2 thoughts on “When Conferences Go Wrong: Advice from Someone Who’s Been There

  1. Katerina Strani says:

    Dear Lorna, I’m so sorry about your experience! Treating a PhD student in such manner, especially in front of an audience, is totally unacceptable. Even if your paper had flaws, there are more constructive ways for “the most established academic in the room” to engage with it and offer advice. You can be critical and kind, the two are not mutually exclusive. In these cases, it is actually the academic in question who is exposed as insecure and arrogant, and rest assured that people will remember their unprofessional and non-collegiate attitude and not their argument – which is a shame, because the rude academic may have actually been right, but it’s impossible for someone to take the criticism constructively in this way.

    I also had a similar experience some years ago and all I can say (for what it’s worth) is that keeping calm and professional despite the other person’s behaviour can help. Thanking the rude person for their valuable feedback also works sometimes (although arrogant people usually don’t get the sarcasm). Your last point about unkind academics is spot on. In my case, the criticism actually helped me but it took a long time for me to separate the argument from the person.

    Nowadays most conferences set ground rules on being kind and offering respectful and constructive feedback, so hopefully this will mean that such experiences will be a thing of the past. Thank you for sharing this, and I hope it hasn’t discouraged you from sharing your work.


    • Lorna Wallace says:

      Dear Katerina, I’m so sorry for this very delayed response, I didn’t see your comment until just now! You’re completely right about being kind and critical. I wish this academic had known that! I had to present at another conference just two weeks after that experience which meant I had to get over feeling discouraged very quickly. Thankfully all the questions I’ve been asked at conferences since then have been really constructive! Thank you for your kind words on my post.


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