We’ve given advice about attending a conference before. But when we wrote that post, we were at the annual meeting of the Society for Classical Studies, which is a gigantic affair that’s often overwhelming for a young scholar. (Quick straw poll: who was terrified, lost, lonely, or all of the above at their first SCS?)
In this post, we focus on the benefits of smaller conferences. Smaller conferences help you get your feet wet, but they’re also enjoyable for the experienced conference-goer. Why? Read on!
First, let’s clarify the term “small(er) conference.” These run the gamut from the specialist, one-day conference of 5-6 papers to a full-length, three-day conference with multiple panels. We’re talking about both (which is why the title says small(er)!), although there are different benefits to each. “Smaller conference” is not synonymous with “grad conference”, although it’s true that most grad conferences are small. A smaller conference can include scholars at any stage, including full-day conferences bringing together the leading names in the field.
- The first benefit of a smaller conference is that it is more likely that you’ll meet people outside of your panel. In our experiences with SCS panels, it is very rare for the speakers at panels to spontaneously introduce themselves to the audience. At a smaller conference, such introductions aren’t unusual, at least if you come early. If there’s a panel in a field you’re interested in, or one where you’d really like the meet a speaker, you should go early. Maybe your speaker will be early too (checking A/V, etc.) and you can introduce yourself!
- If, like me, you are friendly but somewhat diffident, a smaller conference offers more fertile ground for mingling. If you are all alone, people may come up to you and ask how you’re enjoying the conference. Alternatively, you can often join a larger group and introduce yourself. If you choose to hover around the edge of a group, it’s often more natural to join people who are talking about the conference (particularly if it’s a part of the conference you’ve been to!), rather than break in on a group discussing something totally different. Unless, of course, it’s Game of Thrones and you’re a huge fan, in which case pop culture has saved you.
- Some readers might argue with me here, but if you’re presenting, you often get better feedback at a smaller conference. In the case of a truly small conference, this makes sense: you’re at a gathering of people with the same interests, who are intimately familiar with the same texts or problems as you’re dealing with. They ought to have helpful comments. But even at a mid-sized conference, where people often attend panels that aren’t in their area of expertise (because we like to learn things, too!), they can be very generous with their feedback. And because it is outside of your normal thinking box, that feedback can be quite productive.
- At some point, we had to bring up the money. Smaller conferences are usually hosted by universities, which means that accommodation fees are substantially lower than conferences hosted at hotels. The fees for attendance are, unfortunately, the same. But cheaper room + better feedback = successful conferencing.
- You can learn more. Because smaller conferences are, well, smaller, there are more opportunities to visit a panel in a field that is tangentially related to yours or (if you’re not a specialist yet) several panels in fields that you’re interested in specializing in, without missing out on other activities.
Bonus point: if you’re on the market, a smaller conference is always better because you’re not being sized up as a potential colleague!
I hope we’ve convinced you that a smaller conference, whether a specialist conference or a regional conference, is a good place to submit your next abstract! We’ve found that smaller conferences offer most of the benefits of a larger conference, with considerably less stress. We hope you’ll give them a try!