to get to know people, get to know the kinds of things that people are researching and talking about in graduate school. And then, you know, if that is something that you’re considering then you can see if that might be something, if that’s one thing that you’re interested in, if that’s actually where you see yourself, if you see yourself doing those kinds of activities—conference like activities.
So, at a conference there are probably five groups of people. You have your grown-ups [laughter]. You have your senior scholars who are there, they’re usually either promoting their book or they’re probably just there to hang out with friends, or they are, you know, the plenary, keynote speaker—something like that—or organizing. Then you have your mid-career scholars and they’re also probably there to promote a book. Some of them hold leadership roles at the conferences, so I think that’s great. Or they’re presenting their research but also hanging out and catching up with friends. Then you have your untenured scholars, your junior professors who are working on, you know, getting a line on their C.V. and they’re just presenting some of their work because they’re tryna add things to their C.V. so that they can get tenure. They’re also there to hang out with their friends, not gonna lie [laughter]. Then we get to the group that we are more familiar with, which is the desperate recent PhDs and usually they’re there interviewing for jobs. They’re networking, handing out those business cards, as Brendane said, giving a paper on doing a roundtable, whatever else that they can sort out just to make sure that their name is out there, that people know what they’re working on so that they can get a damn job. Then you have the group that is us, graduate students who are kinda there, might present a paper might be doing a poster, learning about how conferences work, maybe presenting. You know making friends, also seeing friends of course because you make friends over the span of your career—maybe people you went to undergrad with, maybe people that you are, you know, that you know vaguely through similar research interests and stuff. So, what undergraduates might do is probably present a poster.
[00:18:55] BT: Right. And I think, just to add on to what you’re saying, the—when I’ve seen undergraduates at a conference they’ve usually done research with a professor and the professor invites them to come and talk about it or this is like a junior or senior in college who has a really developed thesis project of some sort and they really want to, and they know they’re going to go into academia and they just wanna have that extra leg up in the sense of just like having that experience of presenting at conferences. I’ve never witnessed an undergraduate present at a conference, and it be humiliating or something that was like not a good experience. Most scholars are very supportive and cause it’s just like you know this is the future of the discipline, so we need to offer that kind of support. But I would suggest if you are an undergrad and you want to go to a conference, first of all, don’t pay for it. Do not. Get somebody else to pay for it. Ask a mentor, professor, to if they have extra money in their research budgets or just in life in general, if they got it like that can they help support you by paying for travel and other kinds of expenses, poster printing expenses. Or if the conference itself has different competitions or contests or grants for undergraduates to attend cause there are certain conferences that encourage undergraduate participation. I know the Society for Applied Anthropologists have some grants for students and they are open to undergraduates as well. So just thinking, you know, there are different ways to make sure you’re not spending your college monies on this. And you know you get to meet folks in the discipline and, you know, get to make—get started on making those relationships that are really going to be pivotal for you when you enter into graduate school.
[00:21:09] AJ: Yeah, I think you make a really good point about funding and that wasn’t a question, surprisingly, because people always seem to wanna ask us about money and funding. So how does one go about getting funding for conferences? Is it possible? Do people pay out of pocket? What should we do?
[00:21:30] BT: Chile. So, conferences That’s why I said do not pay for yourself. Conferences are so expensive. I’m going to AAA. By the time we all hear this, I will be at the AAA. You, unlike last year might actually see me [laughter] because it’s not where I live so I will have to be outside of my house. But just in booking the flight, booking the hotel, food, transportation, my budget for this conference is $2000. Do I have $2000 to give to anybody? No. So what? What? Where I will, since I’m on the board for AAA, they are reimbursing me. So, there are different opportunities that you can have for reimbursement. Or if you are someone who has a job that will pay for certain professional development funds and you can also take that route. Say, you know, this is from my professional development, get your employer to cover it. If you are a graduate student like us at a university that has these kind of very, very low reimbursement policies—like I think Columbia only reimburses us for up to $500 per conference depending on which fund you reach out to. Maybe you have a professor who really believes in you and your work and this going to give some money out of their research budget for you. And then most professors—
[00:23:06] AJ: Matching funds.
[00:23:07] BT: There are matching funds.
[00:23:09] AJ: So, if you do receive a grant like what Brendane was talking about earlier, then with those matching funds or with matching funds, you can apply and they’ll match whatever amount of the grant that you got, which I annoyingly did not apply for last year [laughter]. I did not get reimbursed for my AAA time.
[00:23:32] BT: Oh, wow. Yeah, and some awards to certain sections and groups have awards for students so they’ll pay for you to go, or they’ll reimburse you up to a certain amount. What is really fucked up about conference funding is that a lot of it though is reimbursed. It’s reimbursement based, it’s not truly an equitable process for folks. Especially those of us who are first generation, come from low-income backgrounds, who don’t have, you know, credit cards or other lines of, you know, finances in order to finance a $2000 trip. And there are multiple conferences like AAA. I had to make the conscious decision to only go to one conference this year and I know folks who are going to—were going to all the conferences in November. So, there’s like three or four happening this month and the NWSA, AAA, the Latin Studies Association, I think it’s having one this month too. Like and the Africanist—maybe that was last month, but like the Africanist Studies Association, like—
[00:24:44] AJ: It’s conference season.
[00:24:46] BT: Conference season. And $2000 a—
[00:24:47] AJ: And it can add up. It can add up.
[00:24:50] BT: $2000 a piece! So I can talk?! [Laughter]
[00:24:57] AJ: To a room of three people.
[00:24:58] BT: [Laughter] Possibly. If that. Or it’s just me and the other panelist talking to each other, you know, so.
[00:25:06] AJ: Which is fine. Sometimes those panels are the best ones, I’m not gonna lie. When I go to panels and there are, you know, one, there’s one other person in the room, then the panelists just start talking to each other. I’m like, this is actually really interesting when people engage with other people’s work instead of just trying to get their own ideas across. It becomes something collective instead of just an individual. That’s what. That’s one thing I’ll ask, maybe I’ll save that for the later question. But that’s one thing that bugs me about panels is they’re not really—they don’t feel collective, they just feel like individuals in the same space.
[00:25:41] BT: Yeah, and it’s really up to them—the moderator and organizer of the panel, roundtable, etcetera—to really put papers in conversation with each other. Or set a structure that isn’t the usual, well, I’ve got 12 double space pages here I’m going to read out to you, and you better be listening because I don’t have no PowerPoint. And I’m just going to poke fun at our own department because that seems to be the mode of presentation, so, [laughter] in our own department. So, yeah and—which and we can get into this later but there are some ways to present that don’t fall into these kind of like ablest academic presentation modes, but yeah.
[00:26:32] AJ: Okay, well I think you covered the if I’m going to a conference for the first time? Alone? Dun, dun, dun.
[00:26:42] BT: Dun, dun, dun.
