The Worst People at Academic Conferences

AynRandCon has been over for less than 12 hours, but I wanted to give you a run-down of what I thought were the worst types of people I met during the conference. I don’t want to burn any bridges here (although I highly doubt anyone looked into me deep enough to find this site) so I’m not going to name names. If someone from the conference does stumble upon this and thinks that one of my references is about you, I promise you it probably isn’t.

Bad Conference Person #1: The Researcher

During most student conferences or academic conferences, there will be an opportunity to speak to people in academia, in finance, law, economics, tech, etc. It really depends on what the conference is based on, but just know that there will most likely be a chance for the student participants to talk to people that they find important or valuable.

In any given group of students that attend these conferences, there will be several that I categorize as “researchers.” They do their homework on these mentors and professors, usually in hopes of seeming intelligent or as though they care more than the rest of the people who didn’t do the work they did. Their questions usually start with “I was reading your thesis last night…” or “I noticed in your dissertation…” or “I found an article that you published…” and so on.

When this happened today at the conference I was attending, the professor laughed and said: “why would you do that to yourself?” Which I found absolutely hilarious for a few reasons. First of all, it completely undermines what the researcher thought they were going to get out of doing all of that work. Secondly, it is an acknowledgment from someone whose life revolves around academics and academic writing that academic language is dense garbage that is painful to read.

I don’t want to name names, but that professor was one of my favorite speakers of the entire event.

Bad Conference Person #2: The Questioner

Here’s how it went down at AynRandCon (and what I presume goes down at most academic conferences): we listen to professors and intellectuals speak on the subject that the conference is about for around 30 minutes and then there is a 10 to 15 minute Q&A session where the students can get up and ask the speakers to elaborate on their ideas or offer their thoughts on other related subjects.

There will be four or five students who are determined to ask as many questions as possible. Maybe I’m not doing these students justice, maybe their minds are just that complex and ever-thinking, but I find it hard to believe that they thought they had genuinely productive questions to ask every single speaker. Call me crazy.

Many of these students are the most confident or charismatic of the bunch, which tend to be their better qualities. They have the ability to draw people to them or together into groups and make connections with ease. You’re probably going to find them irritating during the lecture sessions, but when you get to speak with them in person you’ll most likely appreciate their presence and charm.

Bad Conference Person #3: The Underprepared One

AKA Me. This was AynRandCon, an objectivists dream come true. However, I’m not an objectivist. If you’ve read anyone talk about Rand and her thoughts, they probably state this at some point. The “I’m not an objectivist, though” point is a disclaimer. It’s a defense mechanism for avoiding the inevitable accusation of subscription to a dogma or ideology. They’re afraid of being told that by claiming to be “objectivist” that somehow groups them with a set of extremists. Maybe it does.

In this case, I’m not claiming to not be objectivist because I don’t want to associate with objectivism or the cult-like following of the philosophy. I’m claiming to not be an objectivist because I am innocently ignorant of most of Rand’s ideas. Less so after this conference, but still relatively unaware nonetheless.

My first introduction to Rand was far too early, but I’ve been curious about her ever since. Her ideology of selfishness as a virtue always shocked and intrigued me. It felt mysterious and rebellious. My entire life I had been told that I existed to be charitable and kind, that my families success meant that I was privileged in a way that meant I should reject wealth and the products of hard work. Rand, as far as I understood, said otherwise. She asked me to be proud.

This piece was supposed to be cheeky and cute. No one at this conference was “bad” in any way that I could perceive. Despite my suspicion of the potential deification of Rand through a conference named after her, I can see that this event was about much more than her and her ideas. It was about offering young people with somewhat alienated ideas to come together and find a common ground. To be told, “yes, you’re allowed to disagree, but make sure you know why you’re disagreeing.” To make connections, to talk about politics and philosophy, to have fun, and to act professionally all at the same time. Rand’s name brought these people together, but she didn’t consume our time.

