Monday, March 14, 2011

Back Home: Conference Reflections, Scholarship Concerns, Illness

So I'm back from my conference. I survived. But here's the thing: I'd like to do a little better than surviving. I presented and people talked about my work (which was lovely, considering how isolated I am by the fact that no one does anything like my work at Specialized U -- that is, I focus on Root Vegetable Studies and related things, while my colleagues work on all sorts of other things in the Vegetative kingdom), but I felt underprepared and it showed. That is, I think my paper was underdone. The next conference I go to, which may be Interesting Conference or Fabulous Interdisciplinary Conference, both in the fall, I want to go with a much stronger paper. In order to do this, I think I must circulate it to my colleagues first. (I did this for my paper for last year's Big Conference, but ran out of time for this conference.)

But as I think about it, I realize that the problems I had were not general, but pretty specific to the focus of the conference -- as in not being able to speak to one thread of scholarship involved in the conference. Mostly I couldn't speak to it because I think the theorist and thus much of this one particular trajectory is bogus -- everyone in the world has critiqued the main theorist, but then they go on using some of the language and assumptions of the main theorist, when some of the main assumptions of the main theorist, in my opinion, are so flawed as to make any of the theory unusable. It's as if everyone feels they've got to argue with . . .Freud, let's say, but if we all keep agreeing that Freud was totally whacked, then what's the point? The issue, of course, is whether I'm in one of those fields that depend on Freud. (Like, if you're in psychoanalytic theory, I guess you'd still have to tangle with Freud.) I don't think of my field as having to tangle with this particular Freud. I didn't position my paper in any relation to Freud, but that didn't stop one of the featured presenters asking me to speak to my argument's relationship to Freud. Gah. I couldn't and ended up saying so. Though of course I spent the next 24 hours first thinking maybe I shouldn't position my work in the particular trajectory of my field that I do (which I still don't think depends on Freud, but maybe others do), then thinking through my ideas about what I remembered of Featured Presenter's question, then coming up with what I should've said to FP. Useful, in its way, but for a while there I was thinking I should just position my work in a totally different trajectory and get rid of all this crap. The truth is that my doctoral program wasn't strong in the trajectory of the field I eventually chose (which still doesn't depend on this Freud and that mini-trajectory), though very strong in another trajectory. This question and my lack of an answer really did mess with my confidence about myself as a scholar -- and I guess is still making me feel pretty iffy, though at least now I'm not thinking I should position my work in a totally different way.

In any case, this conference showed me a number of things, totally apart from whether Freud belongs in my work (and whether FP maybe had hir own ax to grind as well). One, that one of the major conversations of my General Field doesn't apply to me anymore because of the needs of the institution I work in. So when everyone talks about that, I feel really outside of things. This is sad to me. And one of the reasons why I think I really can't make a career out of teaching at this institution. Two, that I'm too isolated where I am, and that I need somehow to work on that. I really need the conversation of other people who are doing things sort of like what I do. As I think of people from grad school, for example, I knew several people doing work in my field, but only maybe one or two doing anything related to my specific focus. Now, those two that I'm thinking of were not people I was really close to. And there are problems with me trying to invent a group with them. But one way or the other I really need to find people who do work like mine, because somehow my work is so different that if I had to figure out outside reviewers right now, I'm not sure I could name them. Maybe I'm just not up on things anymore. Which wouldn't be terribly surprising. Seriously -- I was up on things, finished my dissertation, went to Adventure City, came back, got pregnant when I was underemployed, adjuncted, and got this job, which doesn't promote my being up on my field. So I guess I should cut myself some slack.

I say all this, but it's mainly my dissertation focus that is the trouble. It's so sweeping, really creating a new theory. Who else creates new theories that are like mine? Well, there's this one guy who is not in my field, but I've read his theory-creating before. But since he's not in my field, he's probably not a great choice for an outside reviewer. In some of my other work, I know who the movers and shakers are, who I'd call on to affirm the value of my work. Still. It's daunting.

Anyway, I would just once like to feel like I rock at a conference. I realize that's not the purpose of sharing one's work at conferences, but here I felt the stakes involved in presenting and wanting to come off as a serious young scholar, whereas at the biggies, I haven't. Of course, here one of my favorite scholars in the field, someone whose work was instrumental to my move from Backburner Field to my current field, was at my panel (not to see me, but to see someone else). Here's what I really want to say: I don't want to be mistaken for a grad student at my next conference. Period. End of story.

So, I need to make use of what resources I have. Circulate my paper to my local colleagues. See about making better relationships with people who can sustain my work, either because they're good friends or because they do similar kinds of work.

Oh. And also, going to a conference where you don't know anyone is not fun. You can't just sit there at dinner eating alone, which means you have to talk with people. But deciding where to sit is not easy. I realized how much social anxiety I have. It's just not easy for me to go up to people I don't know.

I realize that my attitude toward all this is also not the best because I managed to get sick on Day 3 of the conference, the day that I was returning home. So I have been sick ever since I got back, have saddled with AL with even more housework and toddlercare since I got home, got very little grading done, and am SO behind and am staring down the end of the quarter, which is great, but I've got to get so much shit done, it's scary. And I'm sick. I can't really even think of what to do about it all, except that I'm going to try to get some work done tomorrow (later today really) when I'm taking care of Tot. Gah.

I hate being sick.


feMOMhist said...

going to a conference where you know no one is like being the new kid in grade school. Professors are about as welcoming as your average six year old :) I'm back on the conference circuit this summer after self imposed mommy exile and I can't say I'm too excited. Kudos for at least talking to people and getting your work talked about. That is the most important thing, right?

anthea said...

Yes, FeMOMhist is right about that feeling when you go to a conference where you know no-one. Horrible. But she's right in saying that the best thing is talking to people, as you did, and getting your work talked about.

Earnest English said...

Thanks you two. You're absolutely right. I managed to finally tell the big scholar whose work was instrumental in helping me move from Backburner field to Vegetable Studies how important hir work was to me. And I met someone knew to me who was interested in getting my paper. That's not bad for a three-day conference when I knew no one. And I got sick at the end.

Since I've started therapy, I've noticed how much I get on my own case for all that I don't do. (I'd always counsel others to be nicer to themselves. I'm a better friend to others than myself.) But considering all I DO do -- full-time job in a challenging environment, taking care of an awesome but exhausting toddler, still breastfeeding, trying to make healthy non-GMO food for the family -- it's no wonder that I don't get other things done. And on top of everything, I somehow expect myself to easily talk and make friends with scholars in my field I don't know and have no introductions to. You're right. Unreasonable! Thanks for the support and perspective! I appreciate it A.LOT. (I'm pretty isolated where I am. Few friends. No family. Very few babysitters. Which all equals: no reasonable frame of reference.)

FeMOMhist: I hope your conference circuit goes well. I think a goal of meeting one person is pretty awesome.