[00:26:44] AJ: I’ve definitely done that. I went to a conference in D.C., American. And I just why? I think I just went out as an excuse actually to go hang out with my friend who lives in D.C. I maybe went to one day of that conference. One panel or two panels. They were interesting panels. Nevertheless, I would say the first thing you want to do is reach out to your professors and ask if they know anyone who will be attending that they might be able to connect you with. And then that way you can start setting coffee dates or, you know, know to look out for them. Go to their panel and you can go and talk to them. The other thing you can do is look at the program and e-mail people whose work seem seems interesting, something that you might like, and ask if you can meet up at the conference, maybe meet up for a coffee, something like that. I’m assuming that this person is not presenting at the conference, I think if you’re just going to see what’s happening in—I was gonna say in the industry, but yes, I guess academia is an industry—if that’s what you’re going to do, then I think that’s totally fine to just reach out to people and say, “Hey, I like your work and I see that you’re going to be at this conference, you know, would you be available to meet up for coffee for 15 minutes? Or 20 minutes?” Something like that. And then when you’re there, just talk to people, introduce yourself to people. And we’ll get into this a little bit more later because I know that that’s not everybody’s forte to just be like, “Hi, I’m Melissa, how are you? [Laughter] Let’s hang out.” But I mean, it’s just, it’s part of the experience. I’ve never gone up to someone and said, “Oh, I really liked where you had to say about XYZ,” and them be like, oh, that was just the most boring approach I’ve ever heard. Like, no one ever said that to me. Usually they’re like, oh, thank you, what are you working on? You know, what are you interested in? And then you have an opportunity to speak in that way. And then, you know, you can also just keep it brief. Be like, yeah, I’d love to continue this conversation another time. Take their card, give them your card, and then e-mail them after and meet up on zoom or something when you’ve had more time to reflect on what you might wanna talk to them about.
[00:29:04] BT: Yeah. I’m tryna think. Have I ever been to a conference where I wasn’t technically like alone in the sense that like I didn’t—besides Ford. I feel like Ford, I was there to meet friends, but. The things that I—I’m of the kind of person that like if I know so and so is going to be at this conference and this is someone that I wanted to talk to for a while, I’mma find you and not in like a [laughter].
[00:29:41] AJ: I’ll find you [laughter].
[00:29:42] BT: I just, I just thought about that Netflix show with that white man that be killing people on it. But, like, not that one.
[00:29:48] AJ: You?
[00:29:49] BT: Oh, that’s the name of it. I couldn’t—You, not like that.
[00:29:53] AJ: I was thinking Wedding Crashers.
[00:29:55] BT: Oh. Oh, I’ve never seen that movie.
[00:29:57] AJ: Well, Ella Fisher, she’s like, “Don’t go anywhere. I’ll find you.” Anyways, it’s a whole thing.
[00:30:05] BT: Well, yeah, then yes, that is definitely what I will do and, especially if it’s like really an elder, like I will like go up and introduce myself. Or if I know a professor who can introduce me to that person that I will ask that too. I’ve tried to like e-mail people before; I’ve never usually gotten a response. Which I understand now, that like a lot of scholars go to conferences really to just like hang out with their friends and not necessarily meet up with some strange person that just sent them an e-mail, you know,
[00:30:46] AJ: Well, I wasn’t thinking about scholars since, well, I mean, we’re all scholars, aren’t we? I wasn’t thinking about professors. I was actually thinking about at a graduate student conference, for example, to reach out to your peers.
[00:30:59] BT: Oh, Oh yeah, my peers. I just, you know, this is how I make friends. I bother people until we’re friends. That is basically how it works. I attach myself to you until you agree to be my friend. So [laughter] that’s how I work with that. But yeah, with peers I find it to feel a lot less pressure because most of the time everyone else is also feeling the same kind of nervousness about being there and not really feeling sure about what to do or what to say or things like that. Panels are—if you’re on a panel, it’s a really good way to meet people, especially if you’re on a panel with some scholars who are more established. Because usually, then you have a reason to kind of like talk to them, right? It’s like, Oh yeah, you know, then you were on the panel with me and a lot of times they will introduce you to other people. If you’re blessed to have a mentor who’s also at the conference, possibly just, you know, saying, hey, can we grab dinner and let’s talk about some tips for meeting this person or this person and usually they’re amenable to that. Like Lee Baker, he is an amazing, I would say, he’s an amazing mentor in the sense that he is always willing to introduce me to someone, even if the introduction might embarrass me a little bit. It’s, you know.
[00:32:35] AJ: Why? Why would it embarrass you? [Laughter]
[00:32:38] BT: Because he’s known me for, oh my gosh, for like eleven years, so he has seen me, young, little 18-year-old Brendane to the person that I am now, and so definitely has some stories. I have some stories about me with him. But also, you know, some of these professors have some pretty big research budgets. And, like Alyssa was saying, you can hang out with somebody and maybe they’ll be a drinking buddy, maybe they’ll buy you dinner. But if you are going to the conference for the first time alone, I would really suggest if there are like affinity group meetings or business meetings or different affinity groups, just going there. If you’re shy, you know you don’t have to approach people, but just observe and if you see that there are people that you might want to get in contact with later, you know, taking their name down and then later emailing them saying you saw them at the conference and you wanted to, you know, continue a conversation or you thought they made a great point about XYZ. But there’s so many different ways to kind of break out of that aloneness if you if you want to. If it feels comfortable to you.
[00:33:57] AJ: Yeah, you and you can just and just say I would just love to chat to you and get to know how you got to where you are. I think I got caught up with that once where I was just like, I don’t really know how to do this, reaching out to people. And I thought, you know, maybe I need to have a reason to reach out. And people were just, you know, kind of like you don’t need that. You can, you know, I’m not going to do this labor for you but, you know, I’m happy to meet and chat to you. And I was like, oh, I went about this all wrong. So, you know, it’s completely fine to just say hi, I would, you know, just like to meet you and learn about you. And some, you know, some professors will be like, I’m too busy for people who are not my students. Other people were like, oh, this is someone who has a shared interest and, you know, is going to be growing this part of the discipline, this part of our field. And so, I would be happy to get to know what they are working on and what their work is and see how I can help them. Just don’t be afraid of rejection. I think that’s where my concerns with like reaching out to people were. It’s gonna happen but for every five people you reach out to maybe one will say no. It’s not that bad. It’s not that bad.
[00:35:14] BT: It’s not that bad. And you know, just I would also say like being realistic about your expectations, so. Like, if you’re going to a conference where Doctor Joy James is giving a talk and you, you know, if you’re like me and you’re like, wow, I really wish that I could be her friend, even though I know that’s not possible, right? You know that having realistic expectations in the sense that even if you do contact her, there are probably also hundreds of other people who are also doing that, and she may not have time to respond to you. But that doesn’t mean that you did anything wrong or you shouldn’t reach out because you might. You might catch her on a good day and a good moment, a good time. And sometimes it’s also easy to catch kind of busier scholars or more senior scholars in between panels or things that they’re doing. Like you might catch them in the hallway, you might catch them, you know, on their way to different events and you might be able to talk to them for a few minutes and follow up after the conference. So they’re just there are other ways to really just network even if you are kind of feeling that first time alone jitters
[00:36:31] AJ: And I think that’s a good time to lean on mentors as well. If you did want to meet a Joy James, for example, then maybe you have someone who will have a professor or mentor who might be able to introduce you. And even if that Professor only has, you know, two minutes for you, it’s an opening and you know it’s something that will allow you to be recognizable if you do e-mail that person in the future. All right, what was your best and or worst conference experience?
