After a long and difficult winter, it’s finally spring: conference season. While academic conferences run year ‘round, there’s an overabundance of them when the winter term ends and before everyone takes off to wherever for research and/or down-time. I’d submitted abstracts for two, completely forgetting about a third conference that had been postponed from last year. So having done no conferences last year, I did three in three weeks—which is kind of nuts, but sort of fun too.
The Canadian Society for the Study of Comics held its third annual conference on May 9-10 in Toronto in conjunction with the Toronto Comics Arts Festival. I’d submitted a proposal on the medicalization of comic book superheroes, something I’m considering expanding towards post-doc research. I thought it might be a little off-side for them, but they went for it. I was hoping to get input from people who’ve read more comics than I have, and I wasn’t disappointed. Having taken lots of notes, however, I’ve set that work aside for now to focus on the dissertation. Can’t do a post-doc until I’ve finished the doc!
From May 20-22, I attended an independent conference held at Humber in Toronto. I’d never been to their campus and was really impressed with both its buildings and its green space. In November 2012, I’d attended a conference sponsored by the International Network for Alternative Academia in Montreal. Unfortunately, it was just days after Hurricane Sandy had decimated the north-eastern seaboard and wreaked havoc on air transportation in North America. About half the delegates weren’t able to come, and some of them spent the conference stranded in various airports. This time, in Toronto, with no major catastrophes, attendance was, surprisingly, almost as poor. A bit disappointing. What I really like about these conferences is that they’re interdisciplinary and international; we had scholars in English, philosophy, communication and linguistics, and professionals from psychiatry, writing, activism and acting (I’ve probably missed a few). People came from Ireland, Japan, Spain, the US and Canada (again, I’ve probably missed a few). The other thing I like is that although the papers presented are a jumping off point, the real event is the dialogue between attendees. There’s something exhilarating about a dozen or so intelligent people sitting around a table hashing out some thorny abstract debate. Supporting the conference’s theme of Creating Characters, Inventing Lives, I presented a paper called Embodying Story-Life examining narrative from the seemingly very different perspectives of patient narrative (drawing on work by Arthur Frank) and Native narrative (drawing on work by Thomas King). While there was some interesting discussion, this also brought me back closer to my dissertation.
Yesterday, I took a day-trip to Brock University in St Catharines which was this year’s host for Congress. With many of the major roads in and out of Toronto under repair and causing massive delays, I decided to take the train, which I prefer anyway. VIA proved an expensive option and had limited scheduling for this trip, so I took the GO train. I got out of the city without issue and had a smooth ride to Burlington, where I transferred to the GO bus, well beyond Toronto’s stagnant traffic. The problem is that the GO bus doesn’t arrive at the main terminal in downtown St Catharines, but stops at Fairview Mall. To get from there to Brock via transit requires two city buses and another 30-40 minutes. After two hours in transit already, I splurged on a cab; it’s a short but expensive ride. After arriving on campus, I discovered that I’d worn the wrong shoes. One doesn’t just arrive at Congress; one has to register… on the far side of campus. This was where the throng was gathered. Hot and cold running academics wandered the corridors and great hall, some, like me, looking lost, others hooking up with comrades they only see once a year.
I confess that when I first heard academics talk about Congress with breathy excitement, it sounded like an orgy—and in a way it is. Congress is a veritable smorgasbord of intellectual delights. Organized by the Federation for the Humanities and Social Sciences, aka SSHRC, Congress brings together 75 Canadian associations and over 8,000 delegates in an annual eight-day interdisciplinary intellectual feeding frenzy. Keynotes, meetings and panels make up the conference’s +2,500 events and +5,000 presentations. Clearly, it was a very different experience from the previous weeks’ more intimate conferences. Although it’s a Canadian academic mainstay, I confess that this is the first time I’ve attended. The numbers make it sound much more daunting than it is in practice, as each organization breaks off into its own area for panels and presentations.
The Canadian Communication Association conference I was part of offered six concurrent sessions, so we ended up with about a dozen people in the audience. What was really exciting was presenting with two of my colleagues from Communication and Culture, Sara Martel and Yukari Seko. It made sense, as we’re all working around imaging related to health, but in very different ways. As I think we’d all intuited when writing the panel abstract for Health Beyond the Visible Surface: Visuality, Technology, Power, our unique work fits together really well. Someone had suggested to me that co-presenting with colleagues would take the pressure off, but I actually felt the opposite. When I was writing Data Ghosts Haunt the Living: Medical Imaging’s “Productive Encounters with Corpses” I was conscious of a sense of responsibility towards the panel, not just myself. Although we had some idea of each others’ dissertation research, engaging with it in twenty-minute presentations clarified how much commonality and divergence our work has. I’m hopeful that we’ll find something more to do with this work together.
I didn’t give myself much opportunity to explore Congress—maybe next time. Someone suggested doing multiple presentations for different organizations at Congress to rack up professional development activities on burgeoning academic curriculum vitas, but that just sounds exhausting to me. I’d want to have everything prepared well in advance. We’ll see what next year brings.
So now I’m back home. Tired, fighting allergies, but enjoying the increased sun and heat. No more conferences on the books for the moment. I won’t be teaching again until late June, and even then it’s only one course. I’m looking forward to having time to focus on the dissertation. I feel much better when I’m actively working on it. Pushing to complete the writing this summer. We’ll see how that goes.
© Catherine Jenkins 2014 all rights reserved