So the conference I’ve been looking forward to for about a year now has drawn to a close and the daily commute on the Underground has turned back into a bike ride into Sheffield. Time then to reflect back on my impressions.
My first comment would have to be how incredibly well organised everything was; from the initial call for papers, right through to the final session. Every last ‘i’ was dotted and ‘t’ crossed. Simple things like having printed 5 and 2 minute warning cards for session moderators gives some idea of the attention to detail – lots of useful tips for me as I organise our doctoral conference for later this year. The conference team, in conjunction with the local hosts are due a great deal of praise here. That said, the atmosphere was incredibly friendly and inclusive; you always felt as though you could approach anyone and talk about anything.
I felt the structure and content worked well. Although in a couple of sessions, I found it difficult to choose an appropriate theme and perhaps didn’t always get it right, within each session there would nevertheless be one or two of the papers which provided unanticipated gems. I was grateful for the opportunity to listen to some of the foremost academics in the field and hadn’t appreciated precisely how accessible they are at events like these. I did get the sense that I attended more sessions that presented work built on quantitative methods, but that could doubtless be down to the choices I made, rather than a reflection of the overall spread. It struck me how much research into social media seems to use survey methods as the primary instrument, or of course SNA. Given the nature of the medium, it’s easy to see why that is, though each further study I listened to where a survey had been used left me wondering why digital ethnographic techniques aren’t used more.
Maybe it’s my age, but I found the days quite exhausting; from 8.30 through to 5.00 (longer on the poster day) whilst trying to keep your mind sharp proved quite fatiguing. For me, I think it was the sheer rate of metal processing needed to maintain focus in sessions where four presentations followed in rapid succession. Even during break times you invariably had to stay sharp as you discussed previous or forthcoming sessions with fellow attendees, or indeed your work or theirs. In many of the talks presenters talked incredibly quickly, attempting to squeeze in as much detail as possible, thus requiring you to maintain an incredibly high level of focus. I’m sure that on some occasions I failed, as I hurriedly tried to capture a few notes, and keep up with the barrage of fresh information. In part this was down to the brevity of the allocated time slots, but then if the number of sessions were reduced, fewer people would have the opportunity to present. I guess I just felt it was a shame that those who were presenting ‘work in progress’ and seeking feedback, had a scant couple of minutes in which to receive it; one question at best. Not an easy one to resolve, but it’s encouraged me to think carefully about how I might structure the messages I wish to convey in sessions I deliver. If I’m only given 20 minutes in total and I really want some feedback, then I need to think carefully how I divide up the time.
Presenting certainly occupied my mind in more ways than one. Now that data from my pilot has started to come in, I’ve started thinking of possible places I might present my findings. The SM&Society conference would have certainly been an option had it been somewhat later, but what other forums might also be appropriate? Clearly those which have themes dedicated to professional development or professional learning. Possibly digital methods? Social media? Or could I make a case for more general sociological events? So in addition to all the other benefits I’ve enjoyed at the Conference, it’s also encouraged me to consider exactly where my research is positioned.
I’d love to be going to Toronto next year, but I’m afraid the pockets are unlikely to be that deep.