I went to my first IWCA a couple years ago in Pittsburgh. You can read about it here. At that point, it was the largest conference I had ever been to, and my first international conference. Since then, I’ve been to two more IWCAs and I think I’ve reached a point where the conference is just as much a space of learning as it is a space for getting to know colleagues, and myself a little better.
This year, I roomed with Hannah Espinoza (find her post here), and we opted to stay in the conference hotel so we wouldn’t have to take Lyfts everywhere and so we could take naps between sessions. Best idea ever! I learned that recharging is an important part of conferencing, especially when you need to be “on” the whole time. Taking breaks between sessions allowed me to be more social and engaged throughout the conference, which helped me meet some important people and make new friends.
This year, I also gave myself permission to skip sessions in favor of networking and meeting new people. For example, while I love the Queer SIG the most, I opted to miss it this year in order to grab lunch with some people I had only ever met on Twitter to get to know them better. I know I would have gained some valuable insights during the SIG, but I also got a chance to get to know some people on a personal level and plug the special issue I am editing alongside Rachel Robinson for TPR. In fact, a lot of the friends I made and people I met and reconnected with occurred because I gave myself permission to miss some sessions. People always say that networking is the most important part of conferencing, but networking is hard when you go to every session and exhaust yourself!
I guess my point is, the more I attend this conference, the more comfortable I become, the less official “conferencing” I do, and the more I get out of it. I’m sure some years I will attend more sessions than others, but I know now from experience that getting the most out of a conference requires a balance of work and play.
Written by Elise Dixon