on academic travel

The muslim ban executive order was a wakeup call. It’s now a different world, and we need to take the time to think through what the implications are.

Personally, I’d probably be largely unaffected. I’m a middle-aged white male with no visible signs of dissent. Well. I have a beard. But I could probably continue travelling to the US without much trouble.

But. I work with people who would be directly challenged by this. And there are students in the computer science lab I’m part of who would be forbidden from entering the US. Which is ridiculous. But it’s a serious problem – academia is strongly based on the conference model – travel to a place, present your research and make connections with other people doing similar research. It’s how things are done.

And now we’re faced with the new reality that the US is openly hostile to a significant proportion of the academic community. Either they wouldn’t be able to participate in a conference in the US, or they’d be unable to return to their families in the US if they participated in a conference elsewhere. That is insane. Absolutely insane.

But – this may be the time to rethink what participation in international conferences means. The whole carbon-spewing travel thing didn’t do it, but maybe the fear of Trump will. How can we change what it means to participate? How can these conferences be recast as blended and inclusive, allowing people to join from wherever they are safely able to do so?

The technology is basically there. We could Skype or Connect or Hangout. Or use telepresence robots. Or do a conference as a playlist of videos with supporting online community. Trump may be the kick in the pants we need to finally and meaningfully rethink what academic conferences should be, rather than saying they need to be bursts of face-to-face international travel with cosmetic lip service of online sessions thrown in. What if online participation was the primary means of being involved with an academic conference?

I’m going to be travelling to Houston for EDUCAUSE ELI in a couple of weeks. It’s too late to cancel. But I have a feeling it will be the last time I’ll plan to cross the border to the US for some time. I’m already trying to focus more on local communities – this is a good reminder to also focus on inclusive online ones as well.

4 thoughts on “on academic travel”

  1. Hiya. I don’t think conference travel is the biggest tragedy right now, but since ur talking about it, we have Virtuallyconnecting.org you know? We will be at ELI and planning some hybrid sessions from there (hallway conversations). Feel free to pop into one.

    1. Awesome. I will check it out. Thanks!

      I agree – conference travel isn’t really The Biggest Concern Right Now™ – but it is a big thing for PhD students and newly minted academics. I’m heading into my computer science lab meeting – the topic today is “Emergency Meeting on Trump’s Executive Order” rather than “cool computer science stuff”

      1. Oh gosh. Yeah and I know folks in the US working/studying are being told not to travel any time soon. Even if they aren’t on that particular list

        But honestly for conferences…we undesirables are always struggling to enter Western countries and being treated badly at airports and stuff. It’s the separation from families that’s a big deal.

        There are many other reasons why we can’t be at US conferences and that’s why I co-founded Virtually Connecting. Hope to see you at ELI (Virtually)

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