Would I do it tomorrow?

Why did I agree to do this?

Why did I agree to do this?

Great advice for academics planning next year’s conference and travel schedule, from David Plotz of Slate:

What an honor! You have been asked to appear on a panel, to keynote a conference, to advise a celebrity, to be publically acclaimed. Perhaps you have been offered a plump check. Perhaps you’ve even been promised a prize! Of course you’re flattered. Of course you accept, because you have so much time to prepare. After all, this thing isn’t happening until October. It’s next year. It’s in 2018. It’s so far in the future, you’ll probably be dead by then.

You’ve made a terrible mistake.

Here’s what will happen. Though the engagement seems infinitely far away today, it will eventually, inevitably, be a week away. Then it’s a day away. And you still haven’t written the speech you need to write. You still have to make a hotel reservation and buy a train ticket and find a baby sitter and apologize to your sister for missing her birthday dinner and beg Dan to cover for you in a meeting. (Sorry, Dan.) The opportunity that sparkled so brightly when they flattered you into it six months ago isn’t gleaming anymore. It’s just a gigantic hassle.

It’s like he read my mind!  I always experience this in the week or two before a conference or an invited lecture, for example.  No invitations to accept “plump checks,” at least not outside of modest honoraria rates anyway, and no prizes in the offing of which I’ve been told.  (Maybe that’s why I drag my feet about buying a plane ticket, getting a hotel, writing the paper, etc.?) And then there’s the dread before the travel and the conference–dread that it’s a bad time for me to leave town considering all my deadlines and other responsibilities.  Why on earth did I agree to do this?  And then the guilt about the dread because I’m not a neurotic person.  I take pride in making decisions and sticking by my commitments.

I experience this dread knowing full well that once I hit the road, I’ll drop the dread, relax, and have fun, as I always do at conferences.  Do any of you go through this ridiculous emotional cycle before conferences?  I always spend the day before I leave thinking how nice it would be not to go.  But I always go, and of course, I always have a good time.  (Possible exception:  when I attend AHA and spend all day in the pit conducting job interviews.  It’s worthwhile work and it can be intellectually stimulating, but it’s not fun.)

So how should we try to cope with invitations and the feelings of inadequacy and frustration that result?  Plotz has advice about the “one question you must ask yourself before accepting any invitation!”  Would I do it tomorrow?  In my case, the answer would still be “yes.”  Maybe this question will help me curb my procrastination.  Or just remind me that when I said “yes,” it was because I decided then that it was worthwhile or even important.  (Or at least not a “terrible mistake.”)

Also:  I know I’ll look back in old age fondly on this busy time in my life.  There are worse things than being in demand and having people counting on you to show up–far worse–so I try not to complain too much.

14 thoughts on “Would I do it tomorrow?

  1. I typically write my presentation on the plane. I think the nerves help propel me to just get it out. The pre-talk nausea is what gets me.


  2. When I’m on sabbatical, I make deadlines with ease and don’t regret accepting all the cool options. When it’s a regular year? Not so much.

    Even in the best of situations, I can head off on what seemed to be a great adventure only to discover that it is all a great hassle. Let me tell you of the year that Autistic Youngest got suspended from her school for three days while I was on the first leg of my airplane ride to the Berks! Or how about I go over the time that I participated in a big evaluation exercise at another campus although I probably should have been getting a blood transfusion!

    It’s smart advice to sit back and wait a little while. There’s almost no invitation out there that can’t be offset a little bit: “That’s a really nice opportunity. Give me a day to go over my calendar and obligations. I’ll get back to you at [insert time/date here].” Then sit down with either a trusted colleague, family member or friend and hash out those pros and cons. Sure, Anaheim next April sounds great but I may be buried under a mountain of marking and deeply regretting a cross-country trip to a conference that’s not going to add a lot of professional lustre to my CV. . . .


  3. I ALWAYS go through that emotional roller coaster with trips. And then I’m fine and have a good time. But like Janice, I do regret missing things. My first Berks, I missed the first time my son got his heart broken and cried for three hours (and I wasn’t there to comfort him). Kindergarten was a rough year for him.


  4. My problem is that I often don’t think about the relationship of trips to each other. So too much travel just wears me out. And I don’t catch up with domestic stuff — bill paying and other such sexy things. If I travel every other week for a stretch, the house gets to be a disaster. So I really try to look at a season. But I do like to go talk about my work… I am sometimes quite relieved when I realize that I can’t do a trip for some reason. I think, oh, I have unprogrammed time! I can sit and think, or maybe just catch up.


  5. What Susan said. Just realized after looking at my calendar that I have engagements two weekends in a row in October. Something must be canceled.


  6. I almost always say “yes,” although to nothing that sounds nearly as glamorous as Plotz describes. And then I procrastinate, and go through the seven stages of that, albeit more with a sense of vague chagrin rather than guilt, angst, or neurosis. But so far, anyway, I end up being surprised that as it gets closer I just get it done. I certainly have more of a sense now than I once did that a presentation doesn’t have to glisten and shine the way something should if it’s going to sit there perpetually in print or anything. I’ve got one of these situations on my hands right now, actually: money’s been paid, visa obtained, abstract due in two weeks and the paper ten days after that, topic is sort of… non-existent. I promised that tomorrow is the day when I’m going to throw it in gear. We’ll see…

    I have, I should say, had to cancel on a couple of commitments made way to far in advance, which I always sort of hated when I saw it happen with someone else.


  7. “And then there’s the dread before the travel and the conference–dread that it’s a bad time for me to leave town”

    Oh my God. You mean it’s not just me? The whole stupid cycle has been my secret shame since forever!


  8. Like quixote, I thought I was the only one with conference dread. Add general travel dread to that, along with having to write a paper (what was I thinking when I agreed to this?), and there are a few miserable days before every departure. It’s always a terrible time to leave town. I always have deadlines for other things. There ought to be a club where you can call another conference dreader for help, and they’ll say “Don’t send that abstract!”


  9. But Undine, if you DON’T send the abstract, you might end up regretting not being there. (And: you left a comment!!! I’m so happy you could.)

    I think we just need to accept that this is part of the process, maybe even the shame as quixote says. I think there are a lot of people who (like me?) appear to be outgoing and confident, but who also cycle through periods of just wanting (or needing) to be left alone in our caves. For people whose research & teaching is essentially a solitary pursuit, I think it must be pretty common.


  10. Great post! However, I always thought my trepidation prior to conferences was my introverted self becoming anxious over having to interact with so many people for DAYS! Like you, I find I enjoy it once I am there and return with many new ideas.

    I can offer that I felt compelled to submit and attend all that was reasonable in my first few years of being a full-time faculty member. After 7 years (and p&t) I find myself really contemplating the effort and travel in order to only attend key conferences.


  11. I think it’s fine to step off of the conference circuit and think about which conferences will really help you, Bridgett. I found that finding new conferences to go to was really stimulating and fun.

    Now I’m in the happy position of having just about finished my second book. I wonder which conferences will be interested in my third project?


  12. What’s worse in the sciences than the conference and seminar invitations are the goddamn motherfucken review articles and book chapters!


  13. I’m just about finished with the paper that I mentioned above. I’m unofficially calling it “the bad paper that ate June!!!” CV version of the title will be a little more snappy.


Let me have it!

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.