Dr. Graham Pluck
Minds, Brains, & Internationalism

Travel, Internationalism, and Academia Blog


Back to conferencing

Attending international conferences is one of the perks of academic life. Academic meetings are held all around the world, often in tourist-friendly locations (e.g., Hawaii, Las Vegas, Vancouver, Paris). Some of these can be quite small and friendly, and low cost, particularly if organised by small, national organisations. Others are huge and overwhelming, such as the Society for Neuroscience, which generally has > 30,000 attendees.

I’ve always been trying to balance an academic career and a desire to travel, so conference attendance has been part of this, taking me to academic meetings in 17 different countries so far. But that was before the Covid pandemic, which of course, has changed everything.

Without the possibility of international travel, and large gatherings, most academic conferences over the last couple of years have been cancelled or switched to online format. To some, this is a welcome change. One can attend conferences without having to leave home, which is great for those who don’t have a wanderlust. There are also some global justice consequences. International conference attendance has always favoured people in rich countries, particularly the USA. International conferences would be planned based on how easy it would be for people from the USA to travel there. There is also the cost of registration and flights, which was often prohibitive for people in poorer countries. There is also a substantial environmental impact, of having so many people fly into a single destination.

So online conferences are better, right? Personally, they don’t work for me. The thought of attending a three-day conference, by sitting at home, on Zoom, makes my heart sink. I had great plans for the year 2020. I was supposed to present at the International Neuropsychological Society conference in Vienna, then take the train to Prague to chair a session at the International Congress of Psychology. I also had a conference to attend in Kazakhstan. None of it really happened. There was a similar situation in 2021. Very disappointing.

So, I was pleased when I got a chance a couple of weeks ago to attend a real conference again, in Pattaya, Thailand. It was only a small thing, a couple of hours drive from Bangkok, where I’m currently living. In fact, due to the travel-restrictions and lockdowns, this was my first-time leaving Bangkok since I arrived 9 months ago. It was also my dog’s first ever visit to a beach. Little Albert approves of beaches and waves.

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The event was the International STEM Education Conference. I’m not really an Educationalist, but I had some research comparing smartphone addiction in STEM and humanities students, so this seemed a good place to present it. This used the IEEE format, which I’ve never used before, so I got to broaden my academic skills too. To submit, I had to produce a four-page paper by filling a template, which also uses their own idiosyncratic reference style. After the presentation is given, the paper is published in the IEEE Xplore database, so it becomes a sort-of minor publication.

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The conference was actually in hybrid format, so there were a few people attending by Zoom, but also a couple of hundred in person. So after nearly two years of pandemic, I got to present again, albeit while wearing a surgical mask. Perhaps this is the new normal, small national conferences in person, or international events only over Zoom.

But I’ll keep on hoping that things improve, and we can move out of pandemic mode. I’ve got my eyes on a neuropsychology conference planned for 2023 in Taiwan.

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