For the past 5 days, I’ve been at the Academy of Management conference, which this year was held in Orlando, Florida. This conference brings together academics (PhD students, Professors, and some consultants as well) from business schools around the globe. So, all the ‘big’ schools you’ve heard about like INSEAD, Harvard, Wharton, or Kellogg, and also all of those “smaller” (read: not as internationally known) schools like Melbourne Business School or University of St Gallen. This year there were over 8200 attendees, which I’m told is not even the largest it’s been. The intent is for academics to present the latest cutting-edge research in the world of management.
In order to get to go to the conference (well, to be funded by your university to go), you must be accepted to present one of your academic papers. This is the painstaking process of submitting a coherent and hopefully interesting paper (by mid-Jan…couldn’t they chose a date that wont ruin your Christmas vacation if you’re a procrastinator?), and then wait 3-4 months to be told whether you’ve been deemed as decent enough to present. Once you’ve submitted a paper, they send it out to 3 other presenter-hopefuls to review and provide a decision on your worthiness. I also had to review 3 papers and provide my not-so-expert opinion on their worthiness.
This year I was lucky enough to be accepted to present a paper, and thus, found myself on the “Disney Magical Express” heading to the wonderful world of Disney for 5 days, at 5 months pregnant, in 37 degree, 95% humidity weather.
A few things I noticed and learned at this year’s conference:
It was pretty ironic to attend a ‘serious’ academic conference at Disneyworld. The theme of this year’s conference was “Capitalism in Question”, and the conference was held in pretty much the epicenter of capitalistic culture. Weird. It all felt a bit creepy and surreal: academics in suits, thrown into manicured Disney resorts, mixing with tourists out for the pure Disney experience.
5 days? Why so long?
The first 3 days are filled with “Professional Development Workshops” and the symposiums that adhere to the theme of the year. Symposiums are a group of papers that address a similar theme/question, and they also have a moderator that helps facilitate discussion and provide commentary and critique. Professional development workshops are, basically, training sessions for academics. I went to some awesome ones on teaching ideas, and training around research methods.
The final two days are the actual paper sessions, and other theme-based symposiums. Typically they bunch 4-5 papers in a 1.5 hour block and you each get 10-15 minutes to present, followed by questions. That’s what I did – and I was super nervous going into it (unnecessary anxiety though, there were hardly any in the session…on the last day!).
How do 8200 people sit in one room together?
They don’t. The Academy is divided up into many many different divisions, so the sessions are never massive. I’m part of the divisions: Organizational Behaviour, Conflict Management, and Gender & Diversity.
The real benefit of the conference
Hands down, it’s networking. You meet academics you’ve only read about, and ‘stars’ that publish in your field and write the leadership books you teach about. For someone not in academia that sounds super exciting I’m sure. With the exception of a few, most are approachable and happy to talk about their work. You also get to meet with other people around the world who are interested in the same thing.
The parties. If you’re not swollen and pregnant, the parties are supposedly awesome. Both divisions and schools hold ‘socials’ or ‘parties’ with drinks a plenty, food, and some parties go well into the night. I’m told the Harvard party is often the best. I went to a few socials (Richard Ivey, Conflict Management), but by 10pm, I was in bed. Not the typical me, that’s for sure.
Of course, learning what’s being studied in your field out there is also inspiring and fascinating. Wish I could go every year! So there you have it, that’s where I was for the past 5 days…thoroughly enjoying my time at the “magical world of Disney” while poor Achim was at home on toddler-duty 🙂