I will be writing more in-depth about my time at the conference. I can say that my love of philosophy and free thought have been reinvigorated. I feel as though the gloomy weather of Montreal is somewhat representative of the socialist politics that control life in the province. It feels gray and dismal, as though my ideas and my rationalization is just a result of some flaw in my ability to reason. Now I see that my thought process is perfectly fine, just not very popular at McGill.


An Objective Approach to Ayn Rand Con

When I told my boyfriend I had been accepted on a scholarship to attend this conference, he was surprised. He had actually been the one to introduce me to Rand and her objectivist philosophy, but I had yet to dive into the ideas. I bought a copy of Atlas Shrugged and, frankly, I am still intimidated by it.

It was an easy to decision to make, everything was already paid for. All I had to do was get to Atlanta and enjoy two days of listening to people speak about the gap between tribalism and individualism. Professors across a broad range of disciplines gave their interpretation of how cultural and political tribalism was disrupting the process of free thought and individual liberties. It was fascinating to listen to, but I have some objections about their ideas and the conference in general.

It would have been a problem if I had come to Ayn Rand Con without some intention of being skeptical of what would be thrown at me. I do agree that some of the lecturers had insightful points about how to maintain free thought in an age where collective intellect and the inherent defense mechanisms within groupthink can lead to a polarization in personal philosophies. It seems that you either sacrifice some of your values to be with the group that you agree with more than the other one, or you stand alone, atop a hill that you are crying is morally correct. Neither sounds appealing to me.

One big question I kept finding myself asking is how would Rand feel about this convention herself? Surely she would object to it on the basis that it is somewhat a deification of her and her ideas. I mean, just naming the conference after her would have been enough to set off a red flag or two in her head. I would like to imagine that Rand would be somewhat approving of the young people that come to this conference and have the courage to disagree with what some of the more experienced thinkers have to say. I think she would see free thought at play.

Despite all of the problems I could pick at within the conference, it really has been fun. I’ve met people from all across the continent in many diverse universities and alternative programs (*cough* Praxis *cough*). Having the opportunity to meet and converse with some profoundly intellectual thinkers has been really wonderful and exciting. I sometimes find myself feeling less intelligent or capable when I am at McGill, but I am beginning to wonder if that may be less a question of my abilities and more a question of my values.


Making the Right Sacrifice

I often struggle with my choices. I know people who are so definite and confident in their ability to make the right decision that they barely think about them. Me, on the other hand, I am a little more cautious with how I choose to spend my time. Today, for example, was my parents last day in Montreal but it was also Residence Festival at McGill.

I’m in a rez here so I thought I would make it to Rez Fest, but I decided to spend the day with my family. We went to a wonderful brunch place, they helped me put up decorations in my apartment, took me to the Atwater market, and ate dinner with me for the last time. When the day came to a close, I hugged them goodbye at the entrance to the metro. It felt sad but I knew I would have felt worse if I had gone to Rez Fest.

Although I am sad that I didn’t get to socialize and make friends at the festival, I don’t regret not going. I knew I had a choice to make and am happy with the one I went with, but that doesn’t mean I’m not allowed to be a little down that I couldn’t also participate in my other choice. There is a world of a difference between regretting what you decide and being upset that you had to make a decision that kept you from doing everything you wanted to do. One implies that you made the wrong decision, the other implies that you made the right decision and you’re a human being. It’s the best of both worlds.

When choosing between two options, I always go with my gut. If something doesn’t feel right, I find that it makes me uncomfortable physically. My body reacts to my decisions just as much as my mind does. Today’s decision was an easier one. I knew I needed whatever time with my parents I could get. I knew it would be hard to say goodbye when the time came. I knew it wouldn’t be as hard if I gave them my time and love while I could.

