Thursday, July 25, 2019

another conference

Periodically I launch the project of a daily diary.  Of course, etymologically a diary is already daily.  The fact that I need to emphasize this (to myself) explains in a nutshell what's wrong.  Even without this you know what's wrong from looking at a recent list of posts.  Going back a handful of entries will send you back to May.  I'm not good at keeping book.

The other day I bought a book with a few blank lines per day.  A diary, but with a twist.  Every page had space for the same day recorded over the course of five years.  You could note down your thoughts for the day and, down the road, directly compare them to thoughts from one year or two years ago.  I found this quite intriguing.  If you're trying to improve certain aspects of your life, it's good to look back and see how things have developed.

I started filling the top fifth of the pages when I went to Berlin earlier this month, but my enthusiasm has already petered out.  I didn't take the book (a sizeable hardbound volume of nearly 400 pages) on my trip to Cincinnati for this year's annual meeting of the American Crystallographic Association, which is now drawing to a close.

I had smaller, more travel-friendly notebook but didn't add anything after the first day.  When I started looking back tonight, after the closing banquet on a boat in the Ohio river, the last few days have already passed into the haze of half-forgotten memory.

Conferences are hard work.  If you're a regular delegate, conferences can be good fun.  You attend the session you're interested in and skip the rest.  It can be quite relaxing, depending on how strict you are with yourself.  The drawback is that no one's doing your research while you're away.  This sword hangs over your head while your heaving fun.

If you're a regular exhibitor, conferences are good fun.  You spend your days at the booth, chat with people that come your way, give away freebies, catch up with things back home via email, and go for nice dinners at night.  As being at the conference is your job, there's not much work that accumulates back home.  On the flip side, you have to show some achievements for the money spend on the conference.  This means sales, new leads or business connections.

My situation is halfway between the two.  I'm an exhibitor, but I'm also a scientist.  This can kill.  With no research project of my own, my interests are broad, and many sessions are tempting.  I could spend all day listening to presentations and learning new things.  But I also have to be at the booth for the commercial aspect of my job.  During coffee breaks I try to catch people I set out to talk to or am being stopped by random strangers.

I record these conversations on pieces of scrap paper that accumulate like dirt in a college dormitory.  At night I try to sort and digitize these notes.  There is no spare time.  With the last bit of work done late at night, I collapse into bed and sleep soundly and without dreams.  I do not find the time to summarize my day in a few lines that might help me figure myself out and see patterns.

Does that sound negative?  I love my job!  I'm a well-known part of a community that I didn't really get into by myself.  People tell me about their work, and I hear about the latest trends.  I contribute posters and presentations as if I were a scientist.  Coming from a company representative that's maybe not always taken entirely seriously, but I'm trying to be rigorous and leave the marketing bullshit to others.

Nevertheless, there's only so much rigor I can put into the job.  It's like doing three things at once – being a scientist, being a salesman and being a marketeer.  The scientist part required preparing two oral presentations and two posters and paying attention during talks relevant to our business (X-ray and electron detection – essentially everything at the conference).  The salesman part requires keeping track of conversations, faces and personal details.  If I know fifty people out of an attendance of 500 and I speak ten minutes to each one of them, that's nearly ten hours right there.

The marketeer part would have liked me to conduct an interview for a success story with one of our customers, fill social media with morsels, and interview a business partner to understand his needs and desires better.  For lack of time, I didn't do any of this.  I also haven't copied a few dozens of notes into my computer, and I haven't added any words to my every so hypothetical diary, even though it's midnight already.  It was a busy conference.

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