Conferences & Conferences…


Photo by a tiny conference organizer (Paolo Saporito)
Photo by a tiny conference organizer (Paolo Saporito)

In any language of this world, Graduate Life’s translation could easily be “Conferences”. Conferences here, conferences there, doesn’t matter who you fero cum or you want to confer (for those of you who understand Latin)…this is a word whose echo stressed, stresses and will stress most of our readers. Then, if you are one of those who have ever wondered “confer…hence?”, you may want to have a look at this post, where I’m going to share with you the amazing experience of being not a speaker, not a presenter, not a panel spectator who struggles to get more free-food than the others, but a conference organizer, the most grey, banal, yet amazing figure in this world of weird translations.

You would say “What can you tell me about conferences that I don’t know already???” Well, I don’t know. I’m not going to talk about transport tickets, expenses reports or all the very expensive inconveniences you have to deal with when you go to a conference. Not at all. In fact, I refer to that tiny person who writes articles, send emails, make calls, design posters and hang them around campus, take care of the conference website, upload pictures, download pictures, upload them again (sorry, but internet does not work always as it should) and, this is the last one, learn a lot from what he or she is doing. Yes, you read it correctly. Organizing conferences is stressful, demanding, the most unpredictable thing you will do in your life, but it may also be one of the most engaging and enriching experience of your career.

The Long 1950s_small

This is what is happening to me. Since October, I am in the team behind “The Long 1950s: Popular Culture and the (Un)Making of Italian Identity” a series of conferences organized by the McGill LLCU department in collaboration with the Italian Cultural Institute at Montréal and promoted by SSHRC (yes, you can take a breath now). It is the first time that I do this kind of experience, at least in the academic context. Beforehand, I worked as a journalist and things were similar to what I am doing, but their meaning and the amount of networking that I am doing are completely different. Thanks to this series I meet people from my country that study and critically analyze Italian culture in different universities all over the world. The variety of their approaches, as well as their perspective on issues and problems that we share as Italians are giving me a full experience that I did not expect. Italian history, politics and social issues appear far from here. Yet, those people, their work and analysis are part of that country as I am and our reflections become part of Italy as we still are, although far away.

Moreover, through this experience I am creating a network of people from the same city where I live now and where my engagement is more resonant. I’m getting familiar with people inside and outside McGill that I did not know before and now get interested in what I am doing. Not only my work, but the department that I am part of is acknowledged for what is offering to the city. Finally, something that I don’t want to forget, these events are giving me the opportunity to know better my department and the people that make it real too. Working on things that go beyond papers, meetings and courses is very helpful to build a nice relationship with them.

In conclusion, conferences are not only that boring thing that can fill a line of your CV. Conferences are organized and managed by people and these people are the best part of it. In ancient Latin, the verb confer is composed by the radical  “fer” and the suffix “com” (with). “Com” is the word behind the true meaning of organizing conferences: union, interaction of points of view and perspectives, plurality, collaboration and confrontation.


Banner Image by McGill Blogger Paolo Saporito

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