[00:37:06] BT: Okay. Oh, my. I don’t know if I have a worst worst. Oh, actually, I do have a worse worst. I don’t know if I shared this before, but I went to conference. Was not being very diligent about my own personal safety and ended up in an unsafe situation with someone more senior than myself. I’m trying to be as vague about this as possible. And left that conference, left that experience feeling like, wow, I really could have had a much worse interaction with that person. But a lighter worse would be Ford conference. I’m gonna put the date on this one.
[00:38:07] AJ: Not protecting the guilty on this [laughter].
[00:38:10] BT: Ford conference, 2018.
[00:38:13] AJ: Oh, shoot. She’s putting a date on it. Oh, Lordy. Okay
[00:38:16] BT: I mean, I don’t know if these people listen to it or not. If you do, then, girl, yeah, I’m talking about you. I [laughter] my friend Katrina, who is at U Chicago, she’s finishing up her PhD in astrophysics. I can say I know astrophysicist. I’m so happy to say that. We were almost—we almost got into a fight with another group of women over one of my other friends. It was very strange. And it was very obvious that like there was some weird competitive energy happening and people assumed that they were in competition with us for this person’s affections. But it’s like, bro, we just met each other yesterday, like I—I don’t know. I also never been that pressed over a man. So, I just, I really didn’t understand it. But, I’m like I have never actually had that kind of experience in a professional environment where I actively felt like someone was trying to put me down to make themselves look better for whatever perceived chance they had with a man. I just. I just have never.
[00:39:42] AJ: If that man was interested in them. Then they deserve each other.
[00:39:47] BT: No. And the thing is like he—okay, I, if he listens, I’m gonna—this is gonna be hilarious. Anyway, so he was not even paying it any attention. Like he was like not even registering that it was going on. And it wasn’t until after that I like brought it up to him. I was like, do you understand that car ride from the liquor store to the beach was the most uncomfortable car ride I’ve ever had. And it’s like six of us in the van. And these women are like, trying to attack me and my friends. It was so weird. I’m like, aren’t we all here to learn from each other? I’m confused. And, like, you know, if you’re trying to get stuff popping in your hotel room, you can do that. Just don’t involve me. Like it doesn’t have to involve me. So that’s all I’m gonna say on that one for our listeners. But if y’all want to know more, you know, maybe ZD after dark, I could tell that story because it was truly a saga. Like although I was—
[00:40:53] AJ: I was going to talk about ZD after dark [laughter].
[00:40:47] BT: ZD after dark. I really thought—
[00:41:00] AJ: Except that was my best. No, go ahead.
[00:41:02] BT: Oh, see, I wish, I wish. Conference bae. We didn’t. We didn’t add that to the other reasons why people go to conferences. Some people have conference baes, but that’s not neither here nor there.
[00:41:11] AJ: Yeah, true. True. True. True. True, true.
[00:41:15] BT: Best. Let’s see. I would say my favorite conference experience has been, I would say, another Ford, but a different one. So not, not that one where we were about to square up in a van on the way to the beach. But the other one I went to, that was in San Juan, in Puerto Rico, I went to about two panels and two minutes of a keynote and I spent the rest of my time on the beach.
[00:41:50] AJ: La playa.
[00:41:52] BT: Vamos a la playa. And it was, it was lovely. It was lovely. And I went like dancing in the, in one of the spots and like it was, it was a great trip. So, it’s like not even anything to do with giving the paper [laughter] [crosstalk].
[00:42:15] AJ: None of mine are. I will never regret more not going to CASCA in Cuba. I think it was in 2017.
[00:42:21] BT: What?
[00:42:22] AJ: That was, that was a mistake for my social life. Apparently, the conference itself was very difficult because technical issues and all those kinds of things. But people had a blast nevertheless. Okay, so my best experience is when I went to CASCA, I did a—was it? Wow, can’t even remember the year. Anyways, maybe Cuba wasn’t 2017 then. I think Cuba might have been 2018. Anyhow, I went to CASCA, I did a poster and there was this panel about food, and it was, it was actually the best panel I’ve ever been to because it was very interactive. People actually had food there. I think one woman was doing her research on crickets and other kinds of edible insects, so she was passing around insects and we were eating things. And yes, anyways, food anthropology stuff. Yes, there is something squeaking in my background. It is bugs, Brendane [laughter].
[00:43:31] BT: Oh, okay. Okay.
[00:43:33] AJ: So, I don’t know. I don’t know if you’ve been listening to the most recent episodes, but because we’ve been recording later at night, there are—we have the sounds of like cicadas and other bugs outside and. Here it is. So y’all this is, just think of it as the soundtrack. The authentic soundtrack to my Caribbean life and [laughter].
[00:43:57] BT: I love that. I was like I don’t, never heard it before. So I think, I don’t know, maybe my ears are doing some different today.
[00:44:04] AJ: If you listen, if you listen to the podcast [laughter], if you listen to the previous episodes, you’ll hear it. And people have told me that it exists. And I’ve been like I’m not taking it out because to do that would just take so long. So, just, you know, close your eyes everyone, and pretend that you’re sitting in a very hot and humid room with no fan on [laughter]. No air conditioning so that you could record a podcast for all of these lovely listeners. Anyhow. So that panel, as I said, very fun, very interactive. Afterwards, one of the professors who was on the panel took everyone out. And I started hanging out with the grad students and we ended up going out after and then meeting up. I think I took someone’s Facebook or something like that. Yes, it was Facebook days y’all, okay. And yeah, we went to some people’s house. They had a little house party, then we went to a bar. Then bar that we went from that bar we went to a club or something like that. And then ended up having late night food and then there’s, you know, more to that story. But that is for a ZD after dark episode that will probably never come [laughter].
[00:45:18] BT: I know we’re making these promises lik we’re going to. I mean, it’s like, do I wanna divulge my dirty secrets? No [laughter].
[00:45;31] AJ: No, of course not. And then the worst, I don’t have a, I don’t have a worst worst. My worst was probably just the time that I gave a paper, and I had the flu. I felt terrible. I think I drove to the university just to give the paper because I was on the panel, and I did my paper and then I left right after, so I didn’t see anyone else’s. I didn’t. I didn’t actually attend the conference. I just felt very ill and I went back home. It was just a graduate student conference, so it’s okay.
[00:46:03] BT: Oh, okay.
[00:46:04] AJ: But yeah, it wasn’t one that I paid $2000 for.
