Highs and Lows of the AAG: Perspective of a Lone Travelling PhD Researcher

Who Am I?

My name is Llinos Brown and I am a final year EPSRC CASE award PhD student at the University of Central Lancashire (UCLan), Preston. My PhD research explores energy cultures in a workplace case study environment. I am particularly interested in exploring how energy cultures differ between manufacturing and office environments within the same workplace. If you are interested in hearing more about my research please get in touch – Lbrown5@uclan.ac.uk or follow me on twitter @LlinosBrownGeog


The AAG this year was held in Chicago, the city that invented the skyscraper.

The AAG this year was held in Chicago, the city that invented the skyscraper. The main conference venue was the Hyatt Regency hotel, to the left of this image (Photo: Hannah Awcock).

Like the majority of conferences, the AAG is a great opportunity to catch up with colleagues/friends, build up relationships, meet new people and network…..what you would expect from any conference. But the AAG is a bit different to any conference I had attended. It is extremely big – over 9000 geographers attending, with over 1700 sessions submitted – split over two main venues and two smaller venues, with over 90 parallel sessions. It has a conference app and there are lots of very well-known geographers in attendance (someone should create a Geographer Bingo).

Something that I struggled with and something that overwhelmed me was – how do you systematically go through which session to attend? My approach was first look at the speciality groups, the main one for me– energy, and highlight them. Then look for some key words – for me energy, workplace, and behaviour, and highlight them. Finally if there are any gaps (and I had time to look in more detail) look through particular session slots and highlight anything that you think was a bit different. I spent around 20 minutes each evening going through what I had highlighted for the next day and working out what I really wanted to see. Each day I also popped in something a little bit different into my schedule. I would definitely recommend this, some of the most thought provoking sessions that I attended were sessions that had nothing to do with my sub-discipline of energy geographies. The AAG has a bit of everything, embrace the amazing discipline of Geography and the variety of sessions that are on offer.

The printed program for the AAG is the size of a telephone book!

The printed program for the AAG is the size of a telephone book! (Photo: Hannah Awcock)

One of the highs of the conference for me that I did not realise until I was on the plane home, was how embracing geography for a week helped me formulated new ideas. It’s not just about presenting your paper, networking, or handing out business cards. The conference has helped me develop empirical chapters for my thesis and it has made it much clearer to me how all the bits of my future thesis will link together. Maybe this wasn’t the AAG and it was just having time away from my desk and not directly thinking about my PhD but it was very extremely beneficial all the same.

One of the lows of the conference for me was its size. It is extremely big and it can be a lonely experience. Lunch and refreshments are not provided by the organisers so you can easily end up on your own at lunchtime. There are not the opportunities to chat to the person in front of you or sit next to someone while eating dinner and get chatting to them – which I’ve done at the RGS Annual Conference.  One thing I noticed at the AAG is that there are a lot of British geographers in attendance but they often stay in their university groups which mean if you’re the sole representative from your university it can mean you’re on your own for an evening or two. I was lucky enough to gate crash the Royal Holloway ‘crew’ so most evenings I joined them for food and drink – Thanks guys!

Llinos doing a bit of networking.

Llinos doing a bit of networking (Photo: Hannah Awcock).

The N word – ‘Networking’ – we all know the benefits of it and how beneficial it can be but sometimes it can make you reflect on your experience as a researcher and make you wish you were in the person you are speaking to shoe’s. Yes, there is the saying ‘the grass is always greener on the other side’ and this might link to me being the only person from UCLan attending the AAG but some evenings when I was back in my hotel room and had time to reflect on the day, I was a bit jealous of the additional support networks, the variety of supervision and the diversity of PhD research communities at other universities. This can be a bit of a low but there are also some positives such as realising you’ve got better resources than other PhD students – such as a permanent desk.

So to round up some top tips from me:

  • Don’t attend every session, there is a lot going on and you need time to digest the information you’ve obtained;
  • Get in contact with people you have met at previous conferences and see if they are attending, buddy up with them, exchange details and go for a drink.
  • Follow the twitter hashtag, if you’re ever not sure what session to attend check out twitter and see if something exciting is happening.
  • Head to a random session not related to your discipline – embrace Geography

Llinos Brown, University of Central Lancashire.

3 thoughts on “Highs and Lows of the AAG: Perspective of a Lone Travelling PhD Researcher

  1. I definitely agree that overly large academic conferences can be overwhelming–in anthropology, the AAAs come to mind. The best way to make the most out of the experience is focus in on special interest groups, reconnect with old colleagues, and attend only the presentations and panel discussions that you’re most interested in. Scheduling time for you to go to a coffeeshop or back to your hotel room to regroup and recharge can also help keep the experience from getting to overwhelming.

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    • Thank you for your tips! We had all be told how big the AAG was, but I don’t think any of us first-timers really understood until we actually saw it for ourselves. I think you’re right about making sure to take time out to recharge, the whole thing was so exhausting!

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