Love/Hate Relationship with Going to Professional Conferences

I've turned into something of a homebody in my late 50s. My wife and I are now quite familiar with the buildup of stress I experience every time I am about to travel on business. Often, even at a really great conference, I start thinking, about halfway through, about the possibility to standby and maybe fly home a day earlier than planned.

But I don't, usually. The angst I feel prior to leaving is replaced by deep satisfaction once I get home and have had a little time to catalogue the experiences I had and the people I met. At many institutions, the fearsome budget cuts of 2003 are now far enough in the past that permission to travel is easier to get. So, I urge you to find a conference you might enjoy and go to it! |||

Sometimes you have to travel away from home to learn things about home. One of my best examples of this is when I traveled to New Orleans for the NLII (now ELI) conference three years ago.

After registration I saw a desk where attendees could sign up for online communities. Since the topics were interesting, I signed up for them all. An hour or so later, I was checking email while listening to a presentation when I received email confirmation that I had been signed up for the three virtual working groups. I clicked on a link to go to one of them and was startled to see that the site was hosted at the University of Michigan, most likely at a server just a short walk from my office. Excitedly, I emailed "webmaster@" and asked for a meeting when I returned. Moments later I got a reply: "Terry, I think I am just across the hallway from you in another session. Let's meet outside at the break." We met. I became an avid user of what is now called CTools at the University of Michigan and is part of the Sakai project!

I will say about that connection only that it has been valuable and worth far more to my employer than the cost of my trip. As have all professional development opportunities I've been lucky enough to experience in my employment. Even a small thing like a subscription to Wired magazine paid off fast. When I first subscribed to Wired, my boss and I had a week's worth of talks about whether we could spend the $50 or so. When the first issue came, I found a tip in there about linking out to other websites that has, since, gotten SCUP millions of minutes of eyeball time on its website.

So, spend on a magazine subscription, learn something that is powerful for your institution's mission. Travel from Ann Arbor to New Orleans and make important connections that would never have happened if you'd stayed home.

Where are you going to go this year to reap those kinds of benefits? Wherever you decide, here are some compelling arguments to use with your boss.

· Overheard in the computer section of Borders … Guy says into cell phone: "Yes, I know the server is down." Listens to reply: "I know, I know! I'm looking for a book on it right now!" (Should've gone to that workshop!)

· They don't call it information architecture for nothing. More and more our institutions are built on it-architecture that has to constantly be shifting to meet changing demands and needs. Thus your IT staff's knowledge and connections must constantly be updated.

· Even when you hire outside consultants, someone on the inside needs to know what they're doing to properly oversee them. At a conference you can get such advice for free, from other consultants!

· (Or this twist.) Want to pay $2K now for staff to travel and attend this conference, or $10K next year to bring in a consultant who was at the conference?

· Our IT staff will get professional training in the coming year. The question is, "Do we want it to be at this institution working for us or after they've gone somewhere else?" Face-to-face meetings-in hallways, at lunch, at dinner-give you personal connections to people you can call with questions and ask for help. If you travel to meet them, they are people who've learned more than is available to be learned just in your building, or on your campus.

· It takes more knowledge and skill to do more with less staff.

So, get going somewhere. This year I will be going to the Education Writer's Association (EWA), to the Campus of the Future: A Meeting of the Minds Conference, and to the annual conference of the Association for the Advancement of Sustainability in Higher Education (AASHE), for sure; maybe more.

BTW, I've been to a Syllabus, now Campus Technology 2006, conference, and it's a great one. I highly recommend it.

About the Author

About the author: Terry Calhoun is Director of Communications and Publications for the Society for College and University Planning (SCUP). You can contact him through CT's IT Trends forum by clicking here. View more articles by Terry Calhoun.

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