My children hardly think it strange for me to pull out my suit jackets and chatter about all the great people I'm about to see. This was my 7th annual conference. My academic career has taken me to New Orleans, Atlanta, San Francisco, Milwaukee / Chicago, Baltimore, San Diego, and now full-circle to Atlanta. Although my children think this is normal, perhaps you're still scratching your head, wondering why anyone would voluntarily spend the time and money to sit for a week listening to academics read their research essays aloud to each other (horrors!).
|Scripture and Theology in Global Context at ETS 2015, |
(right to left) Gene Green, Emily J. Choge Kerama, Jules
Gonzalez, Raymond Aldred, Sung Wook Chung (photo: C. Imes)
I have 5 BIG reasons to keep going back for more, and I share them here in hopes that more students in this field will take the plunge. It's worth every penny.
5. Cutting Edge Research with a Walking Bibliography - Before academic books hit the shelves or journals publish peer-reviewed articles, scholars test their ideas on their peers. At the annual meeting I get first dibs on these new ideas. What's more, I can watch the immediate reactions of other scholars. Meeting these people and hearing them talk invigorates my work and helps me remember what I've learned. Instead of a list of names, I see faces and hear voices and recall handshakes.
|Christopher H. J. Wright, |
author of The Mission of God,
at IBR 2015 (photo: C. Imes)
4. Deep Discounts - Speaking of books, the book tables are every scholar's dream (and every spouse's nightmare!). All the latest publications in biblical studies are there -- as much as 50% off -- AND you can get your hands on them, check the table of contents or indexes, and stock up for another year of learning. Publishers are eager to see their books in the hands of this particular crowd (especially those who are currently teaching), so you can anticipate free books as well. This year, because I've just agreed to teach another class at Multnomah University, I spent a grand total of $9.50 and came home with 14 books. A new record!
3. Professional Experience - I didn't present a paper this year for the annual meeting, but I've given 7 papers at previous conferences. Each time I've been grateful for the scholars who took the time to listen to my ideas, ask penetrating questions, and offer feedback. It's a bit like being graded, in person, by a dozen or more people at once. That can be intimidating. But the discipline is worth it because it makes me stronger as a scholar. As an audience member, I'm learning how to ask better questions and make every conversation count.
2. Networking - At my first annual meeting in 2009, I didn't understand how important this was. My goal was to attend as many papers as possible. Veterans told me I should go to fewer papers and spend more time with people. I still didn't get it. Now I do. After 30 papers, my brain no longer tracks with the speaker. And even with 5 full days of conference attendance, there wasn't enough time to see all the people I wanted to see.
|Second Annual IBR Women's Breakfast (photo: C. Imes)|
Here's proof of the value of networking: In 2010 and 2011, I had dinner with the academic dean of an institution in the Portland area, hoping that this conversation would increase my chances of one day landing a job. We met again in 2012, but this time I noticed a shift in the conversation. The academic dean showed an inordinate amount of interest in my experience at Wheaton College, including the climate, schools for the kids, our church, etc. Eventually he admitted an ulterior motive. The following summer Marc Cortez and his family moved to Wheaton where he took a position on the PhD faculty. While I was thrilled for Wheaton, I wondered if my networking had been in vain. Fast forward to 2015, where I learned that Marc will chair my dissertation defense. Nothing goes to waste!
|Colleagues from Wheaton College at our Annual PhD|
Reunion (Photo: C. Imes)
These are my reasons for prioritizing the annual meetings. I realize it's expensive to go, but think about it: how much does a 3-credit class cost in seminary or graduate school? Over $1000, right? You can attend all three conferences (ETS, IBR, and SBL), stay in the conference hotels, and eat your meals out the whole time for less than that, all the while gaining a great deal more personally and professionally than you can ever get from one class. I call that a bargain!