I returned from ITiCSE last weekend, but I’ve only now recovered from an illness brought on by too many late nights and early mornings. While I was still in Israel at the conference it struck me how my attitude toward conferences has changed dramatically since I was a graduate student.
The faculty at the University of Chicago used to take us to theory conferences even when we didn’t have papers to present as a way to give us exposure to the field. They then spent the entire time telling us to stop hanging out together and to instead try to meet people. I remember it being absolute torture. I hated trying to introduce myself to people, and I almost never enjoyed any conversations I had when I did. The one exception, of course, is the conference where I got to know my partner. But that was very unusual and only one of many.
Now I find that I have literally too many talks and panels to attend and people to talk to than I have hours in the day when I’m at conferences. There are people I adore whom I only get to see at conferences, and I relish the thought of attending as a way of seeing and catching up with them. I enjoy getting to know new people, and often the best conversations I have are with people I’ve only just met. And just like the UC faculty always wanted, I regularly get new ideas about research and start new collaborations at conferences. That they would be slightly appalled that I do this at computing education, rather than theory, conferences is one of life’s amusing ironies.