[00:46:07] BT: Oh, girl, the way I would have—I was like not you just saying, leave meeting [laughter].
[00:46:15] AJ: End call [laughter]. Yeah, it was bad. I was. I was actually faced down on the desk for a little bit.
[00:46:23] BT: Oh, my goodness.
[00:46:24] AJ: Yeah. I was just like, oh my God, I feel terrible. Was my paper that important? No. Would I do that today? Probably not. I would just be like, sorry y’all I’m sick. Here’s my paper. Or I would record something and send it. That’s it. I. But you know, those are my early days when perfection is the standard so.
[00:46:44] BT: Whew. Whew.
[00:46:45] AJ: I’m trying to escape. [Crosstalk] Hard to let go. So, speaking of giving a paper, what are some tips?
[00:46:55] BT: Tips. I think the common mistake that people make is that they basically read a paper that they would write and not read a paper that they would say. And the distinction I’m making there is there are certain things that we do in our writing that don’t translate well to reading and don’t translate well to speaking. Citations. Having a whole bunch of citations, having long extended quotes from people, having the kind of tangents that we tend to go on in writing, trying to do that speaking, unless you have a way to kind of signpost to people, like through a presentation. Or like a—what do they call it? PowerPoint decks, slides, you know, something like that. I’ve been to some really dry presentations, and I’ll be honest, not from black people. [Laughter] And what it had. And the thing, the distinguishing factor has really been that the person—you can tell when someone basically, wrote the paper on the way to the conference and didn’t take the time to like either read it out loud or time themselves to make sure that it actually fits within the time limit. And make sure that they’re not introducing too many new concepts into one paper, because this is not the same as like a journal article. I like to think about giving papers as like pulling out one or two really interesting things or thoughts that I’ve had about XYZ subject and expounding on them in a way that like actually makes it compelling for people to hear. Yeah, I wouldn’t. I just would not do the traditional academic thing or the—I’m just speaking from my own department. Just the thing of like standing up in front of people with twenty double space pages and reading as if, you know, you’re reading to yourself, not even as if you’re reading to someone else. And expecting for people to be able to follow along. Those are my big tips.
[00:49:24] AJ: Yes, I for me, I would say keep to the time—
[00:49:28] BT: Mhm hmm, please.
[00:49:29] AJ: —and make it interesting. You have ten, maybe fifteen minutes and you know what? Go with ten. Go with ten, everyone will love you for it. Just go with ten. I think that when you’re planning your paper. Just think about what is the data you’re drawing on, so everyone loves a good vignette. But what’s the data of your drawing on? And what’s your intervention? You only have ten or fifteen minutes. That’s really. That’s really the most that you can say, and I think that. I mean, of course there’s a little bit. You gotta put a little bit of analysis in there. You can’t just be like, here’s the story, here’s what I’m saying, because here’s why I’m saying Foucault is wrong because he doesn’t know about XYZ. There’s a little bit of analysis that needs to be done in between to bridge those things. But that should be like the main crux, takeaway of your panel paper.
[00:50:25] BT: Right. Like I don’t come to panels to hear you summarize with somebody else has said about a topic. I could just read that, or I mean to be honest, am I going to read it? I could just find it at another time, and if I’m attending a panel, it’s like because I’m really interested in in learning about this person’s intervention in whatever subject. I think especially for graduate students we have, you know, because of the structure of graduate school where they infantilize us but also expect us to be adults. And then also you know, this is supposed to be a professional training program, etcetera, etcetera. A lot of times we come to conferences, we come to the conference table with papers that are like citation heavy, quotation heavy and don’t really bring our own interesting insights and things to it. And so, one of the things that I’ve really just challenging myself and also other graduate students who I present with just like no make the paper about you. If people want to know who you read, they could ask you a question. You know?
[00:51:39] AJ: Exactly.
[00:51:40] BT: They can ask you a question and be like okay well, you know what theorists are you drawing on? Let, give people something to ask you about basically, right. Like please talk to me—
[00:51:48] AJ: Yes, leave a little bit of mystery.
[00:51:49] BT: A little something. It’s Scorpio season, might as well. Might as well [laughter].
[00:51:55] AJ: Alright, so what is—oh this is a good one. What is your best advice for asking questions at a panel? And how do you handle the questions you get after a presentation? For me personally, I freeze and then try not to cry. So, this question is for Brendane [laughter].
[00:52:15] BT: Um. Asking questions I. I think I have a really astute ability to ask questions. And usually, I guess I can try to unfurl how my brain works. As I’m listening to someone following along their presentation and I’m interested in the subject—that’s also something important.
[00:52:38] AJ: That is key.
[00:52:39] BT: That is key. I’m thinking okay, what is this? What is missing from this person’s presentation? And not in like a critique-y kind of way even though Alyssa and I joke all the time that we’re kind of trained up in a department where we know how to ask questions honey and we know questions—
[00:53:01] AJ: Oh, do we ever [laughter]!
[00:53:03] BT: —in a way that will definitely make you feel like you have not done enough work because we have seen it modeled for us a lot. We’ve seen it modeled quite a lot. And so, what I’ll say is that like as I’m listening to someone, it’s usually thinking about okay, what’s missing or what can be extended here. A lot of times people ask questions that really are more like comments. So, it’s like why we’re going blah blah, blah, and I feel you do this. And you know, I’m just wondering about the da, da, da. But it’s not really a wonder, it’s more of a you should be doing this in a sense. I try to stay away from that, I think. For me, if I have a comment, I say up front, I say actually what I have to say is more of a comment, not a question. So that way the person to—as a gift to the person who’s having to listen to me talk—so they don’t they know that they don’t have to try to figure out an answer to what I have to say or necessarily have a response to what I have to say. And if I do have a question, I’ll point to something that really interested me in their presentation that may have confused me or something that might have intrigued me and a genuine place of like I want to learn more. So, for example, if someone’s talking about Sadia Hartmans scenes and they pull out something that I think is really interesting, I think I might ask them a question about, you know, what was it about that particular thing that they pulled out that really kind of ignited their interested XY and Z. Or something like that. How do I handle questions? I prefer to receive—like if I can choose, I prefer to receive all of the questions at one time and get mine so I can have time to like, write answers, or write notes to myself before I answer. The best advice I’ve ever been given about answering questions at conferences is take the time. Take the time to give an answer, right. It’s not an interview, so you don’t need to worry about how people perceive you, right? If it’s a genuine question, then it’s just a matter of like giving yourself the time and space to actually give an answer. There are certain questions that are not genuine questions though, they’re actually critiques that are masses, like missiles [laughter]. And with those I find it—if I know the answer to or if I know where the person is trying to go with the question—then I usually just respond in a way that’s like, you know, that’s actually a really interesting question. The question I used to get a lot that used to annoy me would be—usually from white women or are non-Black women who would ask, you know, why don’t you include other groups of people into your work? And so, my response to those questions are always something along the lines of, you know, I do research that allows me to understand more of my experience in the world and experience of women like me. There are other research projects that center XYZ group of people, and I don’t think I would have anything meaningful to add to these set of conversations and I’ll just leave it at that.
