Socially-Distanced Conferences

A tale of two JMM. One hotel room in 2014. One apartment in 2021. Same. Costume. Same. Circus.

COVID has changed a lot about our profession. Clearly, it’s changed how we conference—there’s no more travel. Not sure about you, but I have actually been able to attend more conferences since quarantine. And it’s so easy. No paperwork to fill out regarding reimbursement. I don’t waste entire days in airports and shuttles and cabs. I’m never jet lagged. Yes, I don’t get to chit-chat with people before the talks drinking hotel coffee and eating Sam’s Club mini muffins; yes, I don’t get to stand idly after the last morning talk until a group way too large to split a check starts wandering in a zombie-like state to lunch; yes, I don’t have to wait in a hotel lobby for people to go to dinner, only to find out two of the people we’ve been waiting for forgot the meeting location and just went straight to the restaurant.

Conservatively, I estimate I’ve saved my college and/or self close to $4000 since lockdown started “going” to conferences. Not to mention the time or the inches from my waist. And I’m not the only one benefitting from the online movement. A lot of smaller conferences especially are winning right now; due to everything being online they are able to get plenaries they normally couldn’t afford. I have heard more talks in the last six months from mathematicians currently living in Europe than I have in my entire career up to the last six months.

And who knows? Some of these changes might be permanent. Money is tight—how likely is it that we will continue to have massive grants for hosting conferences? How likely is it that we’ll be allotted money for travel by our colleges and universities (at least, to the extent we’ve had)? Why not have a plenary Zoom in to give a talk once this is all over?

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Thanks, Academia

[This is totally a backhanded compliment to academia. More backhand than compliment.]

No working during drinking hours.

Recently (and it’s a long, boring, and irrelevant story as to how it came about) I read a rant of someone desperate to meet another in person. The other person was uncomfortable with this, given the current pandemic situation. The rant was sent in response to a “Thanks but no thanks, I don’t want to meet” message, and started by almost demanding a meeting out of pity because they were so lonely and had had such a rough year. But there was a line in the rant that stuck with me: “I just don’t understand how you’re not going insane not seeing friends, or even having only online dates. Why isn’t it hard for you to avoid restaurants and bars—don’t you enjoy that?”

I don’t know why. It doesn’t really matter why. But that really resonated with me.

Because I’m not going insane, relatively-speaking, by not seeing friends. Because I am fine with the concept (and reality) of online dating. Because I enjoy restaurants and bars, but also it’s not been hard for me to avoid them. Why? Why I do I match perfectly with this blatant, wanted-but-detested, misunderstood anathema? I realized a LOT of why these are my truths is because of academia.

And so, here is my thank-you to academia for helping immensely in making quarantine and isolation not seem so bad.

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Power, Part I

There have been a few moments that have floored me recently. And I like to think that I’m rarely floored. My intent is to discuss one at a time until I run out. In trying to figure out if there’s any recurring theme to these moments, I have determined there is. That commonality is “power.” In particular:

Why do faculty believe they have power? Continue reading

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