July definitely seems to be conference season and many academics, including me, are packing their bags to spend a few days in the unusual environment of the academic conference. Some colleagues are cynical about the advantages and others see it as a free holiday: so what’s the truth?!
I firmly believe that attending conferences and especially giving papers there is an important part of career development. It gives you a chance to get your name known in your field and meet some people who may be relevant for your future career. It also gives you the chance to run some speculative ideas passed colleagues before rushing into print with these ideas.
But conference attending is declining drastically at the moment. This is mostly because of cost. My institution has said that it will not pay for conference attendance unless we are giving a paper or have to attend because we are chair of the organisation. And when you factor in travel, conference fees, food and drink etc, costs can easily reach £300-500 for a three day event.
Americanists based in Britain are particularly disadvantaged if they want to go to big conferences in the US because of the extra cost of flights. Of course there are several ways of getting money to go to conferences. Institutions and conference organisers themselves find ways of helping postgraduate scholars to get to these events. But is is worth going all the way to the US to present your research findings?
I think it really is. Apart from the excitement which Americanists have visiting the country which they study, there is also the opportunity to immerse yourself in the lively historical scene there. If you are used to being a lonely Americanist surrounded by scholars of other disciplines, you’ll suddenly realise that your topic of interest is huge! And this is where the main audience for a book you write is going to be based, so why not get out there and get your name known?