When you put yourself first, you remind those around you that you’re aware of your time and how you spend it. If you put others first with your time, you’re letting them know that you’re willing to sacrifice your time for your social gain. If you choose the second option, the combination of your inability to say no and the numerous people asking you for favors will exhaust you. If you choose the first option, those who want to spend time with you simply because you’re you will stay and those that only want you for more superficial qualities will eventually fade away.


Final Goodbyes

In less than a week, I am officially moving to Montreal. My month there over the summer was a little dip into the water that is French Canada. Now, it’s time for me commit and dive right into the life of the Quebecious. Although I am eager, I am just as apprehensive. My moving situation isn’t ideal, but, with my family’s help, I’m going to make it work.

My good friend Laryssa and I sat down to have lunch today. We went to her favorite restaurant and talked about how wild our summers had been, how excited we were about the new paths in our lives, and how much we were going to miss each other. Even though we are both confident that this won’t be the last time we are together, there is a bittersweet feeling of final goodbyes.

Final goodbyes come in many different forms. This specific type of goodbye was the one where we said farewell to our beginnings. We met in a dance studio, covered in dirt and sweat after rolling around on the floor for 90 minutes during a modern class. We were giddy with endorphins and excited to be finally talking to each other after two months of taking classes together. Friendship comes in peculiar forms, but the stranger the better. She quickly became a very important person to me.

Today, as we waved to each other in the parking lot, I could feel those memories squeezing my heart. I would give so much to go back to those days of laughter and simplicity. I won’t say the world was a different place, but I will say that my mind has been shaped by it over the years. I will miss her, just not in the way you would think.

Goodbyes can also mean new beginnings. I have no doubt that Laryssa and I will continue to grow alongside each other, developing new memories and passions as we do so. I am unbelievably grateful to have her in my life. I don’t think I would have kept dancing if she hadn’t encouraged me. Her impact on my life continues to be as profound as the day I met her.


Having a Thoughtful Supervisor

A couple of days ago, my supervisor reached out to me with a Facebook post that was relevant to my work. He asked me if I thought it would be worth reaching out to the poster, and when I said yes, he requested that I send him a draft for practice. This specific “supervisor” isn’t really my supervisor. He is a very busy person who I just happen to work under, but there are many other people that I usually go to before going to him.

That’s why I was so surprised when he took time out of his day to help me practice my outreach skills. He edited the email I sent him (which I made a really stupid but funny mistake in) and had me send it off. I am a marketing intern for this supervisor, so I really turn to the marketing team for help or advice before I turn to him, but I did initially connect with and get the job through him.

He’s a thoughtful person. Today, I had a phone call with him about some of the tasks I could complete going forward. I’m unpaid right now, so everything I’m offered is optional and pretty low pressure, but I still put 100% into it. Whether or not it eventually turns into a paid position, I’d like to know that I gave the job my all during every stage. While we were talking, he didn’t speak to me as though I was an intern. He understood that a lot of what he suggested I take on as work was unfamiliar to me and that I wouldn’t be going at it alone. However, he also didn’t hold back from offering me opportunities because of my lack of experience. It was clear that he didn’t see me as incapable of catching on quickly.

When I think about him in relation to some of the other supervisors I’ve had, it strikes me how straightforward and communicative he is. The project I’m working on with him is only starting to get going, but he had done his absolute best to give me jobs even while things were slow. When I compare this to my previous supervisors who had a hard time seeing past my age, I realize how grateful I am to be working in a sphere of people who are genuine and want to give me opportunities. As long as I continue to follow through on what I promise, my age is beside the point. To this group, it’s all about showing up and getting your shit done.

I appreciate that. Being thrown into a complicated world but still being viewed as a semi-child is difficult to be ok with. I’d much rather prove my ability and move onto being treated as a valuable worker with skills that can benefit my employers (or supervisors) mission. I do have a lot of learning to do, I admit, but the team I work with is aware of that and ok with it. I don’t claim to be more capable than I am. I aim to remain humble and keep my ears open as I continue to work with a spectacular set of people.