Later this week, I’ll be attending an academic conference for the first time in 2+ years. Since then, I’ve left academia for a career as a freelance editor and post-ac consultant. I’ll be giving the keynote at a conference at Southeast Missouri State University on a subject I wrote the book on—literally. Last year, a friend from Faulkner studies messaged me to say one of his colleagues had eyed me to give the keynote at a Faulkner–Hemingway conference. After verifying that the organizer didn’t care that I’m no longer an academic, I agreed. I had nothing to lose and—for once—full funding to make the trip. It sounded like a good way to network. It also sounded like a nice change of pace.
In the past, conferences meant financial and professional anxiety. How could I afford to go with little (or no) funding? Would this talk/roundtable/panel/whatever help me break out of the adjunct ranks? How would it look on my CV? Would I get one of those rambling “questions” during the Q & A? Would I make some strong connections and network my way to a full-time professorship? How much debt was worth it for this?
Now, though, things have changed. Because I’m a stay-at-home dad, my biggest concern for the conference was how we’d handle childcare. (It’s handled. Thanks, mom & dad.) I’m looking forward to the conference as a chance to share what I know and meet potential editing clients. Always Be Connecting, after all.
I’m also expecting to—big gasp—have fun. I enjoyed writing the keynote because there’s no pressure or worry about offending someone who might be on a hiring committee some day, or whose work I didn’t mention <eyeroll>. I enjoyed showing off what I know about the writers, as well as not having the pressure to give one of those State Of The Field talks. It’s not my job anymore to (try to) take a field in new directions.
I based the talk on one I gave in 2012, but I added an interactive section in the middle asking the audience to share what’s next in the field. I’m also asking the audience about their teaching, researching, and larger professional experiences with Faulkner and Hemingway. We’ve all experienced those long-winded, self-indulgent keynotes, and I wasn’t about to subject my audience to 45 minutes of something they can read in my book. I know it can be hard for academics—especially younger ones—to jump into a discussion and admit their struggles, concerns, or lack of knowledge. I’m curious to see how this goes…and whether the audience will jump in as eagerly as I want them to.
Like all conference-going academics, I’ve seen my fair share of kindness and cruelty when scholars get together. At my second conference (July 1999) a senior scholar bought me a glass of wine and genuinely asked about my research. A few years later, another senior scholar in the same subfield about threw a hissy fit when a graduate student didn’t reference his book in an MLA talk. His comment during the Q & A was awkward, cruel, and forgettable. I’ll never forget either instance. Nor will I forget all the rambling, pay-attention-to-me “questions” from many other scholars.
I’m eager to see what happens when I go. I won’t quite be the fox in the henhouse, but I’ll definitely be the outlier among established, emerging, and hopeful academics. If anything, I’m an independent scholar, and those aren’t always welcomed as eagerly at conferences as affiliated or pedigreed ones. Selfishly, I want some new editing clients. Ethically, I’ll do whatever I can to show graduate students and adjuncts that there are other career options besides academia.
Time will tell. Next stop, Cape Girardeau, Missouri.