Thoughts on life after the PhD
When I’m not scouring the internet for volunteer opportunities in Africa or anything that would take me far, far away from the scary future of academia, I’m still attending conferences–which, incidentally, people also seem to love complaining about. They’re in podunk towns with crappy hotels. They’re more about an excuse to get drunk with other academics than to exchange meaningful ideas. And inevitably your panel’s at 8 am, when your audience will likely consist of three or four hungover friends or dedicated advisors.
I’ve actually had pretty good experiences with conferences–presenting my ideas forces me to think them through more thoroughly, and the feedback’s always been helpful. I’ve met cool people. No seriously crappy hotels so far. And even though the most recent conference, the annual Society for Cinema and Media Studies event, was held over five days (five!) in the middle of spring break, when I really wanted to be sleeping, I still managed to have a great time.
SCMS has a reputation for being bloated–last year’s Tokyo conference (which was cancelled at the last minute due to the H1N1 scare and a skittish Japanese government) had nearly two hundred panels, with as many as fourteen happening simultaneously. After just a few panels your brain can start to feel fried. Luckily my own panel was scheduled for the first day of the conference at 2 pm, so I could relax and do what I wanted afterward. Some overall highlights:
1. The Westin Bonaventure. Everybody loves to bitch about this hotel–it’s over the top, it’s impossible to navigate, its rooms haven’t been re-done since the seventies and are really showing their age. Fredric Jameson called it the epitome of postmodern architecture–conceptually interesting but utterly impractical for the human guest. Maybe it’s because I didn’t actually STAY there, but I loved the place. It was like being a Labyrinth-esque three-dimensional Escher staircase painting. The place has an ESCALATOR DIRECTORY, for heaven’s sake. Waterfalls, glass elevators, fish shooting jets of water in an arc over walkways, odd little lounge areas that seem to hover in mid-air in the gigantic atrium–it’s great. And the whole thing looks like a rocket ship about to take off. Those who just have to have a three-dimensional keepsake can venture up to the rotating rooftop bar, where they serve drinks in enormous, gaudy clay mugs in the shape of the hotel.
2. My respondent. She opened our panel by apologizing for her hoarseness because she’d spent the previous night yelling in a bar. And she gave me and my co-panelist great feedback, and gave a great presentation later in the day on Japanese pregnancy films, in which she called Ozu’s juxtaposition of an abortion clinic scene and a woman cradling a baby “obnoxious.”
3. PowerPoint aesthetics. There seems to be some controversy over PowerPoint presentations in academia, or maybe it’s just the lit folks who are suspicious of them (I’ve heard some people say that a slick PowerPoint is the best way to mask a weak argument). I’m totally seduced, though (and I’d like to think I can separate the strength of the argument from the strength of the PowerPoint). Not surprisingly for a conference specifically related to cinema and media, the presentations were awesome. Cool slide templates (one looked like splatters of blood), embedded clips that merged seamlessly with the spoken portion of the talk, moving text, you name it. I always say that one day I’m going to invest in some good presentation software and pay someone to sit down with me so that I’m thoroughly familiar with how to use it–and then I end up getting someone else to help me embed a few clips in an otherwise dull presentation. Never again–my next PowerPoint will rock the house!
4. After-conference activities. I generally hate the networking side of conferences–meeting new and interesting people is fine, but trying to maintain conversations with people that I have absolutely nothing in common with is exhausting–but this time around I got to have dinner with a really great, small group of Japanese film scholars. Small is key, I think–I get overwhelmed in big groups. These people actually asked me about my dissertation, seemed moderately interested in it, and I even managed to talk about it in a way that made sense. (That’s the weird thing–on a daily basis I constantly doubt the validity of my research, poo poo-ing it because it’s not saving lives or causing any major paradigm shifts. But when I explain it to other people, I actually get kind of excited about it. Maybe that’s yet another hidden purpose of conferences). Then there was the post-conference party in the basement of the Bonaventure, a room that’s decked out to look like a harem den, complete with silk cushions and waiters that wear fez hats. There was a lot of alcohol and after about an hour it was so packed and deafening that I had to get out, but at least now I can say that I have experienced the Bonaventure’s Secret Harem Room.
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