Academic Conference Crashing 101

Today I did something very bold, though for many of you the tale I am about to tell will seem rather tame. (I just love alliteration) 

I’m taking a course, Contemporary Literature and Film of the Southwest.  It’s a great class. The teacher is so enthusiastic about the works we read and the films we see that even though they are not the genre I would generally be attracted to, I find myself wanting to explore them.  (Westerns being one example).  And while viewing what I generally consider  “entertainment” (films) through a socio-political lens, and trying to ascribe deeper layers of meaning is intellectually challenging for me, I’m finding it rather stimulating.  (Example, Gary Cooper’s High Noon was really about /was a statement against McCarthyism).  This kind of thinking is really putting my brain through some serious aerobic exercise.  And I like it.  I may not be good at it yet, but I like.  

The class has both graduate and undergraduate students, and as a graduate, our requirements for the class are different.  In fact, being a graduate student is different (more on that later).  In this class a large portion of our grade will be determined by a conference paper that we will write.  The topic, entirely our own choosing.  We are required to submit an abstract to a conference, and of course write the actual paper…  and if the abstract is accepted, potentially present the paper at an academic conference.  (eeek!)

I had no idea what a conference paper was, making the assignment very intimidating.  Once I wrapped my head around the concept, I had an idea to write about Blogs as the New Regionalism.  To make a long story short, the more I looked a blogs, the less foundation I felt I had to make such a case.  

With some guidance from the professor, I’m going in a new direction, and he suggested I check out this conference session at the American Studies Association:

Histories of the Dust Heap: Waste, Material Cultures, Social Justice, which included a presentation by Stephanie Foote, “Enviroblogging: Green Spaces in the Virtual World.”

While the topic is not exactly relevant to my paper, I decided to check it out.  

Fact:  I am not a member of the American Studies Association

Fact:  I am not really sure what “American Studies” is

Fact:  I’ve never been to an academic conference

Fact:  I was not registered for the conference

Fact:  I have never crashed a party in my life.

The conference was taking place a mere 2 miles from my house, I decided to go for it.  First I had a fashion crisis–  I wanted to look like I belonged.  The first two pairs of pants I tried on were too tight (damn, I thought with all the walking I’ve been doing I’d lost some weight).  The third pair fit just right.  Basic black dress pants.  I added a black and white striped button-down blouse for a business casual but not too chic look.  These are academics, afterall.  (no slam against academics, but they are not known fashionistas–  too busy thinking about bigger issues I think).

And off I went.  The conference center is where the David Byrne concert was held (he’s a musical genius, you know) so I knew where I was going.  I even parked at the Double Tree Hotel right next door.  I arrived at the conference center with seconds to spare….  actually by the time I found the room, they had already started. A quick check of the map and determined stride and I must have looked like I belonged.  No one questioned me except to ask where the West side rooms were. 

And so now I know what a conference paper is, I took some notes of some big words I can use in my paper, and I have a pretty good idea of what is expected as far as “presenting” the paper should mine be accepted.  

And I have crashed my first party.  (does it count that it was an academic conference?)

Bonus:  the parking attendant at the Double Tree must have been on break, I got to park for free ($5 savings, good for one burrito at The Fronteir)

Note:  The David Byrne Concert was awesome. His new music rocks. His dancers were phenomenal.  The lighting sublime.  The old music with a slightly updated remix was fun.  If he tours in your direction I encourage you to go.  Well worth the time and money.