Crystal Lee (she/她)

Unsolicited advice about bad conferences

I feel like this blog is where I give a lot of advice, as much as I try not to. This time, no one asked, but I’ll answer anyways.

Anyways, about a year ago, I went to a conference where I was completely miserable: I found the people to be unkind and I generally wasn't having that good a time listening to the various sessions, which I found unrelatable and frankly uninteresting. I ended up calling a friend (who shall unfortunately remain unnamed, because this is really good advice) who comforted me and gave me some perspective about how to approach bad conferences.

  • While it's easy to just bristle (and sometimes dwell) on people who are being unkind to you, it's important to remember that their treatment of you isn't necessarily personal, it is information. In other words, people are voluntarily telling you what they will be like as your friend / colleague. They are giving you information about who they are and what they care about. In this case, it may just be that they prioritize their own professional advancement over kindness (which is one way to think about how there is a great deal of values misalignment between the two of you). This isn't necessarily about whether or not you're doing something right or wrong: just take this as an information gathering exercise.
  • This is easier said than done, but care a little less about what people think of you and care a little more about doing what you want. To draw from Mary Oliver: "what is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?" No professional experience is worth being unhappy if you can remove yourself from the situation and find something happier to do with your time.
  • Instead of obsessing over trying to network (lol), if you make 3 new friends that you like, it is a wildly successful conference. Prioritize getting to know fewer people well versus lots of people less well.

Huge thanks to anonymous friend for taking my phone call and for giving me great perspective on what was otherwise a pretty miserable experience -- this went a long way towards reframing what I thought was a failure into a success, since I did make some friends. If you're at a bad conference, I hope this helps you recontextualize that experience!