[00:56:42] AJ: Boom. Mic drop.
[00:56:44] BT: Right. Like I mean, I think I might have told you, we were sent on the podcast like one time I got a question about like why don’t I do a comparative study of what Black women in political movements in the US are doing to like what white women in in Nazi Germany we’re doing? I never told you about that?
[00:57:02] AJ: [Laughter] I don’t think so.
[00:57:03] BT: Right, you’re laughing because it’s actually a ridiculous question, right? Like, why? Why would anyone ask that? So, and my response was just, you know. Those are two completely different political projects that to me have no comparison. And sometimes I’m learning now. Sometimes the way I respond to people might embarrass them because I can be pretty direct about things. But like—
[00:57:30] AJ: Oh, I love it. I personally love it, and sometimes, sometimes they deserve it [laughter].
[00:57:37] BT: Don’t ask me no bullshit like that, but you know you can get some wild questions and sometimes the best response to a question is with a question or to ask someone to expound upon what they’re talking about. Or if you feel like it was really like an attack, saying that, you know, I don’t have a response to—you could say something like, those are great points that you bring forward. I’m going to take some time to like process that and integrate that. Thank you for your feedback. You don’t have to make an invitation to continue the conversation or anything like that. You could just say, I’m gonna take some time to process, thank you for your feedback, and keep it moving. Because the last thing you want, unfortunately, as a Black woman doing this kind of work, is for anybody to say that you were not trying to listen to whatever the hell they got to say [laughter]. You know, it’s like you just find kind of like those canned responses for people who you know are not trying to actually better your work but try to instill some kind of insecurity in you about it.
[00:58:51] AJ: For me for the second question, you know, how do you handle the questions that you get after presentation. I wasn’t joking. I do sometimes freeze. And I sometimes–well, probably more than sometimes, especially ever since I started my PhD, I realized how much my anxiety has gone up—
[00:59:11] BT: Honey.
[00:59:12] AJ: —increased—
[00:59:13] BT: Honey.
[00:59:14] AJ: —since I’ve been here, and the book that I read was very helpful in understanding and understanding why.
[00:59:23] BT: What was that anyways?
[00:59:24] AJ: How to Be Yourself. I’ll talk about it later.
[00:59:27] BT: Yes, okay.
[00:59:28] AJ: But anyway, so if I don’t know, if I don’t necessarily know how to answer or I’m kind of like frozen, I’ll usually just pick up on one part of the question, like a word, and I just pull at that thread if I have, especially if I don’t really—
[00:59:41] BT: That’s a great strategy.
[00:59:42] AJ: Especially if I don’t understand what their question is, right? So, you know, you should, I think if you write a paper like what we were talking about earlier, where you talk about your data and your intervention, then you should pretty much have two or three points that you want people to take away from your paper. So, whatever the question is, you can try and tie it back to one or two or three of those points. So, if someone asked me a question like, you know, coffee isn’t necessarily a food, you’re on a food panel. How does thinking of coffee as food allow you to think about coffee as heritage, okay? Like I don’t even really know what that question is asking [laughter].
[01:00:24] BT: But that’s one of those examples of a question that’s like not a question.
[01:000:28] AJ: It’s not a question. It’s a comment.
[01:00:29] BT: It’s more like a yeah. It’s like, just because you don’t think coffee is food—
[01:00:34] AJ: It’s a critique. It’s critique veiled as a question, right? Okay, so coffee isn’t necessarily a food. Food, heritage, coffee. Why is coffee heritage, okay. So, in that instance I would be like, alright, you know, the point of my paper is heritage preservation is positively correlated with feelings of threat and crisis. So, when people start increasing heritage discourse, it’s usually because they have these feelings of their livelihood and their identity being threatened and in crisis. So, I would just be like, thanks for your question. What you said made me think of one of my interlocutors who was, you know, giving away coffee plants because he said he didn’t want us to lose ancestral knowledge. So, he’s feeling this crisis. His crisis is like knowledge loss and coffee and its cultivation is integral to ensuring that, you know, that knowledge is retained and passed on and so coffee is a part of food and agricultural heritage. That’s how I would answer it. I don’t even think I answered the question. I also didn’t really know what the question was about [laughter], so I said I addressed food, heritage, coffee. There you go. Use the keywords. Made sure that I made my point about crisis. About crisis and threat. So, you also—so there’s that. You also have the option to clarify, right. You know, you can just say is XYZ what you’re asking, is I think what you’re getting at is this, and then you answer that question. You—it’s you know, it’s like a straw man thing. You reframe their question to a question you can actually answer [laughter].
[01:02:24] BT: I have. That is actually a, like both of those answers or tools or strategies or things that I’ve witnessed people do at conferences a lot. Especially the reframe, the reframing the question to answer the question that you want to answer. I think that’s a very politician, but it also I think, to me—when folks do that, to me it signals like them setting a boundary around, you know, around like things to answer.
[01:02:59] AJ: It signals them knowing what their paper is about and that the question has nothing to do with what their paper was about, right, or what their project overall was about.
[01:03:07] BT: We just wanna, like, echo you saying that there’s nothing wrong with asking someone to repeat a question or to clarify. And especially if you feel like it’s one of those critique-y questions, just asking someone to actually clarify, they might have to say, oh wait, I have to repeat this critique I made in a different way. And then, hmm, I didn’t really have a question the first time, so maybe now I have to actually attach a question to it. Yeah, but I would say that most of the time at conferences, outside of this kind of like ridiculous questions I might get from non-Black women about who the people I choose to like work with. Most of the questions I’ve gotten at conferences have just been like, what are you reading? Yeah, like what are you reading questions. Or like yeah, just people asking me for citations and sources and things. Or I’ll get comments that suggest for me to read other things and then I just add them to the ever-growing list of things that I need to read [laughter].
[01:04:16] AJ: Um, tell me about it. Tell me about. I think the last thing we’ll stay on this one is it’s perfectly fine to say I don’t know. I don’t know. I know. I know Brendane knows. We all as graduate students know because we are by and large perfectionists. But saying I don’t know when you assume people believe you should know is really hard. So, you know, we know, but it’s totally okay to say it. I’ve heard senior scholars say it, I’ve heard mid-career scholars say it, and you know it’s totally fine. It’s, if you think about it, it’s an opportunity for you to see where your gaps and knowledge are and for you to go out and learn the answer. And just say, you know, I don’t really know. Thank you so much for pointing that out. And, you know, I’m going to go and think more about that as I finish writing my dissertation or as I, you know, proceed through writing this book. Like you can pretty much just assume that most people’s papers are works in progress. Because—ohh you know that would be that probably would have been, oh you know what I’ll save it for the next question. Which is, have you ever seen someone get absolutely roasted for their paper?
[01:05:37] BT: Whooo. Have I. Have I.
