I've just had a tricky conference experience, and am wondering if any of you have been through anything similar, or have any thoughts on the situation.
I gave a paper which presented a new way of looking at a couple of texts by the same author/creator (sorry for being vague, I'm trying to maintain some anonymity), my supervisor was very happy with it, he said I proved my argument very well. When I'd finished the paper, an academic, who worked at the host university, expressed strong objections, although when I asked him to define his terms, and to give specific examples he was stumped, and couldn't - I wasn't discussing his area of expertise. He kept shouting out 'I don't agree' and after the panel he approached me (just as one of the conference organisers was telling me how good my paper and defence were, that he does this to everyone, and that she has to work with him...) and stood over me dogmatically repeating that he didn't agree, but unable to specify his terms and saying very patronising things like 'you have to understand that authors just put things in texts that don't mean anything', 'does your supervisor really approve of what you are doing?', and 'I'm trying to help you'. When I asked him about his expertise in the field he got really offended and said 'I don't have to explain my credentials'.
Anyhow - about 7 people came up to me afterwards to say they thought my paper was very good/really good, that my defense was impressive, and that he was a w***** who had been harassing other PhDs with new ideas in a similarly forceful, but intellectually flimsy, manner, basically that he was doing it because he had an agenda.
I think it all went in my favour in the end - I got very pally with the conference organisers who have to work with him, and I have the impression a couple of other academics were delighted that I'd batted him off so well, but I'm surprised because I thought conferences demanded a certain degree of professional conduct from delegates, I mean, I'm really surprised that someone with some standing in their field would behave like that. I'm sure there's a thread on here in which people say how polite delegates are at conferences, do you know if this happens a lot?
Thanks for reading, just wanted to share, this was my first conference in my field so I'm hoping future events will be better behaved.
I think you get people like that at all conferences. Well done for fending him off so well!
I think they like to show off and assume they know anything. Maybe he fancied you too and was hoping for a 'personal discussion' about the topic lol. - just like the 10 year old boy that punches the girl he likes :p
I've been to an awful lot of conferences throughout my working life, and have also presented at quite a few, and have never come across this behaviour. I've heard stories about this happening, but have yet to witness it. It sounds like you did really well, and I think you can take comfort from knowing that if you coped well with that, then other papers are bound to be easier! It sounds like baptism by fire all right! I don't think this academic' s behaviour is standard, professional behaviour at all, and yep, he certainly does sound like a right tosser.
Eska, the protocol is this: even if a phd student present a nervously delivered, shaky paper, academics of any worth will always try to find something encouraging to say, if they intend saying anything at all. I have seen my supervisor and many others identify things to encourage/praise in the weakest of students.
And you gave a great paper, did an innovative thing, clearly drew praise from the academic public there... and this man has shown himself to be nothing but a problem. Just a problem.
And while I dont know what you did, a scholarly piece is always free to interpret other pieces, as long as that interpretation is justified. I wish I could tell this man, in response to his 'authors put things they don't mean'... that 'meaning' lies at the intersect of the reader and the text, it has long been proven that there is no singular meaning laded text waiting out there for us to take that one meaning and walk off.
If you interpreted and compared two texts as a scholarly reader and put forth that interpretation in an academically coherent fashion, many may dis/agree, that however does not invalidate the legitimacy of either the purpose or the usefulness of your endeavor.
Perhaps it varies by subject but I have seen a lot of rather aggressive/ruthless and/or eccentric behaviour at presentations! Well done for keeping calm and defending yourself. I have a mental catalogue of past presentations by people who I felt did really well under attack and I try to model my stance on that. Professional behaviour among academics is not held accountable as it is in many other professions. That can be a good thing - as eccentricity is well-tolerated (almost obligatory even!) but as you have found - can also lead to downright awful behaviour being allowed without consequences.
Sue, Bug and Smilodon - Thank you for your responses, hopefully it won't happen again, but at least now I know I can deal with it.
I think what's bothered me most is the body language after the panel, when he was standing over me, being agrresive/passionate in his expression, it was pretty intimidating. His lack of professionalism and intellectual rigour did suprise me, but now I think that's damaged him far more than me. Next time I won't sit for as long while someone stands over me like that, I'll just get up and walk away! Hopefully it won't happen again anyway.
Bug - yeah that thing about the reader/author interface is so well established and he could have said that to anyone at the conference, including himself. But! even so, the author in question has said the same thing as me about the work, and twit-wit said he'd argue the t*** with said author about that too. Anyhow, my supervisor is very happy with what I'm doing and is a far greater expert than sonny jim, so that's that. Thanks again, everyone.
======= Date Modified 09 Sep 2009 16:46:54 =======
that just posted twice, don't know why, mods delete this one if you like.
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