Does like attract like?
I’ve had a majority of introverted friends in my life. My most enduring friendships are with those who are poster-children for Susan Cain’s book, Quiet.
As we now know, because internet checklists and Cain keep telling us, no-one is ever 100% introvert or extrovert – we have tendencies towards each type, and there are some of us who can move between them such that the category of ‘ambiverts’ has now entered the conversation.
William Pannapacker wrote an excellent piece about academic introversion in 2012, which discussed the rewarded behaviours of academia, as well as how students’ academic participation is valued (i.e. through visible, heard contributions). His sketch of ‘wallflower’ students and how they can shut down and disengage reflected aspects my university student experience all too well (my personal blog post “Once a wallflower” gives you the goods on this front).
I recently attended a conference with my new job hat on. It was a conference I’d never been to before: the biennial Quality in Postgraduate Research (QPR) conference in Adelaide.
This post gives you an insight into the contrasts between how an extrovert and an introvert approach the conferencing game. Many thanks to Inger Mewburn (@thesiswhisperer) for playing along!
Now, to the conference! [Bonus: there’s a quiz!]
QPR was the first concentrated exposure I’ve had in many years to research and debates on the experiences of research postgraduates, supervising, and research education policy and practice more generally. It was one of those situations where I knew a bit about most of it, but not a lot about any of it.
In addition, it was the first conference I’d attended where @thesiswhisperer was also a delegate. While revelling in and greatly enjoying that novelty, I couldn’t help noticing that we had very different approaches to how we ‘did’ the event.
One of the reasons we engaged differently with the conference is that @thesiswhisperer is a high-profile expert in the field of research higher degree education and training, and she’s a QPR stalwart.
Another reason is that @thesiswhisperer tends strongly towards extroversion. I am – as flagged above – the opposite.
To tease out these contrasts, I asked @thesiswhisperer if she’d complete with me the inaugural Research Whisperer mini-quiz (based on Cosmo quizzes I’ve known).
This is the result:
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1. Before a conference, I…
- TSEEN: Check who else is going, contact those I’d like to catch up with especially (usually a very small number – 1 or 2), and panic (hopefully constructively) about a paper if I’m presenting. I usually also go through the conference program and block out ‘must-attend’ sessions and keynotes.
- INGER: [for QPR] Tweet in conference hashtag to net as many new colleagues as possible. Frantically finish the 5 collaborative papers I committed to (and hope my colleagues will forgive my sloppiness). Throw together the presentation for my solo paper at the last minute. Wish I didn’t over commit.
2. Finding myself next to the keynote in the coffee queue, I…
- TSEEN: Usually end up asking how long they’re in town, then move on to some aspect of their address (if they’ve given it), or what their home university is like (if they haven’t yet presented).
- INGER: Enthuse at them about their paper. Ask a difficult or provocative question and listen carefully to the answer. Try to gracefully give them my card. Try to entice them away from the coffee queue by offering to introduce them to someone they ‘should meet’.
3. At the conference, I tend to go to sessions:
o Alone >> TSEEN
o With another friend
o With my group of friends >> INGER
4a. I usually attend the conference’s social functions: true / false?
- TSEEN: False. Things I will attend include low-commitment ‘receptions’ where there are talking heads and finger-food. A buddy or two would have to be sticking around, though. I will also go to social things that involve doing something more than just standing around and being forced to interact (e.g. art or museum exhibitions, readings and performances). I do most of my catch-ups/chats with people in ‘hallway track’ time during conference day hours.
- INGER: A must. But I never drink too much. I always try to arrange a big table of mates so I am surrounded by positive energy. I look for opportunities to introduce people to my mates, and vice versa. I usually ignore all bands and ‘entertainment’ provided because I think of myself as being there to build relationships and this means talking to others. I’d advise that you skip the dancing unless you really rock at it, or don’t mind the morning-after looks of mild horror.
4b. I usually go to the conference dinner: yes/no?
INGER: THAT’S A BIG YES!!
5. If I’m interested in following up with someone about their paper, I’ll…
- TSEEN: Write to them after the conference and ask for a copy of the paper, or to engage with what they said more specifically. If that leads to more interesting discussions and we’re in the same city, then I’d arrange to meet up with them.
- INGER: Write them an email during the event, and try to meet up with them at the dinner / coffee table.
At the end of a conference, I usually feel…
- TSEEN: [if it’s one I convened] Glad it’s over, and giddy if it went really well. [if I only attended] Depends a lot on who else was there, and whether it was a good conference (intellectually), but am usually happy to make goodbyes and steal off alone.
- INGER: Completely drained of energy and exhausted, but happy.
So, that’s us, and that may not be you.
I find that subscribing fully to either type, or dismissing either’s concerns as indicative of their ‘type’ rather than their invidual personality, is unconstructive. But valuing both and having an understanding of how our approaches can work together is extremely useful.
Now, if only we could find the time to focus on all these projects Inger and I want to hatch. ‘Lacking time’ is a trait that appears to afflict all academics, introverts and extroverts alike!