I love academic conferences. They’re kind of the place where all the best and brightest and nerdiest meet. We’re brought together in one place once a year, simultaneously sharing all the awesome and original ideas swimming through our heads. Academic conferences are a place where you can be your BA nerdy self and instead of being ostracized, people love it. It’s fantastic. They are also a place where you can get refilled and refreshed about the work that maybe you started out loving in an idealized dreamland, but then it became rote, lonely, and busy.
I also love the opportunity to explore new cities. To be honest, I wasn’t thrilled with the choice of Pittsburgh for the International Writing Centers Association (IWCA) conference. I mean, I’d never been there, and I really didn’t know exactly where it was… I knew it was kind of close to Ohio and beyond that, I just waved my hand and said, It’s… over there, two time zones away.
Pittsburgh has turned out to be great, and as I walk around to dinner or to get coffee, or to view the sunset over the rivers (yes, that’s plural, like, more than one river), the air has the scent of a quickly approaching fall and sweet sweet humidity. Let it be known I have a love-hate relationship with humidity since it destroyed my curls today. However, I have no shame. I went right back up to my room after the keynote speech and redid those darn curls on my stick-straight hair. While inhaling coffee.
Academic conferences seem to stop time. There’s something about exploring a new city for a few days with absolutely no responsibility. My husband just returned from quite possibly his last Army trip ever, but I am still relishing the few more days I have to sleep completely taking up the whole bed and using as many blankets as I want. (Princess and the Pea, anyone?)
More than just learning more about our fields of research and practice, academic conferences allow us just to be. To indulge in freeing our minds without the worries of immediate replies to student emails, or the constant call of essay grading. To remember that yes, we do know a thing or two about teaching and writing and all the lovely things we studied in grad school, and we practice them well.
For me, these opportunities are beyond invaluable. In a time in my life when circumstances are up in the air (hello, we are soon to be a veteran and his spouse) or out of my control, these opportunities give me a sense of purpose and validation. They stoke that fire that was kindled so long ago to be a teacher-researcher-scholar. And after the last session of the day, I will breathe in every cool humid breath of air as I go for a run along the riverfront.