The value of the regional conference

As an academic, I try to attend several conferences each year. They’re a great way to network with other scholars, to see friends who have graduated, and to learn the new ideas that are informing the field. And while no one would dispute the importance of attending these conferences, I worry that the regional, smaller conferences sometimes don’t receive the respect they deserve.

I just returned from attending MAPOR, or the Midwest Association for Public Opinion Research, in Chicago this past weekend. MAPOR has long been a favorite conference of mine: it was the first place I ever presented an academic paper. And I can’t imagine a better reception: people were friendly and supportive, especially upon hearing that it was my first presentation. The feedback from the discussants and from the audience often rivals that garnered from the larger conferences.

But these conferences only maintain their value when they are attended by budding graduate students and tenured professors alike. The conference seemed smaller than usual, which may in part be due to the poor economy. But I also worry that people feel that they “outgrow” the regional conferences like MAPOR, and this attitude is really damaging to their effectiveness. Having the opportunity to present with and to some of the top minds in the field in a more relaxed atmosphere is part of what makes regional conferences great.

I want to encourage scholars at all levels of their research to continue attending these regional conferences. I realize that we can’t attend each conference every year, but I hope that the regional conference continues to be a part of the conference “diet” (to borrow a phrase) for graduate students and professors alike.

P.S. In the interests of full disclosure, I did not attend MAPOR last year, as I was scheduled to start my preliminary examinations one week after the conference. Further, I led a paper that was awarded the top student paper award at MAPOR this year. I am very grateful for this award and I believe the student paper competition is one of the best features of MAPOR because even those papers that do not win an award have an opportunity to get their paper reviewed.

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