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Zach Roche on ‘Conference Season’

Zach Roche, a PhD candidate in the Department of Sociology, writes about conference attendance as a postgraduate researcher:

“A good friend of mine once told me that for academic conference organizers there are only two months in the year: November and May. While not completely accurate, I have found that it tends to be more true than I’d like to admit (last May I attended 4 conferences within the span of twelve days, but none the month before or after). The reason this happens is generally attributed to the many responsibilities of academics throughout the rest of the year. The end of November and middle of May onwards tend to have a lot more calendar freedom for presentations and travel, with the rest of the semester full of lecturing, tutorials, essay / exam corrections, invigilating, and if you’re lucky you’ll snatch a few hours to work on your own research.

“While I do like conferences because I love to travel and hear presentations from many different kinds of people, I’ve often felt like I have to put up an artificial shield of professionalism (a front stage if you’re into the jargon of sociology). I spend my time nervously preparing my own presentation, politely chatting (or, if we dare the dreaded word: networking) with the people I have been reliably told are the most accomplished in my field, going to and from presentations, seeing the posters, and if I’m in a place I’ve never been I try to squeeze in some sightseeing. By the end of it I’m exhausted, have many pages of notes I need to attend to, as well as my own research and other work which has been neglected for 2-4 days.

“This brings me to my personal favourite conference, the economy and society summer school. Run jointly by WIT and UCC, it brings together academics from across the social sciences, business and economics for a week of intensive study at Blackwater Castle in Cork. Students come from all over Ireland (and beyond) for 6 days of focused discussion on the moral underpinnings of the economy, happiness, freedom and many more besides. The school is now run through President Higgins’ Ethics Initiative, which calls on all Irish people to reflect on the role of ethics in our own lives. We are particularly asked to include ethics as a topic in discussions which would otherwise exclude it, and discourses around the economy (which judgmentally condemns the unemployed and those in poverty) are of particular interest to the school. The President even visited the school in 2015 to officially open it and meet some of the students and faculty, which was a very exciting year.”

Visit our website for more information on postgraduate research in the Faculty of Arts, Humanities & Social Sciences at UL.

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