Working as Research Assistant – The Dark Side pt. 2

My post yesterday apparently urged Matthias to write a timely response to it, pointing out the light side, which in turn urges me to post a second part of the Dark Side, which turns out to be more of a Dark Side with Cookies.

First of all, Matthias is right, that we can consider ourselves very lucky with our Ph.D. advisor and I did not intend to say that he is the one who promotes „publish or perish“. Rather, I think that simply comparing oneself to other Ph.D. students can provoke the feeling that „publish or perish“ is the only way to get a Ph.D. – especially if you are the only Ph.D. student in a working group, like I am. The problem is simply, that you do not get to know the Ph.D. students that do not publish a lot. How should you? You cannot stumble upon their publications by accident, obviously, and I do not know a lot of Ph.D. students who attend conferences without having a paper / poster / demo there (at our university, for example, that would not even be funded).

In general, I stick with my opinion, that conferences with a broad range of topics most likely will not have much of a personal gain – the better part of the audience is simply not experienced in your topic. And even the people that attend your track, may have a different area of research than you, for example „e-Learning“ does most likely not mean „e-Assessment“. Therefore, the chance is rather small that you have people in the audience who can give you qualified feedback.

However, the conference I am attending at the moment is a positive example that it can turn out as predicted and still be different. It’s still the case that no one at the conference does e-Assessment the way I am doing it, thus no qualified feedback for me, but the networking part nevertheless works out fine. I think that this is also due to the fact that the conference has significantly fewer participants than I had originally assumed. I have been to a really large conference with a broad range of topics last year, that had really a lot of participants and many parallel sessions scheduled, and there was no networking at all – people kept hanging out with the people they already knew.

Finally, my personal „problem“ is my family and especially our children. Without them, I would really, really enjoy travelling to conferences, but so I’m always torn apart on the inside. Therefore, I try to tell myself that going to a conference is something I must do, that it brings me forward with my Ph.D. And this may be true, as already pointed out, in terms of publications. In terms of feedback, however, there are conferences that are absolutely valuable for the ongoing of my research, but some conferences do simply not give you anything. And then it’s really hard to tell yourself, that attending the conference is something that you have to do…

So, summarizing, what does all that mean?

Did the conference give me a personal gain as a researcher? No.
Was it still nice to visit the conference? Yes.
Was it worth it? Maybe.
Should you write posts about attending conferences and being away from home when sitting alone in a hotel room? Absolutely not!

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