A little while ago, someone argued on PsychMAP that going to conferences is a waste of time, money, and environmental resources – that your time would be better spent making connections and disseminating your research on social media.*
In theory, I agree.
In practice, I love conferences. I’d rant about how much fun I have at them, but instead let me just point out one really concrete thing I have gained from attending conferences (you may guess what it is, from the title of this post).
I was about halfway through my PhD, during SPSP 2014. First, I attended the Morality and Justice pre-conference, and got talking to Kurt Gray afterwards about agency and patiency (and soldiers). Then, during the actual conference, I went to Geoff Goodwin’s talk on moral character, and talked to him afterwards about warmth and competence (and soldiers).
Both Geoff and Kurt politely asked whether I was presenting anything myself, and since I had a lunchtime poster (on cognitive load and moral judgment), they both came by (at separate times) and I rambled at them some more – mostly about morality and soldiers.
After the conference, I went back to Australia, all aglow with new ideas. I maintained some email contact with both Geoff and Kurt (and Kurt’s student, Jonathan Keeney), and then an opportunity presented itself: The Endeavour Research Fellowships.
I asked Geoff and Kurt if they would host me, and help me write an application; they both said yes; we did a lot of paperwork; and then, in November 2014, two days after I had snapped a ligament in my knee, I got the email saying the application was successful. If I hadn’t been on crutches, I would have done a celebratory dance, right there in the café.
In 2015, then, I spent first 2 months at UNC, then 4 months at UPenn. I learnt a lot.
(And, in Philadelphia, I met my current boyfriend.)
After I got back to Australia, September 2015, while finishing my thesis, I started looking for jobs. It was awful (sigh). But, once again, an opportunity presented itself: The Moral Beacons Grants. I wanted to continue studying soldiers; UPenn have good connections with the US military; I talked to Geoff, we made some plans, and… no. That wasn’t going to work. (A story for another day, perhaps.)
But Geoff had another idea – he was interested in environmental exemplars. I knew (know!) very little about environmental psychology, but I quickly learnt enough to write a letter of intent with him (November 2015), and then a full grant application (March 2016) – and then I put it all out of my mind as best as I could, and finished my thesis, started teaching, and continued applying for jobs. Oh and somewhere along the way I had knee surgery, too.
In June, Geoff and I found out our application was successful, and in August (less than 2 months ago! wow) I moved “back” to Philadelphia.
Now, I know: When a butterfly flaps its wings, a hurricane starts somewhere and I end up studying something completely different. There are many many points during the story above (and before it!) when things could have taken a different turn. Luck certainly played a huge role (and so did hard, friggin’, work, and the support and assistance of countless people) in getting me to this point. I could have ended up elsewhere, and that probably would have been okay too. Or, I could have found my way to Philadelphia by a different route, and that definitely would have been okay too.
But this is my story-so-far; and to me, it starts with a conference.
*obviously a very short summary of what – as per usual! – developed into a discussion with plenty of nuance and thoughtful consideration of pros and cons. I’m sorry I can’t find the link, and appropriately link to it.