Friday, January 16, 2009

back from TRB

just arrived back (a few days ago now) from the transportation research board's annual meeting in DC. it was an overall positive experience, i think, although more since i now have a sort of sense of what a conference entails as opposed to any research ideas i picked up or any results i really was made aware of.

i think i'm writing here to just lay some of these things down?

the whole purpose of the conference as laid out in the new attendee's guide is to "network, network, network." this obviously presents challenges for someone who doesn't really jive well with typical engineering types. oh, also as a young engineer/pseudo-academic i've just met far fewer people in the field so it's not like i'm constantly running into others. anyway, the whole stress of knowing that i should be schmoozing like crazy made me have a shitty time for much of the time that i was there.

there's also the added layer of stress that results from knowing that if you could just say something really insightful at one of the sessions then you'd start to build up your conference credibility and thus your peer network. this, of course, results in a complete and utter paralysis when it comes to asking questions. this is compounded by the fact that the highest returns on your questions would appear to come from asking those questions of folks that are well-established in your field, but which then leads to further paralysis (since asking a fellow grad student would somehow be less good.

as a result i literally asked no questions during sessions. thankfully poster sessions were somewhat nicer. these seemed to me to be a lot more rewarding than the talk sessions that just degenerated into self-important men asking longwinded questions, or else nervous graduate students stumbling through poorly composed questions (but at least, i guess, they were asking questions). in the poster session you can actually interact with the presenter over a sustained period of time in a comparatively low-stress environment. (i'm reminded of david foster wallace's interview with charlie rose where he comments that the Q&A that inevitably follows his readings is completely absurd, since the time allotted to answer each question does not nearly approach the actual amount of time required to satisfactorily answer the question.)

additionally, my own research is in a strange place. i just completed an MS on a topic that i am not at all interested in. (except for certain aspects of it--environmental justice, for example.) so i'm not really interested in plugging in with a group of researchers in this area. (except for those looking at EJ issues. i had a talk in an EJ session and the sort of interaction that i expected to emerge from that session did not in fact, emerge.) the direction i want to head for my dissertation (travel demand modeling/climate change/history of models?) i'm not nearly well-versed enough in to be able to plug in with anyone doing work in that area. i went to some modeling talks, and was kind of reassured that the things i want to do are still relevant. bottom line is that i need to get into some of the modeling literature/methods and figure out what i want to do, exactly.

funnily enough, it was kind of hard to find sessions i thought were interesting. i searched the schedule on some terms like social science, humanities, history, philosophy, feminism, technology, etc. but really nothing came up. i also ended up blowing off a whole day to practice my talk (it paid off, i think) and the evening sessions from 7:30-9:00 were not really appealing to me.

my talk went well, fwiw. i had practiced a lot, so it was very smooth. the only questions i got were from a rail nut who thought that the problems could be solved if freight moved to rail and a woman who asked about health effects. a panelist sitting next to me kept dropping me comments during the Q&A but they mostly went over my head.

anyway, TRB #1 done. maybe i'll be ready for #2 next year.

1 comment:

Trey said...

Amen. It was my second TRB meeting and you pretty much summed up last year's and this year's experience. Next time I'm going up the day before my presentation and leaving as soon as I'm done. I hate schmoozing. And I REALLY hate trying to think of insightful comments/questions like a little sycophant.