The academic has the strange experience of working alone and in a large group simultaneously. Despite being part of a rhetorical discourse community and a physical departmental community, it is nevertheless easy to feel alone as one reads through endless stacks of books while writing everything from essay comments to book-length treatises. Enter the conference.
The conference is useful in a number of ways: as an opportunity to network, to receive feedback on your research, to meet others in your field with whom you might collaborate, and to get involved in administrative aspects of various academic organizations. But for me, what the recent ACCUTE conference made so clear is that the social aspect of the conference is as important as the professional aspects. Interacting with others is vital to our ability to produce good work, and unfortunately, this is something I think many of us often forget in the whirlwind of deadlines and to-do lists.
I confess that I did not have high expectations for the conference before attending. As I flipped through the initial program in the weeks before the big event, I thought that there were relatively few panels of relevance to my research. Canadianists and Victorianists seemed to be the two largest camps, and, as I am neither, I expected to feel somewhat out of place. But this was not at all the case. The biggest lesson I learned at Congress was to avoid retreating too far into the specificity of my own research.
I heard papers on Medieval, Early Modern, Victorian, and Canadian literature—none of which are really my area—and still found my mind racing excitedly with ideas. From the NAVSA series on “The Uses and Abuses of History” to the debate on “The Modern Academic and Copyright Law” to Faye Hammill’s keynote address on “Sophistication, Modernism, and Entertainment,” to the extremely popular poetry event “Soirée des Refusés,” I felt recharged and reinvigorated with each event I attended. Moreover, I began bumping into other students and professors I knew from various levels of my university education, and even our informal conversations were infected by our excitement about things we had seen and heard.
See, when academics attend a conference, their enthusiasm and excitement becomes contagious. It’s difficult to avoid becoming infected by the energy of thousands of minds and voices coming together in collaboration. Although I arrived expecting to find few connections to my own research, I left with a supply of creative energy that followed me home and made the month of June extremely productive.