Wednesday, September 19, 2012

What I hate about conferences

I hate being a woman at a conference.

I hate being a woman at a conference who is outspoken about the problems women face in my field.

I hate being a woman at a conference who other women seek out for advice, or a shoulder to vent at.

I hate being a woman at a conference who feels obligated to follow another woman, who I've only met twice before, to her room, after she leaves near tears from breakfast in the hotel lobby because a male colleague has been riding her ass academically for the last two days about her scientific techniques.

I hate being asked "what would you do if you had to choose between your family or your job?" I have no FUCKING CLUE. The question SCARES ME SHITLESS. I hate not being able to say that publicly, quite in those terms.

I hate watching aforementioned male colleague be polite to all the people more senior to him, and rude to female post docs and graduate students of both genders. I hate choosing my seat at meals so that this colleague cannot sit next to or across from me. I hate having aforementioned female colleague follow me into the ladies room so she can avoid sitting next to him as well.

I hate using sarcasm, always with a smile on my face, never in anger, to shock someone into stopping inappropriate behavior, even for a few minutes. I hate that because I was composed enough to smile through breakfast,  while someone else was not, she is now perceived as being short tempered, while the male colleague is merely has a hot headed-type. I, on the other hand, am not threatening ... still.

I hate feeling like a hunted deer whenever someone comments that I am an aggressive woman, whether or not they mean it in jest, whether or not they mean it as a bad thing.

I hate the being on the winning side of a stylistic argument with aforementioned male colleague, but not feeling up to the task of discussing it with him again, after making this discovery, perhaps even offering some friendly advice, because I don't have the energy to handle the strong possibility that the discussion may turn ugly. I hate realizing that we are actually working in closely related fields, and that a collaboration may be good for both of us, if only I could stomach talking to him.

But enough of that. What I love about conferences, what I live for in conferences, are the conversations between colleagues working on the same problem from different approaches, realizing that the approaches are not only not incompatible, but that there is a lot of overlap, perhaps even room for collaboration. I love pitching a talk at a few people in the room, and having them walk away excited about the research, and eager to work with me. This is why I'm in this field. The rest of the day can go to hell.

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