Last weekend I went to my first conference in grad school. It had way better coffee than the Wheaton Theological Conference I went to as an undergrad. Anyway, it was MayFest at the University of Maryland and it was a happy little no-stress conference for me because I wasn’t presenting and I’m done with the semester. It was exciting, but frustrating because the presenters would realize they were going to run out of time and so skip introductions and explanations and my little fresh-out-of-finals, not to mention first-year brain had trouble following things. By the second (last) day I was beginning to get the hang of things again and I was all ready for the conference to keep going for another day, but it was over sadly and we all went drinking at a little bar in DC.
The conference was about hierarchy in syntax, so basically whether the structure is flat and each piece is on its own, or whether the structure is made up of pieces made up of other pieces. It was like stepping way back from everything I’ve been studying this year and looking at it from far away, which really made everything hard to recognize. I wanted more context, really. Some of the presentations were intensely opaque. Some were very tense–the question sessions would come around and I was sure someone was going to get physical at any moment. My friend and I translated the questions to each other: “he just said ‘so what the hell are you doing here?'” “then he said ‘everyone who disagrees with me is an asshole.'” Most of the people, though, were really interesting and very friendly. I wanted to go talk to some of the presenters, but I was so afraid that as soon as I asked a question my brain would shut down and I wouldn’t understand the answer.
I realized from the conference that I really am interested in this stuff, which was helpful because I kind of wondered when I decided to specialize in syntax whether I was just responding to my professors’ enthusiasm. And there’s not much scarier than thinking about getting a PhD in something and then realizing that I don’t really love it. But I do love it and I’m starting thesis research this summer and going to the exciting LSA Institute (at Stanford! which I always associate with the comic PhD . . .). But I feel like these blog entries keep coming back to the same topics–me trying to figure out my academic life. What was most exciting about the conference for me was the opportunity to socialize with another department. Maryland is amazing! We stayed with students and talked to other students and they’re all just such cool linguisticy people. Plus, their professors are linguistic rockstars. That was the most fun and most intimidating part of the weekend. I would whisper to my friend “oh man, look, that’s Norbert Hornstein! There’s Howard Lasnik!!” so exciting.
edit: okay, I know I’m confusing. The Medieval Studies conference I attended a few weeks ago was technically my first conference in grad school, but since it was only one day and at my university I guess it didn’t quite register in my head. MayFest was the first conference I had to travel to get to and my first linguistics conference, so it was more momentous in the scheme of things.