Things to do During a Conference Talk when you Wish you were Dead


Code of the Conference (plus pushups)

If you are going into academia, just get used to the idea that at some point you are going to be in a conference talk that is so dull and outside of your interest zone that you would prefer to be watching your parents give a detailed sex education class together. Now, breathe.

As has been my purgatory a few times. The topics were dull to me, but that means they were simply outside of my geek zone. They were definitely in other people’s geek zones, which grants me perspective with a horrified lining.

A few weeks ago, I sat in the fourth row, a good respectable distance from the presenters. From there, I could engage in the sorts of behavior that I flay my students for while I nodded my head and squinted thoughtfully. I was in a row with one former student who sat two seats away, so my tablet scrolling would remain clandestine. But at the last minute one of my four bosses sat right next to me, thus forcing me into a lockdown mode.

First out of the gate, I turned off the volume. Anyone who has sneakily checked out a device in a class, meeting, or conference knows the embarrassment of emitting a loud beep from their genitals. And what with whatsapp video messages this can be a real nightmare. When the volume was down, I instantly went to Tinder. Why? Because it’s a conference, which means out of town people. Secondly, there was no way on earth that everyone in that room was riveted to the man in the front, and I took a gamble that a few of them had the same idea as me and that a few of those would have two X chromosomes.

No such luck. I looked around the room and recognized nobody from the app’s pictures. Additionally, I finally understood the draw of Grindr, a site for gay men to locate nearby sexy time partners. Then I made a few notes to possibly develop a heterosexual counterpart. Though I eventually decided that we straight people are way too uptight for something like this, I did make some good notes. See, I’m getting stuff done.

After I put Tinder away I decide to focus (really really focus) on what the academics are saying. After 19 seconds I instead decide to pay attention to their language, as that’s sort of my area. I count how many words the academics can fit into one sentence (309), I then count how many references to their work an academic can fit into his response to a question he wasn’t asked (14), then I count the number of sentences an academic can fit into a question that ends up not being a question (19). I look around and wonder who’s really getting the information; if it’s anyone I know, I instantly scratch them off my pretend dinner party list.

Finally, I decide to write up my workout for the following day. It’s not only productive, but it’s also confounding to my boss, who looked at its coded series of numbers and letters with great interest.

30pu    25bp    25lr      15kr     20-1l    15T-pu

25bp    20s/s    25hl     30pn    30uc    60ln

He gazes at it and I do not tell him that it’s code for 30 pushups, 25 burpees, 25 leg raises, etc. I let the mystery lure him in, plus it’s not bad to let him think I know what the hell is going on. Which I don’t.

The last thing I did was laugh at inappropriate times. Well, not inappropriate, but not funny. So when the featured academic said something dry and stiff, I let out a few sharp laughs and knocked my hand on the desk. This gave people pause as they weren’t sure what they’d missed. I did it with the absolute confidence of the clueless (see: the current American President) So a few of the audience members laughed as well. I even got the academic to laugh once, too. I lightened the mood at a conference, so, you know, mission accomplished.

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