I've been conferencing this past week. The conference was for a small but important society in my field. My ex-boss was one of the founding members of this society. He held an elected office and/or was the editor of their journal for most of the time that I worked for him. Now he is nearing retirement and has given up his position as a leader in this field. I expected to at least see him at the conference but neither he nor his cronies were there. It made me realize that the old guard is being replaced.
I am not of the new guard and have no desire to be.
The theme of the conference this year was a perfect fit for my work. Since I had no plans for any other conference and it was in driving distance and it was a perfect fit, I decided to organize a panel. I presented some of my work; Jags presented some of her work; and the final presentation was by someone (Chris) I used to collaborate with when I worked for my ex-boss. We were three women in our forties presenting data from work that fascinates us and keeps us going. All three of us have been "the power behind the throne" to a rock-star researcher. Chris still is and seems comfortable with that position. Jags and I are comfortable not being rock-stars. It seems we are all in positions that allow us to pursue the ideas that interest us. The difference to me--and its a big difference to me--is that my work is now associated with my name. I don't need to be a rock-star but when my work is out there I want it to stand (or fall) on its own.
I included an NIH program officer as a discussant for our panel. This program officer works for an institute that I would like to fund my work and, as it happens, this person is listed as the program officer on my challenge grant (should it get funded). It was a great opportunity to get to know her and have her become familiar with my work. Afterwards we were able to talk about my next submission. I have been very fired up about seeking external funds ever since the challenge grant experience. I feel my work is ready for the next step and although it will be a slow and tedious process, I feel I am definitely on the right path.
My dissertation advisor--another rock-star and Jag's ex-boss--attended our presentation. She and Jags were co-authors on a paper in the very next panel. I had not seen her for many years. She is not a particularly warm-fuzzy type of person but she is someone I have always respected and I believe she respects me and my work. She seemed genuinally interested and later told me she really liked my poem analysis.
This was the first time I presented using poetry as an analytic technique and I wasn't sure how it was going to go over. I'm close to submitting a paper with the data and thought it would be good to get some feedback at this conference first. The field this conference best represents is primarily quantitative--they use big gun statistical techniques. They are not opposed to qualitative research but most don't understand it very well. My feeling is that narrative analysis is outside their comfort zone--so my use of poetic narrative analysis is really out there for them. My advisor, however, is much more in tune with qualitative techniques and she encouraged me to write a methodology paper on it, which is something I've been toying with for a few months now.
I didn't attend many presentations at the conference. It has never been one that I've particularly enjoyed. I had to attend it frequently when working for my ex-boss and at that time it was very small and incestuous. New blood has definitely made a difference and I was happy to see a more varied listing of topics and presenters. However I have moved on from the main perspective of the field. It is still very relevant to my work but doesn't excite me. I did enjoy the sessions I attended and found myself watching how the speakers presented along with what they presented. I was most interested in watching older women--some were rock-stars and others were well-respected--but all spoke with an ease and confidence that I am beginning to feel. They were all passionate about their work and conveyed a deep understanding of the nuances--they spend their time thinking deep and long about these topics and it shows.
I walked away from this conference experience with a smattering of new ideas for both teaching and research but with a much better understanding of where I do--and don't--want to go in my career.