Conference Mayhem

A new first for me: I’m on a conference! Well, I was today. Now I’m back at the hotel, on my own, contemplating on whether to eat alone in the hotel like many other people, or be adventurous and take on the city centre, being the only weirdo eating alone.

Mind you: I’m in Colchester, Essex, and earlier today, England won a European Championship game against Wales. In other words: it might not be the perfect night to go eat out alone. I used to travel a lot on my own, but two things I never did was eat out alone, and go to the movies alone. And since I want to avoid accidentally ending up in the not so nice and drunk part of town, I might have to opt for hotel food anyways. The healthiest option: a pizza with extra rocket lettuce. Oh well. I guess I’ll just order a laaaaarge glass of wine to go with it! (Yesterday I found it funny you can choose the size of your glass. Now I couldn’t be happier about it.)

As you might guess from my mood writing this, the conference didn’t go so well. I really really tried to stay positive and made the best out of a far from perfect situation, but now I am allowed to crash. To start with, I didn’t get to give a full presentation, only a poster during lunch. I think you will agree: not ideal. Secondly, the presentations planned were not in my area of research at all. Either it was applied linguistics, with a lot of child language acquisition, or it was more formal accounts of different dialects of Arabic. Both very interesting subjects, but not nearly interesting enough to travel half a day and pay all the money to get there. Obviously, when it was poster time, my highly formal and theoretical and typological poster looked well out of place. Hardly anyone came by to ask me about it, and when they did they asked questions like “which language are you studying” (as many as possible, I’m doing typology, duh) and “so what exactly can you do with this” (hello, it’s formal linguistics, you can’t do anything with it but find it interesting, or on a more intellectual node: it helps us understand how languages work in our brain).

All the professors at the conference were nowhere to be found during my poster presentation, and rather than disappointed, I was offended. Someone in their review committee decided my abstract was worth to be presented on a poster. I came all the way from Belgium (I know, not that far, but you’d think so differently when you look at the price of the train tickets) to stand next to a f*ing poster that no one showed any interest at.

So for the next presentation of the invited speaker, I made sure I was noticed. I sat right in front of the bastard who didn’t think my poster was worth five minutes of his time, and asked a nasty question at the end (which I do think was relevant, I wasn’t just being critical for the sake of it). It worked. He asked me who I was after. I introduced myself and managed to get the topic on my research. After five minutes, I gave him my handout and went full-on presenting on him. You know what he said? “Very interesting, what a pity you didn’t get to present.” ARE YOU KIDDING ME!?!?!

Lessons learned:

It doesn’t matter if you’re young and inexperienced, asking questions will get you noticed and open doors.

Don’t try to open doors that don’t want to be opened: don’t present posters at conferences that don’t really deal with your research anyways.

I still don’t like the idea of eating alone.

I love the idea of a large glass of wine.




Life of a PhD Student: 1 Year Later – Lightbulb

Yes! Finally! I had another Eureka moment with my research! My last one happened about a year ago, and less than a month after that I realised it would come to no good. I had to throw out all my hard work and start over. But now I finally seem to be on a decent track again.

To give you some extra context. As I’ve mentioned before, I am doing a PhD in linguistics. The kind of linguistics I do is very much theoretical, and if you would ask what the use of it is to our community, I would have to start a rather philosophical argument about the importance of understanding exactly what language can and cannot do. But that’s not what I want to talk about today.

The problem I’ve been having was very much of the theoretical kind. I was doing research in a framework called nanosyntax, and this framework very much still has to prove itself. To me, it really hasn’t. I had worked out a nice little theory, found some very interesting data, even wrote an article. But as I sent it out for reviewing, all hell broke loose. I got a bad review. No, that’s an understatement. I got a disastrous and very vicious review. Let’s just say that my reviewer, who I happened to have met before and who had expressed his discontent clearly on several occasions, is not a fan of the framework. Or of young female PhD students working on the same topic as he is. Booooh!

But I wasn’t giving up. I still very much believed in nanosyntax being able to explain why words are the way they are. So I wanted to look at more data, see if what this reviewer had told me was actually true. A lot of it isn’t, to be fair. I have definitely found my linguistics nemesis in this person since we seem to disagree on almost everything. Him being an established researcher and me being a fresh PhD student, I think we can all agree that’s a bit disconcerting. But there was one point where he was right: the main diagnostic for my framework will not get me anywhere for my topic. As I checked my theory against a very friendly other established researcher’s (thank god they do exist) database, I noticed that indeed everything is attested and my theory was ready to be binned. For every piece of data confirming my hypothesis, there was another piece of data as a counterargument. So I didn’t only put aside my theory, I also said my goodbyes to the framework. All the reading up I had done the past year, I had to start again.

And I didn’t know where to start. I was hired on a project about nanosyntax. Now what. But luckily one of the professors in my team, is very enthusiastic about his expertise and he’s been trying to convert me. And I think he has been successful. I’ve been reading up about the new framework, even about the new discipline, as I am not doing syntax anymore, but I am now doing logic and semantics. And today I think I found something. Eureka! Ligggghtbuuuulbbb!