Alexander Ewing on the reality of presenting a paper at an academic conference

I write to you, dear reader, from a National Express bus to Luton, en-route to a conference in Aarhus, Denmark to attend the annual meeting of conceptual historians. They kindly allow me, a political theorist, to say a few words.

Discerning readers may recall my reflections on last year’s rodeo in Timisoara, Romania, a far cheaper (and highly recommended) place to visit. After factoring in my detour stay in Copenhagen, I’m too scared to tot up what this year is costing me.

At least my other half seems reassured that this trip is purely for work purposes. Drinking must be kept to a bare minimum, given the prices. I’ll barely have enough change for a can or two of Carlsburg to enjoy on the kerb, which you can do in Denmark, fyi.

I’m hoping some funding will come through. If my college or department don’t offer some dosh – for the travel and hotel, not the beer – I may be forced to declare bankruptcy.

In fact, I should have put that in my travel grant application letter. I’m sure no one wants to see that happen.

Incidentally, the theme of this year’s conference is the concept of ‘crisis’, which serves as an apposite description of my finances, and also my time management, I mused, whilst typing away feverishly in the last few days.

A rush job. Some crises are of our own making – but they can be useful politically, as my paper discusses.

Any academic will tell you that the problem with conference papers is that you must submit an abstract well in advance. And if you are especially keen, you write anything necessary, often in haste, to meet the subject criteria.

This is the cause of much self-flagellation months later. What the hell was I thinking? is a common thought.

Needless to say, I have little to add to the sizeable literature on the politics of crisis. Brexit offers a fresh example, but I need a break from all that.

All this being said, it is still worth it. This is my last escape before a three-week writing binge. Then the students arrive.

The biggest selling point is that this is more of a workshop than a conference. The former are intimate affairs, held in a university seminar room or two. Most people know each other and attend each panel session. The mood is relaxed.

This is in stark contrast to the big conferences, mostly held in America. Large hotels replace the campus. Nervous PhD students haunt the lobby, dressed in boxy suits. They follow around the superstars in the hope of some acknowledgement.

I assure you, few things are more dispiriting than presenting in ‘Conference Room 6A’, which turns out to be a converted hotel room on the sixth floor. There are usually more people on the panel than in the audience.

Greater misery permeates the large hall hosting the poster displays. Their paper submissions rejected, sad souls stand idly next to their colourful wastes of time.

My advice: don’t bother.