[01:05:40] AJ: Okay. I will say not at a conference.
[01:05:42] BT: Not at a conference.
[01:05:44] AJ: Not at a conference, yet, but I will say that definitely people. Sometimes people will come in, come to the university or you’ll go to another talk elsewhere and they’re presenting completed work. They might be presenting a chapter of a book that is already in publication. It may not have come out yet, but it’s in publication. And you’ll have some professors, you will have some scholars. And you know what? Sometimes it’s the–usually a white man, white, cis man, graduate student who thinks he knows everything who will find some kind of logical fallacy in the twenty-minute presentation that this person just gave about their book, which is a work of maybe 200 pages that they’ve now condensed into twenty pages. Or you’ll have the professor who will be like, I can’t believe that you didn’t cite me without saying I can’t believe you didn’t cite me. They’ll start kind of describing or quoting their work at them and be like, what I actually think you’re talking about is this particular concept that I’ve worked really hard to develop, and somehow you found a way around actually using that concept in your work, and that seems really irresponsible because I’m the foremost [laughter]– I’m the foremost scholar on that topic.
[01:07:13] BT: Yeah, those conversations are always awkward because you just sitting in the audience like, Wow girl, how do you, you know? If someone did that to me, I think I would just approach it. Wow, okay. Depending on the person, I would approach it pretty humbly and just be like I, you know, that’s an oversight on my part. Thank you for that. I will be, do you have works of yours that you suggest I start with, you know, or something like that, right. And yeah, if something like that ever happened to me, I’d be like oohh.
[01:07:47] AJ: But the thing that I would love to see is someone be like, Actually I did read your work but since I’m presenting to your department, I decided to keep out my critique of it to not embarrass you [laughter].
[01:08:00] BT: Period. You know.
[01:08:02] AJ: When the book comes out, but when the book comes out.
[01:08:06] BT: Oh, or yeah, I actually engage with your work at length in my work, but I decided to just bring a small excerpt of this just for this presentation today. But if you would like to have a more sustained conversation about your contributions and how I see them aligning and maybe misaligning with my own, let’s have a talk over dinner. Period. You know. Let’s see, roasted. I, yeah, not at a conference. I think most–because you tend to choose where you go at a conference. Usually conferences have so many options that you are not likely to have someone there who doesn’t want to be there, one. And doesn’t–isn’t really supportive of your work, even if they might ask you a critique question. Most people are good-natured, even in their critique-y questions. There are some folks who are not, but their questions and critiques make it very obvious that they are not there to support you. I have seen, and we’re probably making reference to the same kind of paper sharing space. I have seen people get absolutely roasted. And they–well deserved, well deserved. I saw a presentation. I don’t know if you were–let me not add too many names to this. I saw presentation of someone doing research on a figure from the 1970s who spent a lot of his time having–and I’m using this term, but I’m going to change it later having sex with animals. Which should, you know, it’s not something that you do. Animals cannot consent to that, right? So raping animals.
[01:10:02] AJ: I was not there.
[01:10:04] BT: You were not there. That was. And I’m not going to name the kind of animal because if folks from our department, they will know what I’m talking about. And the “questions” that came out after that I was like I would never speak publicly again. I. But also probably should feel that shame because there are some things that should be left to die in the archive. I think research about bestiality is not something–its not one of my intellectual interests. I will put it that way. But the roasting that happened? I was like wow. And then the slight roasting in that same space of another prominent scholar about some of the connections that were being made between their personal life and their research life that were very questionable. And it’s like. You know, I understand as a white person that you feel like every space is your space to develop, and bloom, and be, blah blah blah. But actually no. No. It shouldn’t be this way, so.
[01:11:28] AJ: Yes, same space. Definitely seen some talks that were not ready to be given. And that–
[01:11:37] BT: –should be on the cutting room floor.
[01:11:40] AJ: It should have stayed on the train, which is where that particular scholar wrote it. [Laughter] And I think I and another scholar tried to ask a redemptive question. And the person giving this talk dug themselves deeper.
[01:12:08] BT: Wow.
[01:12:11] AJ: Double down on the problematic remarks of the paper. So you see, there are–even when you’re messing up–there are some good-natured people out there who will try to help you. Sometimes their question as comment will actually try to help you. They’ll kind of give you the answer in their question. But yeah, I haven’t seen–nothing that I can think of at a conference. I’m sure some of our professors mentors would probably have ideas. I think that was more the vibes in the 80s and 90s. Probably when they were all of these different schools of anthropological thought and they would go to each other’s talks and they would just be like, well, I can’t believe that you would say this when Eric Wolf said this. And you know, I completely disagree with you. So I’m sure more of that happened back in the day. But now people just come and seem to mind their own business. That said, if something like that does happen to you, where there’s a critique as comment–as question or something like that, most of the time people will just remember how much of an asshole the other person was and they won’t really think about, you know, they won’t think that you’re stupid or that you don’t know enough or that you haven’t read enough. They’ll just be like, wow, that guy’s—and it’s usually a guy, right [laughter]?–guy’s a dick.
[01:13:41] BT: Let’s be real, let’s be.
[01:13:42] AJ: And then the other thing that they’ll remember about the conference is how much fun they had with their friends. They’ll just be like, I had so much fun doing this. And wow that guy, such a jerk. You know, I remember who the biggest jerk at the conference was. That’s it. But that said, I think that specifically when it’s a graduate student or a student in general who’s presenting, I think that it’s really up to other professors and senior scholars to actually stand up and say that what they’re doing is actually inappropriate. I think that they should say it publicly so that people know that this is not the space, right? You’re making these remarks towards junior scholars, graduate students, people who are trying to make a contribution to our discipline. And what you’re doing is trying to break them down and discourage them and that’s doing a disservice to the entire field. And I think that I would, if that does happen, I would love to see a scholar just stand up and say, you know, I hope that you really, you know, you take the constructive parts of my colleague’s comments, don’t be discouraged. And senior scholar, [unclear] you’re out of line.
[01:14:55] BT: Yeah, I think, I really like that. I think that would be something inspirational to see. I–most of the time when, you know, those kind of harmful things happen, people just kind of stand by and, you know. They’ll come up to you afterwards and be like, oh, my God, he said, he basically called you a nigger in his response to your paper. How are you? You know, how are you doing? And are you okay? Yeah. Yeah. Are you okay? Oh, my God. You wanna talk about this? And it’s like, you know, I have people to talk to. I have friends, you know, I–
[01:15:31] AJ: What I needed was for you to help create an institutional and structural space where it is safe for us to give our papers. That’s not to say don’t critique us, right? Because I don’t want–I know that people are like, Oh my gosh, these snowflake students these days who just need their hands held. That’s not what I’m saying. But people can just be disrespectful for no reason.
