Monday, 16 July 2007

AESOP Congress, Napoli 2007

The Association of European Schools of Planning is holding its 21st Congress here. That’s 21 times in 21 years and one lady professor was awarded a certificate for attending everyone of them at their General Assembly the other day. More than 600 participants, more than 400 papers to be presented, and more than 40 countries represented at this congress. Quite remarkable. What are they doing right to draw the crowd? What can we learn for USM and APSA to attract such a huge and international audience to our own conferences? Of course academics come because they have to present papers but personally, if you come just to present a paper than I think you are just wasting a lot of time and money. Its about the bigger conversations and the networking. The big majority of presentors don’t get full funding from their universities. Even the National University of Singapore gives its professors only half funding. That goes for universities in USA and elsewhere. In fact, I have met quite a few who make it a commitment to attend these conferences even if they have to dig into their own pockets. Academics need to stay connected with their peers. USM should reveal its policy on sending academics for international conferences. Those with less than 7 years service are fully funded once every 2 years while the others are left on their own to figure out where to get money and those without research grants usually have a problem getting into the global networks. As I have said elsewhere in this blog, academics attend conferences for the conversations, in the parallel sessions, during coffee breaks, lunch, standinga around waiting for the next session, in the meetings and everywhere they bump into each other. So, all conferences are the same right? Well, on the first night of the conference I attended AESOP’s General Assembly and it was quite fun – relaxed and engaging. And it was a celebration of many things and people. There were awards and prizes for the Best Journal Paper, Best Paper in the European Journal, Best Congress Paper, Best Teaching Award and recognition for last service to the association. All except one did not have any prize money. Interestingly, the professor who won the Best Journal Paper related that his paper was originally rejected by a well-known journal in the USA. And it also happened to the year earlier. So, the question is, how do these peer reviewers do their work? AESOP has 108 Full Member Schools so it has huge numbers to support its activities. They also join forces with ACSP (Association of Collegiate Schools of Planning) of the United States every few years to hold joint conferences and the next one will be in Chicago (July 2008) where GPEAN will meet again. ACSP also commands a huge audience with paper presentations exceeding 800 each year. Many young academics use the conferences as sounding pads to present their research findings in preparation for publication in journals. AESOP also hows a series of very successful Ph.D. workshops to help aspiring young scholars to complete their thesis.

One of the things we all notice is that towards the end of the conference the crowd thins out as most have presented their papers and have headed for some R&R. Everyone takes their presentation serious, trying to keep to the 15 minutes allocated leading to many non-English speaking presentors opting to just read their prepared text. While this can be quite tedious for the audience, it is amazing how much the listeners try to relate to the speakers. In many of the parallel sessions, it was standing room only with the younger ones graciously giving up their seats for the veterans.

14th July 2007, Napoli

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