The graveyard shift

Most of us in academia have been there: having to give a talk in the last session on that last day of the conference, aka the graveyard shift.

If you have attended even 2 (such a significant sample statistically!) conferences you would see the drastic drop off in attendee numbers by the last day. The number of people attending the very last session can possibly be counted on the fingers of 2 hands, or even just the one.



When my talk is scheduled for the graveyard shift it produces a mixture of emotions in me: annoyance and relief.

Before the event the annoyance is because it means I will have to stay till the last session and no skulking off early to save hotel expenses for a night; or traipsing around town sightseeing. I feel stressed about the upcoming presentation and the need to keep improving it till the last possible minute. A sure-fire fun busting mechanism!

The relief contradictorily comes from preparing a fantastic presentation for a very small audience (I hope). Simply because it will mean fewer awkward questions and the nervousness I feel will be so much lesser if I am confronting only empty seats and not a room full of leading lights in the field.

Once the adrenaline of making the presentation wears off the real aggravation however sets in!

I think: “Honestly I spent all that money, traveled so far and worked so hard to present just to the person chairing the session, and maybe 4 others 2 of whom were anxious speakers, one attendee who was texting the whole time and the   other who slept through my operatic performance”!

It can be a real downer to see no one there to hear you pour out your passion on research you love.

The impact of the presentation and my work is lost as virtually no one heard it. I didn’t get a chance to discuss it or get feedback from other people working on similar things. All my hard work seems devalued somehow.

So how does one deal with the graveyard shift?

I have tried some of the following with mixed success:

  • Prepare my presentation to the best of my ability in advance and NOT keep improving it till the last second. This removes the metaphorical chain that ties me to my hotel desk and allows me to have some fun (sightseeing, local food, shopping, meeting people) while still being professional.
  • Advertising the talk to people I met in the early part of the conference can be helpful. Not all of them will come for my talk of course, but some might if our discussion was interesting to them.
  • Not taking it personally: I have to remind myself that the organisers don’t hate me and nor do the other attendees. Someone has to be in the graveyard shift, so this time I drew the short straw.

Personally I have some ideas for organisers to avoid graveyard shifts:

  • keeping a dinner/social event after the last session to incentivize people to stay
  • have something similar to keynote/plenary talk at the end
  • have an awards session at the end

Till such time as attendees continue to decamp before the last session, we need ways to survive graveyard shifts.

What are your thoughts?



By artiagrawal Posted in General

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