By Yasin Koc
There are times I spent seven days a week in my office, working until late hours, trying to meet my self-induced deadlines to write another paper or do some more data analysis. Although I always say I enjoy doing this (as I love my research area), those are certainly not the most pleasant times of being in academia. What is it then? For me, it is the conference season! That’s how I initially got into academia and still keeps me going. This year’s landmark was Annual Conference of Society of Australasian Social Psychologists (SASP) in Brisbane, and it is a truth universally acknowledged that Yasin on the way to a conference must be in want of a holiday! In this post, I want to talk about how to benefit from a conference travel by turning it into an entire academic visit comprised of talks, workshops, networking, and of course setting up collaborations (the sine qua non for young researchers!). Of course, having fun with an active social life and enjoying the local culture are also integral to this experience.
When I told my supervisor I wanted to go to SASP, I had quite a few reasons to justify this visit to the benefit of my academic and personal development. First, SASP is a medium size conference, which enables being able to see more talks (as there are less parallel sessions) and facilitates interaction with other attendees. In small conferences, it is more likely to bump into same people at different sessions or at breaks, and you get to know each other and your research better. Second, specific to SASP, it is heavily a Social Identity Theory (SIT) conference, which is my more focused area of research within Social Psychology. As well as benefitting from seeing similar research in my area, this is also useful to provide me feedback about my own work by people who work in the similar area at varying levels of expertise. In line with this, it would be a great opportunity to meet leading SIT researchers for collaborations and future employment opportunities (well, there is no need to deny this “secret” agenda). Finally, I have a number of collaborators in Australia, and it would be a great opportunity for me to visit their labs, meet other members, give talks about my own research, and hold meetings regarding our ongoing projects.
So, my supervisor agreed with me on these (or he was being very kind) and eventually, all those prospects came true. I spent a month in sunny Down Under. I visited Australian Catholic University and University of Melbourne to give a colloquium, research talks, a few workshops on qualitative research methods, and learn about some methods which I will be teaching at Sussex in summer term – feeling like an academic celebrity! And all this happened together with Melbourne’s exceptional coffee, afternoon swims and reading days at St Kilda beach, almost daily post-work drinks in forms of lab meetings, and some fun with koalas and kangaroos. Then I made way to Brisbane for SASP and enjoyed three full days of high quality research and lots of social fun – even won a SASP-themed Trivia Competition. A unique experience!
I think I am supposed to finish this with a take-home message and all I could share is my very personal experience. First, find yourself a conference where you feel you belong to – as we know, SIT suggests social identification with groups predicts higher wellbeing via buffering against stress and anxiety (very useful for PhD students!). Second, try to network both horizontally and vertically. I met my PhD supervisor years ago at a conference, and that connection brought me to Sussex. However, other than the conference talk, all other research activities in this trip happened thanks to my collaborators who are/were PhD students when we met at other conferences. I choose people with whom I enjoy working. We have become great friends over time, and provided unconditional support whenever we got nasty comments from the Reviewer 2.
Lastly, it might be a bit scary at first, but try to go beyond your comfort zone and try something new: Get involved in situations which will teach you something as well as allowing you to utilise and improve your existing skills. As one of my biggest inspirational figure says:
“I can never be safe; I always try and go against the grain. As soon as I accomplish one thing, I just set a higher goal. That’s how I’ve gotten to where I am.”
This is at least what I do, and it works perfectly well for me. It is important to find what fits you best. Good luck to you all in your own journeys!
Yasin is doing a PhD in Social Psychology with Dr Vivian Vignoles working on identity motive satisfaction in ethnic and gender identities.