Wednesday, May 30, 2007

I am not a brain on a stick!

Conference update number 1, a general post of whininess.

Where the hell was the food? The Free food? I can see you’re trying to cut costs --- and this hotel looks swanky and expensive; I can’t imagine how much they’re charging to put out a pastry plate --- but even academics need to eat. I myself, like the hummingbird, need to consume my weight in sugar every two hours. At other conferences I have been at, I have been able to fill up on the free pastries and coffee (or toast, as was all that was offered one time) in the morning and then skip lunch. You, on the other hand, had only coffee out every morning, and it was packed away before the first session ended, which meant that latecomers and people who needed a refill were forced to go to the Starbucks. (And why do panels run through the entire day with no lunch break? I felt guilty every time I left the hotel to forage. But I need to eat, and I need time to pee and walk around before holding still and being mentally attentive for the next two hours!) At least the book exhibitors hosted some afternoon wine and snack parties. (Although, what with deadly allergens and vegetarian people and different religious practices and whatnot, you might consider labeling everything at your spread. Peanut sauce, fish, pork ---- all of these can cause really bad reactions, on so many different levels, if they are ingested accidentally. And no, they were not discernible from appearance, which also says something about the food.)

I hereby make a plea for you organizers to recognize how expensive conferences and traveling are and to help by either making food more easily available, or holding the conference in a slightly less expensive part of town. (And other conference hotels have done a much better job of having water out for each panel, rather than having each panel chair bus the empties and bring fresh pitchers and glasses.) Seriously, conference organizing people, we are trapped in a big fancy hotel. A bunch of us met for drinks but decided $16 for a single drink was not worth it and we had to make up excuses for slinking out of the fancy hotel bar. I didn’t even try their restaurant. Several senior-looking profs told me where they went and found lunch/coffee places that were half the price of the in-hotel places, which means it’s not just the impoverished grad students who are having trouble paying for 4 or 5 days of meals. I thought I was prepared by buying a big box of granola bars and some cranberries, but they ran out quickly since I also was trying to avoid expensive airplane/airport food on a whole-day flight.

I am very food-oriented; for me the best possible conference setup would include “business lunches” or lunch panels every day, or casual roundtables where people shared ideas over food. But evidently this does not seem “serious” or “academic” enough for academia and the best way to make contacts and share research is for three people to read for twenty minutes each while a room of people sit still and pay attention, without stretching, without talking, without any eating or drinking, for hours at a time. We know our students can’t focus for that long without their bodies interrupting, so why do we hold ourselves to even longer time periods?


Flavia said...

For what it's worth, I've found that the conferences that provide good food/free drinks usually get it out of you in the form of higher registration fees, or per-meal fees. I hate having to pay for a series of lunches and banquets, but if they're happening, I feel I have to go, shmoozing being what it is.

I did share a room at a conference when I was in grad school, though, where my friend paid for no meals but brought a jar of peanut butter, a loaf of bread, and a bag of rice cakes with her. I guess that's one way to go!

Sisyphus said...

I dunno ... I had a bottle of shampoo burst in my luggage this time and I wouldn't want to see that with a PBJ ... and you probably can't take them on the plane with the new regulations and all. And is peanut butter even a liquid or a gel? It crosses categories; it boggles the mind.