Again, these rants were written months ago, and shouldn't be taken as an exact indicator of how I'm feeling now. (Although I freely admit that I still think academic conferences are stupidly overrated and overpriced and virtually worthless).
But I also thought that this might be a nice introductory post to the discussion about privilege in academia that I'd really like to start having here. I've alluded to it multiple times in the past, and I'm hoping to get some concrete thoughts out in the next couple of weeks. Let's just start by saying that I find something deeply disturbing about an academic system that pays graduate students and adjuncts poverty wages to do something as apparently important as teach college students ... and then also expects them to spend hundreds if not thousands of dollars traveling to conferences while not having any outside employment to help them cover their expenses.
The system is basically forcing people who don't come from privileged backgrounds to go into massive debt in order to just go about the expected business of their job. And in the end, what that does is privilege students from wealthy families over others. Wealthy students can go to conferences without incurring additional debt, don't have to worry about outside employment to help foot the bills, and can graduate debt-free. Less privileged students face a completely different situation.So not only do conferences likely not do much to actually further anyone's career, but in my opinion? They do further the obvious (but unremarked upon) class divide in graduate school and academia more generally.
Anyway, I'll write more on this soon, probably in a multi-part post. In the meantime, here is another postacademic rant about conferences (again: language NSFW).
Fuck the idea that we have to go to conferences, and we’re losers if we can’t afford it
So let me get this straight – in order to be an impressive academic, I have to be constantly writing new papers and taking them to conferences to present? And specifically, to national conferences? Conferences that are always held in insanely expensive cities that require air travel? Conferences where everything from the entry fees to hotel reservations to the “sectional dinners” we’re supposed to go to are super expensive? Oh, and where we’re all supposed to look our best, “be seen,” and network left and right … thus necessitating new clothes and haircuts and possibly dinners and drinks while we’re out?
Okay, fine. Well, surely, since Grad U is training me for the academic life that conferences (are supposed to) get me used to, AND since I’m also getting the name of Grad U out there via the impressive research I'm presenting … Grad U will pay for my trip, right? Since I do so much valuable work for the department and I'm out there representing them at these conferences ... and since it's considered part of my graduate training to go to these conferences. Right? Right????
Oh, don’t get me wrong. Sometimes, the department has come through a month or two after the conference is over to offer everyone money to offset the costs of traveling to and presenting at the conference. However, there are years in which this hasn’t happened, as well as years where the department arbitrarily puts conditions on the money (one year we had to be presenting a solo-authored paper or we didn't qualify for the measly $250 reimbursement). So there's no guarantee. And in the meantime, we have to front the entire cost of the conference travel while keeping your fingers crossed that the department will find some money to reimburse you with.
For someone like me, who already has a lot of debt and parents who can't help me out? This is crap. It’s not like traveling to these conferences is a matter of just paying a hundred bucks or so to go. We’re talking a plane ticket, and then probably $200 more in hotel fees (if you share a room with 3 other people like I always did), plus dinners and lunches and coffees and everything else. Plus gas to the airport. Plus baggage fees. Plus the haircut I need to get ahead of time. Oh, and the $100 conference registration fee. It could easily - easily eat up half of my monthly graduate stipend to just pay the expenses for such a trip.
If I had Mommy and Daddy paying all of my bills, no problem. Unfortunately, as I am an independent adult whose parents are not rich, that is not the case. So I go into more debt for something that will likely have only a marginal effect on my future career, if that.
Oh, but maybe in the end I’ll get a check from my department for $250. Well, that makes it better. That'll cover, oh, part of my plane ticket. Whoop-de-do.
Screw the whole thing. It's not fair, and it's not reasonable.
Now, I’m not saying that a department needs to completely pay for these trips - food and drink expenses and for your choice of hotel and whatnot. Not at all. But when you admit a bunch of students, pay them absolutely crap wages, and then make it clear to them that if they don’t go to these conferences, they will be considered failures? You’re putting people who don’t have a wealthy partner or parents into a serious hole of debt ... and setting them behind (yet again) from the students whose parents (or wealthy partners) foot the bills for everything.
And there is no - absolutely no - acknowledgement that every grad student isn't from an upper-class background and might have trouble paying for the conference. All you hear is that you're an undedicated loser if you don't go - regardless of the reasons.
Well, fuck that noise. For all of academia's blathering about wanting to reduce inequality, they sure do perpetuate the class divide among their grad students. And for all of their nonsense about how important conferences are for the future careers of their students? I've yet to see even one person land a useful contact or a job from an academic conference. And you know why? Because the faculty are too busy hobnobbing with each other and getting drunk at the hotel bar to give a flying fuck about what brownnosing grad students are lurking around, hoping to talk to them.
It's an expensive charade that perpetuates the elitism and class divide in academia. Screw academic conferences.
(It's worth noting that in the comments at 100 Reasons, someone pointed out that "business meetings" are a negative part of any job. This is true ... I'm not denying that. However, I can't think of any other industry where boring business meetings are held at expensive and exotic locations, with employees expected to foot the entire bill of attending ... or be labeled as unserious and undedicated. Correct me if I'm wrong.)