The one thing you have to do at your next academic conference

Today, I am heading home from the American Educational Research Association annual meeting, which has been in Chicago over the last several days.  Academic conferences are a wonderful opportunity to meet new colleagues, reconnect with old friends, and hear about important work.  This used to be all I would do at academic conferences.  While these things are obviously important, I was missing something big and it is the one thing you have to do at your next academic conference.

Faculty work can be hard and time consuming.  On the other hand, faculty life comes with many benefits.

One of the benefits that I enjoy most is getting to travel.  I know plenty of people that have to travel all the time for work and it becomes one of the worst parts of their job.

I don’t have to travel that frequently so it can still be fun for me.

Yet, it wasn’t always.  Or rather, I didn’t always take advantage.

For years, I’d attend a conference and do all of the things that you do at a conference, but I would never get out to see the city I was visiting.

Often, the most I would see the city would be the taxi ride to and from the airport.  What a waste!

Never again will I visit a city and not take advantage of the perk and opportunity to get to travel around our country and the world.

Presenting and writing up conference papers can be hard work.  For an introvert like me, meeting people and going to receptions can be even harder!

I do the hard work.  Why wouldn’t I take advantage of the rewards?  And the rewards are astonishing.

I have been able to visit some great places and do things that I may never have been able to do if I wasn’t an academic.  Just in the past two years, I have:

Gone to the top of the St. Louis Arch.  Visited the National Portrait Gallery in Washington, D.C.  Walked the streets of Philadelphia. Seen the view of San Francisco from the top of Telegraph Hill.  Visited Lenin’s tomb in Moscow.

I can’t imagine missing these experiences.

My challenge to you is this:  make time at your next conference to do at least one thing in the city that you’re visiting.  It could be a significant tourist attraction, historical site, or just a stroll through an interesting neighborhood.

Get out, see the city, and enjoy the fruits of your labor.

And that’s what I consider it: the fruits of labor.  I work hard preparing work and giving a good presentation.  Giving myself the reward of doing something in the city helps keep me excited and looking forward to the next conference.

So, you may be wondering (if the picture didn’t give it away), what did I do in Chicago?  I went to The Second City perform.  If you don’t know them, they are a longstanding comedy performance group with an unbelievable roster of alumni (seriously, google it, they are amazing).

Notable comedy legends from John Belushi and Bill Murray to more recently Tina Fey and Stephen Colbert.  The show was reasonably price and nearly three hours of funny.  I am so glad that I went and it only reaffirmed my believe in the importance of seeing the city you’re visiting.

At your next academic conference, I hope you’ll visit the city and not just the conference.  And share some of your favorites because I’m always thinking about where to go next!

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