Sunday, November 9, 2008

Even with Murphy's Law

I went to a conference recently where everything went wrong. This is a conference that practically everyone in my PhD program goes to, primarily for job interviews, but I skipped that year for whatever reason. When I submitted last spring, I figured I would be on the job market. After deciding not to do much job applications, I decided to go anyway because it fit in conveniently, and I thought I had a decent chance of winning the poster award. Partly because my research I submitted is solid and of interest, but mostly because most people don't know the rules of graphic design. I am not very good at it and don't have an artistic eye, but I do know the rules a la Edward Tufte and >90% of posters violate them.

1. I ordered my poster from the internet with very little time to spare. I missed the first day of the conference waiting for UPS because my friend said they came early, and only got to go to the evening social event.

2. The poster company left off part of the address and I forgot to add part of the address, so UPS wasn't able to deliver.

3. I was staying with a close friend who got irritated with me and I didn't realize this until he was already irritated, but after all this I had to ask for a ride to the UPS depot.

4. I ordered the wrong size: they had foam board of a certain size, and I ordered 6-8" too big in each dimension, so had to cut up a second foam board and attach it to the first to make it bigger, and then come up with a way of getting the whole thing to stand up, and there were raggedy edges on the side and top, and mine was clearly a different size than others'.

And my irritated friend was no consolation for any of this. "Most of the problems are all you. Sure, it's an honest mistake to misremember the size, but did you see anyone else who had the same problem?"

5. While waiting for my poster, I put up an 8x11 version on a piece of foam board and while I was gone it got splashed with coffee since it was right across from the coffee urn. Fortunately the same thing didn't happen with the real poster.

6. I didn't know anyone at all. Well, to modify that: I didn't know anyone at all, except the incoming president of the professional organization who was faculty in my program whom I got along quite well with. Which is like being at a wedding where you only know the bride or groom.

Usually I find people at conferences are happy to talk with strangers, but met lots at this one who weren't.

Typical interaction: I took the bus to go the < 1 mile from the conference to the social event in an attempt to be social. Three chattering girls sit down next to me and keep talking for 10 minutes about one of their job market travails without acknowledging me. I get tired of pretending to read the program and introduced myself, not intending to stop their conversation, but making me no longer invisible. They stop their conversation and look kind-of upset about it.

Another interaction: on the way back, we were in a crowded elevator and there was a guy 6" from me talking about public transportation with someone, so I asked him about it. After we get off the bus, he practically runs to the train station, and then as we are standing next to each other at the computer ticket-buying machines completely ignores me, and rushes away and to the other side of the platform. I didn't want to be his best friend. Sheesh.

I did sit down with random people at a table and talk with most of the people there, but came away with nothing professionally relevant. One woman was an assistant dean at a local university and mentioned her past job involved a lot of travel, so I asked what her husband did that he could relocate so easily. She said he was a "well-known successful journalist". Oh.

But I was going to this conference because I thought that I had a good chance at the poster award, and. . . . nonetheless I won one of the awards for the poster session, given to 6% of the poster presenters! It's the first award that I've ever won for my work since freshman year of college. (My CV has about 15 lines under the honors section, but it's mostly travel grants and grad school funding.) So I'm thrilled.

At the poster-related social event, after all my experiences I didn't bother trying to socialize. Most of the "congratulations" that I got seemed like the double-edged jealous type where they might be looking for all the non-merit-based reasons I got the award (e.g., hot topic) or reasons they think I shouldn't have gotten it (e.g., lots of white space), rather than genuine. I didn't want to hear any more of them than I had to.

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