Academics Gone Wild

Attending my first academic conference

Change the hair to silver, add some tweed and loose papers and this could’ve been a pic of the conference. Photo by Michael Discenza on Unsplash

As I was finishing up my interdisciplinary master’s degree I had what I thought was the good fortune to attend a prestigious conference with two highly esteemed professors from my different disciplines.

I was excited as I was scheduled to present a paper and this was going to be my academic debut, so to speak. Plus, the university was paying for the trip and I would get to spend the entire day soaking up the wisdom and insights of these two brilliant Ph.D.’s.

Now, I won’t go into details about the trip down the tollway and navigating the airport, that’s another story. Suffice it to say that hurling change and cursing at the toll machine (this was before those convenient toll tag readers) was but a minor incident on our travels to the conference. However, we managed to arrive at the conference just in time to check in, grab our materials, and head off to the first breakout sessions. We had all selected different sessions to attend.

Galvanized by copious amounts of caffeine, I decided rather than going to my breakout session I would try to find the exhibition hall. I had been forewarned by my eminent companions that I should visit it for the opportunity to purchase books of wisdom that I would be able to use for my studies.

Egads! The map they had given me made little sense at all. Plus, the conference center was enormous. How was I going to find the exhibition hall?

Luckily, my former Army experience kicked in. I whipped out my GPS and was able to locate the coordinates for the hall. Following these coordinates as well as the tracks of academics (they leave bits of paper in their wake) I was able to reach the hall. The doors to the hall were closed and guarded by rather stoic-looking people, somewhat resembling the guards at Buckingham Palace.

Odd, I thought. When I approached they looked at me skeptically. I explained that I was here for the conference.

One harrumphed at me. “You are far too young to be a professor.”

I explained that indeed I was not a professor, but was a graduate student traveling with two of my professors and produced my conference pass. The guard harrumphed again, but proceeded to open the door and usher me in.

The doors closed behind me and I stared in utter bewilderment at the scenes before me. At one booth a vendor and a professor argued enthusiastically in what I can only guess was Latin or Greek or possibly Aramaic, wilding waving scrolls of paper.

My feet moved forward of their own accord and the nearest vendor, one selling fine chocolates, popped free samples into my mouth, which had fallen open wonderment. In another corner of the hall stood bearded men, looking wise and somewhat pompous, smoking their pipes and competing in creating shapes out of their blue pipe smoke. I thought to myself, this is like Academics Gone Wild.

Before I had time to investigate further Professors Wiggleswords and Sassparilla swooped in and whisked me off to Ye Old Book booth, where they proceeded to load me down with books.

After that, it was lunch and then it was time for my presentation. Although I was a bit nervous, I wasn’t worried too much. We had gone over my paper with a fine-tooth comb until both professors had been satisfied.

Then it was my turn. I launched into my presentation, smoothly introducing the background research of the scholars who had gone before me. As I looked at the audience, I saw nods of wizened heads and an encouraging smile or two peeking out from beneath the beards.

At that point I presented my main argument, going against some of the most prestigious names in the field.

“Preposterous!” shouted one professor, rising from his chair.

“Ridiculous!” shouted another.

My mouth stumbled across the words on the page as I tried to continue reading my paper. Out of the corner of my eye, I saw Professor Wiggleswords confront the professor who had shouted, “preposterous.” While on the other side of the room Professor Sassparilla had put on her spectacles and was engaging the other one.

Within minutes the entire room was in an uproar! At one point, I was struck in the side of the face with a wadded up paper ball. Befuddled, I crouched beneath the table, clutching the paper which had started the ruckus as I wondered what on earth to do.

Then I realized the only thing we could do. Escape the madness. I leaped up on the table and in my best voice, combining Army training with years of wrangling talkative Toastmasters, I shouted, “Wiggleswords, Sassparilla, to the north exit!”

Of course, they went south, being academics and totally unaware of directions. Nonetheless, I charged through the melee and grabbed my professors while simultaneously fending off paper balls, waving books, and the occasional pipe which shot out of a vigorously shouting mouth. As we exited the room towards possible safety, we saw one tall professor who rather resembled Professor Dumbledore up at the podium, rapping it with his staff calling for order.

At this point, Professor Wiggleswords and Sassparilla had recovered their feet. We hustled out of the conference and headed back to the airport for the journey home.

I was mortified. My head hung down. I was sure my academic career was doomed. I would probably never finish my degree. My hopes of wearing tweed and teaching had been dashed. But to my great surprise, my professors were chortling in delight.

“Oh my, that was grand,” said Professor Sassparilla, wiping tears of laughter from her eyes.

Professor Wiggleswords pounded my back. “By Jove, you’ve done it! You are sure to get your paper published now.”

At the airport, while we were waiting for the plane, they toasted my success and waxed eloquent on my future publishing offers with glasses of wine. Shrewdly, I had declined any alcohol, explaining that wine makes me congested, but mainly because I realized that we needed someone sane to drive back.

As I watched their noses get redder and redder and the conversation dissolved into pontification of points far beyond my understanding, I realized that no matter what field or career you go into, Army training is always a good thing.


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