Conferences are of course important in the life of an academic. It’s where you get to present your work, receive feedback on it, meet colleagues and discuss ideas. I know some people find them very stressful but I like them: I don’t think ‘networking’ is such a bad word as some people think and I love the creative flow of such events. I always leave not only with great feedback for my research, but also with nice collaborations with different projects.
Of course the pandemic has shut all of this down. I had replied to a call for papers for a conference in September 2019 but that one has obviously been cancelled. To my surprise however, I received an email in August 2021 that the event would take place this fall, and if I was still willing to give a talk. To be honest, I had to look up what I had proposed, the idea had just been laying on a shelf somewhere for over a year.
But my proposal still seemed to be quite solid, so sure! The event was organised in a hybrid way: the study of Afrikaans literature is mostly done in South Africa (duh) and the Netherlands and Belgium (because of the colonial history). The event took place in Amsterdam, several scholars from Belgium came to the Netherlands and about 2/3 of the participants joined through Zoom. Luckily, the technique worked quite well, and with the rising numbers of COVID-19 infections it was comforting to not have too big a group in the conference rooms.
What struck me, was the very relaxed nature of the event. Maybe it’s because we’re a small field where everybody knows each other, but from the start everybody seemed really chill about their lectures. No ‘This is the peak moment when I need to perform’ but just ‘I’m gonna tell this colleagues that I really like about this fun thing I researched’. My talk was the second day of the conference and I was not nervous at all: I knew my talk fitted the event and I knew I could trust the others to give constructive feedback.
Hearing all these horror stories about life in academics it was nice to have such a positive experience. I also loved talking to all these other academics after such a long time and we’ve made great plans: someone will help me with the contacts for a translation I want to publish and I get the chance to do a review in one of our most acclaimed journals. Being able to talk with each other makes it so much easier to find out each other’s strength and the possibilities we can offer to one another.
These events give me the kind of energy that help me get through the lonely months of academics, when you’re struggling with texts all on your own and get overwhelmed by all the stories of how harsh academic culture can be. I am really quite lucky to have found a niche where people just seem to be very friendly to eachother.