Conference Quagmire-What do you think?


Well I skipped ITAA this year due to costs and because I’m mid-way through my dissertation, but done with other projects so I really didn’t have anything to present at this time. Generally, a lot of people do research, present it at some conferences, then work on manuscripts. My two main projects, “Black leather jacket” and “Young men’s work dress” are both at the manuscript point, having done the conference circuit with them over the past two years.

I’m not ready to make the public appearance yet with my dissertation material on “Punk dress and the workplace”, although I’m getting very close. The first three chapters are written, the research is all done and transcribed, and the qualitative coding is at about the halfway point. I think when it’s all said and done there will be a slew of conferences, manuscripts, and of course the material will contribute to my book on “Punk style.” I’d also like to do something with all the videos I recorded such as a small documentary but we’ll see.

So, now is the time to think about getting abstracts together for 2010 conferences. There’s a bunch on my radar, and of course I have to consider which ones are valuable for me to attend, where do I want to present this dissertation material, and how many conferences can I afford to go to?

Like most everyone else, I’ve got little to no research budget other than student loans and the occasional $100-$250 grant I land from school (although I think I’ve exhausted those). I know a lot of people last week were saying that they skipped ITAA because of the expense during this rough economy. Travel is expensive, and support dollars from institutions and societies are being whittled down to virtually nothing. It seems like a conference is guaranteed $1000 investment, and while you’d like to think it’s an investment in the work and your career, and in the development of a good research piece, sometimes you have to wonder how many conferences you need to attend to make a work viable in the eyes of your peers (and satisfying for yourself).

If the idea is that you present the work in different formats getting feedback and then working it into a manuscript, how many times do you need to do that before it’s done? Similarly, if a presentation at a conference is often not viewed as highly on a CV as a manuscript, I wonder if people are just going to skip the conference part while times are financially lean and move right to more journal articles, potentially further clogging the narrow arteries that are our publishing opportunities (with the small number of journals in our field). Consequently, more people will have to publish outside of the field in adjacent areas, maybe further splintering our already somewhat fractured community.

I know for me in the past, as a graduate student, conferences have been a way to get to know the field and its members, and to practice disseminating my research without some of the added pressure of writing a perfect manuscript and dealing with the arduous path that is publication. Now if less people are going to conferences will the events be as valuable experiences? And if more people are writing manuscripts will less of us get published, challenging the career development especially of new researchers?

It would be nice in this economy to see a way to go to conference on a budget, for the organizers to try to come up with significant money saving measures for the participates. I don’t know what those are, but I think the networking, the hearing each others’ research, and discussing our own with our peers is really a significant part of research development, yet I wonder if for a few years it’ll be a back-burnered method of career development?

But as mentioned, I do have a small budget for next year I’m willing to commit, so I’ve submitted one abstract to CSA and am slowly working on one probably for the subcultural style and identity section of PCA/ACA. I’ll debate going to ITAA again come spring when those abstracts are due. But I’m skipping all the rest that have peaked my curiosity, including all those fabulous international conferences that I really think are significant but simply too costly.

So I have two questions for you:
What conferences are you planning on going to next year?
What do you think about going to conferences in these tough financial times? Are they worth it?

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  • Lauren November 04, 2009 02.58 pm

    To answer your questions, I hope to have time and grant funding for ITAA and CSA next year. You mention “those fabulous international conferences”, are we posting them here when we post the CFPs? Do you know of a resource that lists events of this type?

    As to whether it’s worth it to go to conferences, I think it depends on the individual and one’s career goals. For example, is attending and/or presenting part of reaching tenure at an institution, or is it simply something that looks nice on one’s CV, or is it for professional enrichment, in terms of an enhancement to one’s professional responsibilities? How worthwhile the expenditure of attending a conference would be depends on the weight of the reasons above, I suppose.

  • Kimberly November 06, 2009 10.46 am

    I have cut way back on conferences in the past few years, only attending those that are near my home or fully funded by my employer. If I had to pick one, I’d go to CSA. Yes, it’s crazy expensive, but it’s worth it—well-organized and well-attended, unlike certain other conferences in the field.

    My time-honed tips for saving on conference costs:

    1. Submit a paper proposal. It’s always much easier to get funding if you’re a speaker rather than a spectator

    2. Use air miles and hotel points to cut down on travel expenses. There’s no law that says you have to stay in the same hotel as everyone else. Get online and find a cheaper one nearby, and a few roommates to share it with.

    3. You can sometimes get a discount if you volunteer at the conference or serve on the board of the organizing body.

    4. Many conferences offer special rates or scholarships to students and presenters; CSA has regional scholarships as well as the national Adele Filene Award.

    5. There are also some independent conference travel grants out there, like the Pasold Research Fund. Depending on your subject area, you may be eligible for grants in other disciplines—history, art history, material culture, conservation, gender studies, etc.—that can be used for costume conferences.

    6. Alternatively, you can target conferences in those other disciplines that offer funding to presenters—you’ll meet new people, broaden your horizons, challenge your preconceptions, and get really interesting and useful feedback, and it will look just as good on your CV. I don’t agree that publishing outside of the field—or giving papers at conferences outside of the field—is a bad thing. If anything, it strengthens our field by raising awareness and drawing new people in, not to mention enhancing one’s own scholarly profile. We’re a pretty small field, after all, and wouldn’t you rather publish in a journal read by thousands rather than one read by hundreds, most of them people who already know you and your work? It seems like every journal is backlogged these days, but any halfway decent researcher with JSTOR access will be able track down your article whether it’s published in Dress or The Journal of Social History. No, wait, on second thought, Dress isn’t archived on JSTOR. Neither is Costume, Textile History, Fashion Theory, or the CTRJ. Online access to even the most basic bibliographical information for the major “scholarly” publications in our field is limited or nonexistent. Hmmm….why would you want to publish in any of those?

    OK, end of rant. To conclude, I don’t think giving papers at conferences enhances your CV much—publications are still far more impressive. And there are plenty of easier, cheaper ways to get feedback on your work. But it’s valuable in so many other senses. Obviously, it’s important to keep up with your colleagues and new research (and gossip!) in your field. Presenting a paper is a highly effective way of forcing yourself to do research, which can then be parlayed into a publication. Also, almost every conference paper I’ve presented has led to an invitation to speak or publish somewhere else.

    But costs keep going up, and our budgets keep going down. The most helpful thing conference organizers can do, I think, is to negotiate rock-bottom prices from venues and vendors (which shouldn’t be hard in these lean times) then offer varied and flexible pricing plans—like giving student discounts, charging per day rather than requiring attendees to commit to a whole four-day conference, or making meals, entertainment, and excursions optional. I don’t mind eating Cup-o-Noodle in my hotel room if it means I don’t have to shell out for a banquet or reception I don’t really want to go to anyway. This is already happening to some extent. But totally getting rid of all the extras (like the fancy hotels and banquets and study tours) would just make conferences less attractive to the people who CAN afford them, thus hastening their own demise.

  • Kendra November 06, 2009 04.56 pm

    While I don’t disagree with the idea of publishing in related fields — I too think it’s a great way to broaden the scope of “costume” — JSTOR is hardly the only method of getting online access to scholarly journals. We have online access to Dress, Costume, Fashion Theory, and CRTJ at my university library, and I’m at a non-research state university (CSU).

    I find attending conferences personally rewarding in terms of making contacts and keeping up on research, but there’s a definite value add if you’re presenting. Now that I’ve gotten tenure, I generally only go to one national conference a year — I’ve started making it CSA as I’ve found it to be the most useful in terms of contacts/research presented.


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