The AJS Conference 101 — a primer:
Not many people come to these conferences, so I thought, before I got into the guts of this experience, that I would offer up a primer on academic conferences, and specifically the Jewish Studies Conference, where Iâ€™m sitting now.
The Association for Jewish studies is a professional organization for (mostly) scholars who are involved in the study of Jewish, Jewish texts, Jewish phenomena, and other things Jewish.
This is the annual gathering of AJS members â€“ again, mostly academics and aspiring academics. It is a peculiar annual ritual, this flocking to far-flung cities (weâ€™re in San Diego, this year), to sit in hotel conference rooms and either give papers about our current research, or listen to other papers about other peopleâ€™s current research.
The basic unit of the conference is the â€œpanel.â€? This is a more-or-less organized group of three or four people who agreed to deliver 20-minute written presentations (and academics have, as you might imagine, not the finest performance skills) that are more-or-less thematically linked.
So, Iâ€™m sitting here in a panel called â€œOrthodoxy and the Internet,â€? and Iâ€™ll report more on that later. And I just finished my presentation as part of a panel called â€œstudies in synagogue change,â€? or something like that.
The panels vary widely in terms of attendance (my panel had about 15 people. This one has about 35), and in what I might call â€œgoodness.â€? Sometimes they are dreadfully boring, and if youâ€™re one of the 4 people in the audience, you often feel badly for leaving despite the painful boredom (this has happened to almost everyone I know. Often, sadly, more than once).
Other common experiences:
- sitting far from the door and having to go to the bathroom
- panelists speaking for longer than their allotted 20 minutes (this is, from my perspective, an unforgivable sin).
- Members of the audience, when given the opportunity to ask questions, just blather on about their own work.