Last week, I attended the Annual Meeting of the American Association of Geographers, otherwise known as the AAG. Probably the biggest Geography conference in the world, the AAG continues to grow every year and this year over 9000 delegates gathered in Chicago for the 5 day event. It was my first time attending the conference, and although I had a fantastic time I did find the whole thing a little overwhelming at times. Amongst everything, it is easy to forget why you’re there in the first place. I decided to put this post together of what I believe are the 3 main purposes of going to a large international conference like the AAG, so you can reassure yourself when you find yourself asking the question, which you almost certainly will at some point, ‘Why did I sign up for this?’
Present. And/or organising a session. Although you don’t have to present your work when you go to a conference, it seems a bit daft to fly all the way over the Atlantic Ocean and not present. Each presenter at the AAG only gets 20 minutes for their talk, including questions, so it really isn’t a big commitment. Presenting allows you to share your work with, and get feedback from, people outside your normal academic circle, which can be incredibly helpful. Presenting at such a prominent conference also allows you to stake your claim to your research topic, to make sure other people know what your research involves. Plus, it can actually be quite fun- you might actually enjoy yourself!
Network. The sheer size of the AAG makes it a unique opportunity for networking, particularly for international contacts. Some really big names in Geography attend the AAG, and it can be a great chance to introduce yourself (I was sat behind David Harvey in one session, although I didn’t say hello!) If you are thinking about publishing your work, many publishers have booths in the exhibition hall, and a lot of journal editors also attend, so there are plenty of people to talk to about your ideas. It is a great chance to meet other PhD students, and catch up with existing friends who you haven’t seen since the last big conference. A PhD can sometimes be a lonely experience, so I like to take every chance I get to socialise with other people in the same boat.
Learn. My final purpose of going to a large international conference is a bit cheesy I know, but I think it’s a really important one. Conferences are a great chance to find out the latest ideas, theories and concepts in geography and your particular field. As I said, some of the biggest names in Geography attend the AAG, so it’s a great chance to hear them speak, and learn directly from them. Plus, it gives you the chance to ask questions about things you don’t understand, which you can’t do when reading a journal article or book. You can develop your own current projects by listening to others, and perhaps even get some ideas for future projects.
And if all that wasn’t enough to convince you to go along to the next AAG, the 2016 meeting is being held in San Francisco, so if you’ve always wanted to see Alcatraz or the Bay Bridge, then why not squeeze in a massive international conference whilst you’re at it?
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