I've been doing a bunch of conferencing recently, what with DAMOP a few weeks ago and then Convergence last week. This prompted me to write up a couple of posts about conference-related things, which I posted over at Forbes. These were apparently a pretty bad fit for the folks reading over there, as they've gotten very little traffic relative to, well, everything else I've posted during that span. Live and learn.
Anyway, I'm fairly happy with how both of those turned out, and on the off chance that they'll do better with the ScienceBlogs crowd, let me link them here:
-- What Are Academic Conferences Good For? Starts from the irony of presenting PER research on how lectures are suboptimal for student learning in a conference talk format, then argues that the real purpose of a standard conference talk isn't information transfer but advertising.
-- Going To An Academic Conference? Here Are Some Tips: In response to a series of posts at the Owl_Meat blog, some advice for conference organizers, faculty advisors, and students on how to make going to conferences a better experience.
If either of those descriptions sounds relevant to your interests, follow the link and read the rest. And in future, I'll probably put this sort of material over here to begin with...
I generally agree with your advice about going to conferences. And I have been fortunate in that most of the conferences I have been to have been well-organized, particularly the ones from my grad student and early post-Ph.D. years. (I did have one where the organizers committed multiple schedule foulups, like having a speaker scheduled to talk simultaneously in two different sessions--I haven't been to any conferences from that series since then,)
I was sent solo as a grad student once. There were special circumstances: two conferences scheduled for the same week, and I was assigned to cover the smaller of the two. But I'd already had a few conferences under my belt by then, so I knew some of the people (including a grad student from a different group at my institution, who was also sent without his advisor--I didn't find out he was going until I got there), and the others in this conference were generally friendly enough that I could get by. I also had some experience forcing myself to talk to total strangers. But yes, advisors should only do this kind of thing under exceptional circumstances, like scheduling conflicts, and even then it is better to send a post-doc or a second grad student with the first one.
Even conferences that are generally well-run have the occasional slip-up. Several years ago, DAMOP managed to schedule multiple talks in the same room at the same time-- the sessioning committee for the early session included too many 10-minute talks, so they ran into the time scheduled for a later session. They changed the rules after that, and recently have been pushing more presentations into poster sessions to avoid this kind of thing.
When I was a post-doc, I went to a couple of meetings in France where not only was I the only person from my institution, I was one of a very small number of Americans in attendance. By then, though, I had been to a lot of conferences, and even spent a few months on my own in Japan, so it wasn't that big a deal. Still, an interesting experience.
When I was a post-doc, I went to a couple of meetings in France where not only was I the only person from my institution, I was one of a very small number of Americans in attendance.
I had a similar experience, also in France. It was October 2001, and US government employees were (for obvious reasons) not being allowed to travel outside the US unless absolutely necessary, so I was the only Yank in attendance. But I already knew a few of the Europeans there, and I had been to that city once before, so it wasn't a complete sink-or-swim. It was on this trip that I started getting my news from the BBC: English language, but not US-centric, so if something were happening that I needed to know about (and there was--that was the week certain politicians and news reporters were getting anthrax-grams), I would be more likely to hear about it.