GeoSym2016: A Look Back

I’m excited to report here that my first foray into academic conference production was a success! The 2nd biennial University of Tennessee Geography Research Symposium (or GeoSym2016, thanks to colleague Alisa Hass for the truncated and easily hashtaggable nickname took place earlier this month on February 5th and 6th at the University of Tennessee. We are currently working on putting updates and links to all of these on our official departmental page, but I figured I would use my personal site to dig into the event a bit more.

In many ways, this event built on our debut Symposium in 2014. The committee, headed by me and my good friend/colleague Savannah Collins, chose to hold the Symposium a bit earlier in 2016 than they did in 2014, for a couple of reasons. We wanted to make sure that it happened early enough in the semester to avoid any of the stresses that build up toward spring break. We also wanted to make sure to give our participants a good breather in between this and AAG (which will be held earlier than usual this year, the final week in March, in San Francisco), all while providing a window during which to edit and improve their paper talks where needed beforehand.

One of GeoSym’s greatest strengths, as a small conference, is to provide a platform for more embryonic and ambitious research, where researchers can share their ideas in a lower-pressure environment, not subject to perceived pillorying from a room full (depending upon your time slot) of high-pressure academics at one of the biggest conferences in the world. While we were walking to dinner on Friday evening, our keynote guest Dydia DeLyser told me how remarkable and refreshing it was to see so much early-stage research coming from so many early-career researchers, who often wait until completely sewing their projects up before daring to bring it to a paper session. I told her how happy that made me to hear.

Speaking of Dr. DeLyser, she was everything I had spent the past year or two hyping her up to be. From the moment she landed in Knoxville, she was engaging, excited for all of our work, and of course encouraging. Her keynote talk was every bit as groundbreaking (materialities are already beginning to gain steam as a concept in cultural geography) as we had hoped, and the well-attended keynote audience on Saturday afternoon certainly thought so. We made a video of Dydia’s talk, as well as the closing ceremony (of sorts; we were pretty informal about it), now up on the UTK Geography Youtube page for anyone who either missed it or just wants to relive the moment, shaky audio and all.

We were also fortunate to have Matt Cook (our committee’s webmaster) and Dr. Liem Tran, both photography enthusiasts the point of having quality cameras, on hand to capture the proceedings. Their full collaborative photoset is here, but I’ve pulled a few of the highlights to paste below here.

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