[01:15:52] BT: Right. And I can–I welcome a critique that is like grounded in seeing my work expand and grow and be more excellent. I don’t welcome critiques that are aimed at me as a person, aimed at my intelligence, aimed at my thinking in the sense of like. Again. Well, why? Because I’ve had that in undergrad when I started, you know, started my academic career. Have questions literally aimed to attack me as a person and to say, well, you. Like literally, I remember this white woman telling me there’s no way that you could possibly care about women because all you do is focus on Black women. And that. Like shit like that. It will make me come up across the table and smack you in your face. Like, I don’t know, you know, but–
[01:16:55] AJ: The Combahee River Collective humbly disagrees.
[01:17:00] BT: Look, see. And see, that might be where I go to after I smack you in the face. Maybe I’ll come back to myself and say, you know what, actually they would not want me to live this kind of life. Let me back up. Let me back up. What would Audre Lorde do? She would just write a paper telling you off. So let me just–
[01:17:22] AJ: She would write a scathing paper.
[01:17:24] BT: Like let me just do that.
[01:17:25] AJ: That’s the kind of thing that I would love to see her, you know, when, you know the paper that she gave where she was talking to the group and she was like. What you guys are doing is not really that great. I can’t believe that I’m here. I’m like this is the kind of stuff that I need to see. That’s what I–we missed. We missed all that stuff in the 80s and 90s, right?
[01:17:45] BT: It’s like, oh, the check cleared. Okay, so [laughter]. All I have to say.
[01:17:51] AJ: The master’s tools will not dismantle the master’s House. Deeply misread people. Deeply misquoted. [Laughter] Okay, so this is a big one. How do I socialize at an academic conference? Advice on how to connect with other students and scholars. Someone who’s like I’m so shy, don’t worry, me too [laughter]. And I said, this is a question for Brendane because I’m an introvert, so I don’t socialize. I just cling on to other people who are more sociable and still manage to give standoffish. But you know what? What can I do?
[01:18:33] BT: You know, life is life. Life is life, Let’s see. I. Basically to give you an understanding of who I am, I grew up my formative adolescent years in a Christian–kind of a fundamentalist Christian environment in which we would knock on people’s doors and preach to them about Jesus. So, shame? What is she? Who is she? I feel her sometimes. But when it comes to talking to people, I guess that kind of has been pushed out of me. So, and my mother’s also–she’s taught me a lot about advocating for myself and not letting other people determine my life too much. That was one excellent lesson that she taught me. And so for me, it’s socializing. Socializing at academic conferences usually involves, if I know someone who’s there, hitting them up, and being like, hey, let’s hang out. If I don’t know someone who’s going to be there, then I go too. If I’m at a panel and I see other people who look like they’re around my stage, so like other kind of graduate students or things like that, then I might introduce myself and say, oh hey, you know, I’m Brendane, show my little badge, whatever. Or compliment their outfit or hair, if I like their hair. Like a genuine compliment and just be like, you know, oh, you know. Who are you? Where are you from? And usually just try to like build organic connections in that way. And try to build friends in that way.
I think it also helps that I’m a Gemini and I know a lot–no, I know a little about a lot of things. So normally I’m able to enter into conversations even if I only know a couple keywords and then I’ll just like kind of hang and listen. And sometimes people approach you at a conference, even if you’re not presenting. If they’re interested and like something about you just speaks to them, they might approach you. But one thing with students, if they have like student meetups or mentoring sessions, I highly encourage people to go to those because that’s like an easy way to socialize, because it’s actually built into the event. Like, you’re supposed to talk to people, and then usually from those events you find out who’s cool and who’s someone to know. And that’s the distinction I make. And you know, someone to hang out with, someone to know, and you can go from there.
[01:21:27] AJ: Yeah. So basically. Just be born with it [laughter]. Join a fundamentalist Christian cult.
[01:21:32] BT: Join a cult and you’ll be able. You’ll shake yourself out of any type of fear. Just kidding.
[01:21:40] AJ: Fear. Shame. Fear of rejection. Yes, I will say I think it’s really important to attend the social events and as you were saying earlier, affinity groups, things like that. And it’s also, especially if you’re in, you’re trying to make friends, looking for groups of people who will read your work and actually give you constructive feedback. Also, if you’re just networking in general, I think it’s actually important to go out [laugher]. Those evening events, that’s where the connections are really built. That’s where you start seeing people’s secrets that you will hide and that make you feel connected to people.
[01:22:23] BT: Mmm hmm. You might be somebody’s conference bae and not even know it, honey.
[01:22:30] AJ: Meet a conference bae or witness someone with their conference bae that they’re not supposed to be seen in public with and from then on you–nah, I’m kidding. Now we’re getting into the 44 laws of power or whatever. That’s another episode, because I didn’t read the book, of course, but I read about the book and I was like, this is some sick shit. But anyways–
[01:22:58] BT: I’ve read How to Win Friends and Influence People. I did read that as a–
[01:23:04] AJ: Okay. Was it helpful?
[01:23:05] BT: –adolescent and those are–that’s one of the books that they put on the list of like–
[01:23:10] AJ: Things you should look out for for nigcels. [BT: Yes!] It’s a nigcel book.
[01:23:16] BT: At eleven I’m like taking notes on how to have conversations with people and all these things. So, maybe I know some psychopathy, something [laughter].
[01:23:28] AJ: So I think you can approach senior academics, your peers, ask them about, you know, their work and maybe even invite them to have a coffee. I know I did that last–I did that at AAA last year. But I think it’ll be those little parties and after parties that you’ll solidify bonds, create memories that connect you to others. And just have fun. Don’t go overboard, you know. Be vigilant about your personal safety, of course, but if you’re like me and “networking” or socializing gives you anxiety, I recently read How to Be Yourself, Quiet Your Inner Critic And Rise Above Social Anxiety. And I actually, I found it to be incredibly helpful so I just, I strongly recommend that book. It’s very much based in CBT, cognitive behavioral therapy. So, there are exercises, you go out, you practice them, and it helps. And if you’re like, okay, I ain’t got money for all of this, then you can use the Libby app, which I just discovered. That’s how I got it. And you sign up with your public library card or even your university library card, and you can borrow books and audio books for free. Boom.
[01:24:47] BT: Amazing. This is why libraries should be around.
[01:24:54] AJ: All right, we are. Ah, running short on time as we always do. Running overtime. That’s basically what’s happening. What should we do? What do you like least about conferences? How should I dress? What’s your top piece of advice, should we just go straight to the top piece of advice?
[01:25:14] BT: Yeah.
[01:25:15] AJ: All right. So our final question, what is your top piece of advice for attending academic conferences?
[01:25:28] BT: I would say don’t put pressure on yourself to be perfect and to be at every single event possible. You will be exhausted by the time you leave. And you might not also have the time and the bandwidth to actually build authentic connections that will carry you throughout your career. So I know it might sound like a lot of like baloney, but honestly being very choosy about who you spend your time with really allows you to like preserve your energy and your time and reduce a lot of the stress and the anxiety that comes with being at conferences. And yeah, I just. For me, I only go to the events that I truly, truly, truly find interesting and everything else. I’m just like, you know, if it’s important to me, it’ll come back to me. That’s how I feel.
