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A few pieces of advice for presenters and attendees at academic conferences

I have presented my research work in academic contexts since 1998, which means that I have at least a solid 15 years of experience attending and speaking at domestic and international conferences. It never ceases to amaze me how some speakers, some panel moderators and some attendees break what would seem to me common rules of courtesy when participating in an academic conference. So I’m going to re-emphasize a few tips for participants (attendees and presenters) and for panel moderators.

IASC 2013 Panels 1, 2 and lunch poster sessions

1. Be on time, regardless of whether you are a speaker or an attendee.
Nothing irks me more than people who are not punctual. Moving back to Mexico from Canada, and having lived in England, both countries where punctuality is quite the norm, I got to the point where I decided to start my meetings and seminars on time, regardless of who was there. Impunctuality, sadly, is a common cultural norm in Mexico, apparently, and one that I just can’t stand. In academic conferences, whether or not everyone else is late, your job is to be there ON TIME. Period.

2. As a presenter: DO NOT READ PAPERS. Related: Respect other people’s times.
I am well aware that, in the humanities, the archaic norm of reading a paper is actually enforced, and I have no idea why. No writer that I have known in 15 years has ever been able to fit reading a paper from start to finish in 15 minutes. So, if you have 15 minutes to present your paper, make sure you are able to finish in 12. It is disrespectful to other people to take over their alloted time because you are running overtime.

3. As a participant: DO NOT MAKE OVERLY LENGTHY COMMENTS. Related: Do NOT make a “this is more a comment than a question” comments.
Organizers of panels and conferences are often bound by ridiculous requirements (to fit 4-5 or even 6 papers in a panel, which I consider absolutely absurd – yes, ISA, I am looking at you). Since most panels are about 60 to 90 minutes, fitting 6 papers is pretty much impossible. Thus, if in the very scarce amount of time dedicated to questions you decide to actually talk about YOUR research or YOUR opinion, instead of asking participants brief, smart, intelligent questions, you devalue their time (and that of other attendees). Save the lengthy comments and questions for when you have a chance to speak to the presenters one-on-one.

4. As a conference/workshop organizer: DO NOT ORGANIZE OVERLY POPULATED PANELS. Related: Do NOT organize conferences that require speakers/participants to be on site for more than 8 hours.
I am well aware of how academics need to do more with less and less resources, but overly packed panels and workshops end up exhausting the participants and thus diminishing the quality of discussions. 8 hours for an on-site conference is more than enough, and it requires extensive breaks (I don’t know where do people get the idea that 4.5 consecutive hours of panels and conference speakers with no breaks is a good idea). Also, panels with 5 presenters are overly crowded. Make sure that panels have 3, and at most 4 speakers. And the panel moderator, your job is to keep people on time and cut them off when they’ve run out of time.

Dr. Raul Pacheco-Vega presenting at LASA 2013

I am well aware that these tips sound rather snarky, but as I am gearing for the fall 2013 academic conference circuit, and as I just started the semester, I am more and more baffled by how my fellow professors fail to remember these basic pointers. Hopefully these little reminders will help!

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