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re: conferences, part II

We're all heading back to Montreal for the 2010 joint meeting of the HSS/PSA (History of Science Society and Philosophy of Science Association). I enjoy going to conferences when I'm not presenting a paper; although giving a talk can be very rewarding, it's much more stressful. Since I caught a pretty bad cold in Ottawa, it'll be nice to be able to take it easy and sit in on a few sessions a day.

At the last joint HSS/PSA, in Pittsburgh, I was a first-year grad student trying to make a good impression and I made the mistake of going to talks every hour the conference was running. It didn't take long before I was completely burned out, and the real shame was that in being at every talk, I got much less out of each one. It's difficult to listen actively to a day's worth of information, especially when most of it is new to you. In grad school you attend many papers, conferences, symposia, and workshops, both at your own institution and in far-flung places, and no one ever teaches you how to listen to a presentation; you learn by doing, and learn what not to do by hearing others' cringeworthy question styles, cell phones going off repeatedly, or leaving in the middle of someone's talk.

That's why I was so pleased to find these Helpful hints for conference audiences by Linda K. Kerber as part of the HSS meeting information package. Her tips for those commenting on papers look great as well, but I think her pointers for audiences offer something new (or at least a reprint of something new in 2008). She makes the excellent point that a panel can rise or fall based on the panelist/audience interaction, and the way audience members behave can make a sizeable difference.

Feel free to share any of your conference highlights or horror stories below!

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