I have a unique perspective on the AHRD
conference this time around. I’ve nothing to prove now; I’m through the dissertation tunnel, firmly ensconced on the other side of the crazy. Let’s face it, it’s just a different kind of crazy.
Sitting in the large banquet room waiting for the welcome to the welcome, I’m rebellious in jeans, sandals and freshly painted red toes among suits, skirts and important looking people. These brainy academics are one of my tribes. We teeter between research, teaching and business realms. We know neck ties are important. I’m ebullient and comfortable sans pantyhose.
Sitting by myself with seats filling in around me, for I can be perfectly alone in a crowd, one of my conference-mates from two years ago turns around and greets me. We converse for a brief minute, ears all around situating for the impending instructions and introductions from the front.
You’re kind of a rock star in our cohorts, you know.
To which I smartly reply, which is why I’m sitting by myself as I gesture around me.
Heads turn to see to whom he’s referring. These are fresh faced first time attendees or relatively new doctoral students. They know him and now they know me, evidently.
He continues, you’re already very well cited in ethics. We’ve talked about your work. Many are coming to your presentation on Saturday.
Here’s what I thought – do it in your best Robert DeNiro Taxi Driver (1976) voice. :
For a moment I’d doubted my rebel wardrobe choice, but not now. I had nothing to prove. I was nonplussed by the suits, heels, power lunches and networking at the bar. Everyone is here to be seen in one way or another, but it doesn’t faze me, this weird attention. He introduced me as Dr. Jana Craft to these people in whom’s position I was in just a year ago. I’m no longer a peer, I’m a mentor.
Not too long ago I felt as if, at any moment, I’d be found out. That someone who was better educated, or more experienced would reveal my incompetence to the world. Like I didn’t really belong here in this world of smart people and dumb presentations about minutia.
The AHRD board chair is talking about the conference events over the next three days: award ceremony, networking opportunities, dinner with a scholar, mixers. I think to myself this is not a game for introverts. It’s so hard to network. Whom do you approach? When? How? When do you break off the awkward conversation? How do you talk about yourself without seeming self-centered and arrogant? I don’t drink alcohol away from home, even though this is the preferred method for networking. So, I’m at a loss as to how to do this successfully and sustain it over the next three days.
So, I just don’t.
I see all the new doctoral students here. I know their respective universities have helped them get here with little grants that pay for their hotel or flight. The UMN gave presenters $400 for this particular conference. Maybe other programs get more funding; it doesn’t matter now. They are ready and willing but not quite able. Some are panting for attention, eagerly seeking out those whom they’ve cited in their latest paper. They are still learning how to play in the sandbox of academia. They do not walk with ease down the corridor. They carry the green conference totes like college freshmen with their lanyards. They are wide eyed and wondering, but not all are young. It’s a funny combination. They do not yet seem aware of the weariness that will set in Friday evening and carry throughout the Saturday sessions and dinner. At least, it does for me. I have a people hangover by Saturday afternoon which is, ironically, when I’m scheduled to present.
My parents have flown in for my presentation. I’ll be the only scholar in residence with her parents in the audience. They paid for my summer class last year when I was down to my last financial aid dollar. I dedicated my 65,000 word dissertation to my family and then my parents: Thank you for investing in me, it read. How can I deny them the honor of sitting in the audience? I can’t. It’s a big deal to my mother, so I’ll welcome her in a self-deprecating manner and people will laugh. They will laugh, but not forget. Perhaps they will do the same for their parents when the time comes. Perhaps.
You can spot a scholar with a finished PhD next to a student who is in progress. Fluidity versus rigidity, ease versus edge, confidence versus curiosity. I wonder how I’m going to get done versus I survived and you can too.
It’s nice to be a survivor. I can wear jeans now and invite my parents to my conference presentations. My adviser can’t fail me due to embarrassment. This is a good feeling.