[01:26:33] AJ: Yes, in the abundance mindset. Another thing that I’m working on. I was. I’ll just say this on the podcast, but I was panicking about this wedding. I was just like, why am I doing this? Why am I having this big wedding when I could be doing XYZ? And then I realized that I’m in this like scarcity mindset where I just think that this is the only opportunity that I’m going to have to do the other things that I would like to do is the only time I’m gonna have this much money to do the things that I wanted to do with X amount of money. So it’s like I guess I can just try to live in an abundance mindset. Yes. And expect that these opportunities, this money, this time is going to come back to me again in the future.
[01:27:18] BT: What? This is the least amount of money we’re going to make moving forward. Like that is–
[01:27:24] AJ: Yeah, there’s definitely that.
[01:27:26] BT: Period. Least amount of money we make going forward.
[01:27:29] AJ: But when I’m making more money, I’ll have less time. So there it is.
[01:27:33] BT: You know, it depends. It depends.
[01:27:34] AJ: That said, this is the most money I’ve made in my life. So. Because I only worked full time for one [laughter], for one year in my life [laughter]. And then I was freelancing the rest of the time. So. Anyhow [laughter]. That goes to tell you, but I was like, you know, traveling and living abroad. Anyways, nobody cares about that. They want to know about academic conferences. And my top piece of advice is be selective about the panels that you attend, very similar to what you were saying. It’s just you should be choosy about how you spend your time, right? Don’t spend the whole day at panels, leave and take a nap for an hour or something, Because otherwise you’ll just, you’ll be exhausted. So the way that I choose panels is based on my personal research interests. So if it’s like food, heritage, environment, agriculture, Caribbean, black feminism, whatever. Those panels great, check them off. If I get to them, I get to them. Also, look for panels that just sound interesting because I’m curious to know what people are talking about, what’s growing and developing in the field. What should I be looking out for? What’s something sexy that I can put in abstract in the future? So, you know, like last year there was a Solarities panel, so it was like, okay, what’s that about? What are people talking about with solar, the sun, whatever? And then occasionally, you know, there might be one person on a panel that I’m interested to meet or hear speak, in which case I may attend it [laughter]. Maybe. And then the final way that I make my choices is to support my colleagues, support my friends, support my peers. So if there’s someone from my program, if Brendane is on a panel, then of course I’m gonna go, try to ask a smart question, and just generally support the vibes. The last thing I’ll say is get the discount books. Usually at academic conferences, there will be a table or room set up where the publishers are and they’ll be selling books at a discount. Or they’ll have flyers for discount codes for different publishers. So, you know, get your books at a discount.
[01:29:56] BT: Yeah, get books at a discount, and also those events. If you are, you know, you’re out of conference because you’re trying to get a job, or you want to know how to turn your dissertation into a book like these are great opportunities to meet with publishers and editors. And, you know, learn more about the tricks of the trade and just start building those relationships so that way when you send your book proposal or whatever out like they’re like, oh, I know this name, I know some of these words. Yeah, go from there. But yeah, this is it. This is all we have for you all today. This was a nice, like a nice episode. Nice way to launch.
[01:30:42] AJ: And we really thought we were like, oh, just relax. Just make sure that you’re enjoying the social events. We thought people would be listening to this during the AAAs, but I think that people will be too busy socializing. And attending panels. So maybe we should have released this episode last week. But hopefully people will listen while they’re there. We will also be at AAA, at the booth. The AAA podcast library booth. Where it is, I don’t know yet. I honestly, I’ve not studied the email yet, but we will be there. So be on the lookout for an announcement from us if you want to meet me in person. Unfortunately Alyssa is not going to be there in person this year. But if you would like to meet in person and, you know, have a chat, we’ll be there.
[01:31:40] AJ: I will say save your pennies for 2023 though because AAAs are in Toronto. Oh, save your pennies.
[01:31:47] BT: Is it? Or is that 2024?
[01:31:50] AJ: I’m pretty sure it’s 2023. If it’s not, whatever. For whichever one is in Toronto, save your pennies, because I’m gonna be there. We going out, we gonna get litty. Call it a–alright, I’m done [laughter].
[01:32:02] BT: Look, I cannot wait
[01:32:05] AJ: Coins.
[01:32:06] BT: It’s gonna be cold. So, I’m–
[01:32:08] AJ: Can you imagine that they did a conference in your city. Now they’re doing a conference in my city. It’s like. Are you just planning this for us?
[01:32:16] BT: You know, maybe [crosstalk] should they? Should they? Probably so. Should they–
[01:32:21] AJ: You think they’ll put me on the bingo this time? Probably not [laughter].
[01:32:25] BT: You should lobby for that [laughter].
[01:32:28] AJ: Put me on the–I still didn’t get a prize. I finished my AAA bingo or my ABA Bingo, and I didn’t get a prize or anything.
[01:32:36] BT: Yeah, who do we talk to about that? Where are the prizes?
[01:32:42] AJ: Last year I was the only one who got to check “Meet Brendane.” [Laughter]
[01:32:49] BT: Yes, my incognegro days. They’re numbered. They’re numbered.
[01:32:57] AJ: But now. But now your sister locs have matured.
[01:33:00] BT: Now I can be seen.
[01:33:04] AJ: Now you finished the field work so.
[01:33:06] BT: I can be visible and ask questions. Answer questions? I don’t know. But yeah, I’m also going to be at AAA. I’m on the panel Friday evening. We’re talking about different types of storytelling and ethnography, so it should be fine. I’ll be reading a piece of a poem and sharing some of my insights from my field work. So.
[01:33:31] AJ: And apparently it’s not live streamed, so I unfortunately won’t be there. But if someone would like to live stream it for me via WhatsApp, I would appreciate that. Feel free.
[01:33:40] BT: That’s what I’ll do. I’ll just get someone to hold my phone.
[01:33:42] AJ: Okay.
[01:33:43] BT: Phone up, be very Black family at graduation.
[01:33:46] AJ: Yass, yass. Okay, perfect [laughter].
[01:33:51] BT: Wow. That is all that we have for you all today. Thank you all for listening. And this episode was produced by Alyssa James and Brendane Tynes and distributed in partnership with the American Anthropological Association. This season of the podcast is generously funded by a grant from the Arts & Science Graduate Council, the Heyman Center Public Humanities Graduate Fellowship, and donations from listeners just like you.
[01:34:18] AJ: Thank you all for your support! If you like this episode, please share it via social media, WhatsApp, or loudspeaker! We would love to hear what you have to say about this episode, so be sure to follow us on Instagram at zorasdaughters and on Twitter at Zoras_Daughters. For transcripts, syllabi, and information on how to cite us or become a Patron to access exclusive content, visit our website zorasdaughters.com.
[01:34:45] BT: Last but certainly not least, remember that we must take care of ourselves and each other. Bye!
[01:34:52] AJ: Bye!
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