Last year was my first year attending, and I enjoyed it, and I have a GREAT roundtable this year that I'm a part of, so I'm super excited.
All that being said, it will be hard for me, as it will be hard for many others.
I have OCPD, and my triggers are many, but conferences pretty much present the convergence of many of them. There will be new places, places where I don't know the routines, or layout, and this lack of knowledge will produce sometimes crippling anxiety.
I have been attending and presenting at conferences for seven years now, so I have my patterns which will help me deal with the chaos.
- I travel with the same single bag of luggage, bathroom bag.
- I travel with my backpack which has pockets where specific things go.
- I bought a "nice" bag for job market interviews and have spent last week debating whether I can chance taking it to kzoo and upsetting my routine. What if it doesn't work? What if it throws my comfort routines off? But I'll have to use it if/when I get job interviews, so isn't it better to test run it now? It may be my last chance to.
- A week this has been going on. Over a bag. And I'm still not sure.
- I have made my list of what I will pack. I have already pulled those clothes out, and set them aside.
- I have my black planner that has two envelopes for receipts as I get them. I have a pen bag full of Post-Its, pens, and highlighters. I have duplicates to these things.
- Even though Albuquerque is a small airport, I will arrive two hours ahead of my flight.
- When I get into my room, the first thing I will do is layout everything in a pattern, the same pattern it always gets laid out in.
- I have prepped my conference folder. On the outside is a schedule of everything I am doing every day I am there. On the inside is a map, and my printed out reservation confirmations.
- At night I will fall asleep watching the same Netflix shows I watch at home to fall asleep.
- I will get up at the same time.
- I will run every morning, and delight in feeling like a superhero running at sea level (I live in the high desert, so roughly 5700 feet).
- I will treat myself to a mocha after my run.
- I will arrive on campus an hour early so I can orient myself. I plan time to get lost.
- I will revert back to counting habits. I will only be able to sit in certain places. Eat certain things.
I have been teaching for 16 years, so it's not the presenting in front of large groups that bothers me. I can do that all day. But last year I got lost on campus, for an hour. And had a full blown panic attack. I got lost navigating buildings, and had a panic attack.
While I can happily, and enthusiastically, talk about my work and scholarship all day long, I don't read social cues. I take people literally. I don't do small talk. So I suck, big time, at those large networking gatherings, that are supposed to mean so much. I tend to go, spend 45 minutes, then leave, because in my head, 45 minutes is the perfect amount of time before bailing.
I tend to be overly formal in social interactions if I don't know you because those are "safe" and "accceptable" in social interactions. But I will eventually feel trapped by the hundreds of people smooshed into a small room, make my excuses, head back to the hotel, order room service and hide.
Conferences can be hot messes for accessibility. Last year I was pretty horrified that none of the transportation to and from the conference seemed accessible to disabilities. I feel bad my roundtable presentation is visual based (it's on my tattoos) and I couldn't brainstorm a better way to make it accessible other than- it looks like Gieger designed angel wings. Although, if people wanted, because my tattoos are rotary done, they actually do "feel" different. I do post my presentation in advance so people can access it.
But I have to tell you, yesterday there was a dust up where a senior scholar, when questioned about accessibility, didn't think about, didn't stop to reflect, but immediately made fun of. Stopped short of calling people "bitchy little girls" but not by much. First, seniors scholars shouldn't so this. They have all the power and privilege and therefore they should be ensuring that there's accessibility and equity for all. Second, the topic was specifically about grad students, so I felt condescended to and hated and ostracized, and I'm not even at the conference yet. No one should feel that way.
We need to do better in making our professional interactions accessible and understand that there are lots of ways that places can be inaccessible.
What do you wish conferences did or did more of to make them accessible?