Ever pictured what the inside of an international academic conference looks like? No, then have a go at imaging it now. What do you see before you, suits, ties, maybe some tweed, lots of people carrying briefcases, and standing around drinking coffee, lots of academically charged debates? Don’t get us wrong, we might be putting words in your mouth, but this is certainly what we thought. As newbies to professional academia and virgins to conference life, we didn’t know any better. But KISMIF, our first international conference in Porto, Portugal, falsified all our expectations. On entering the planetarium in Porto (the very swanky location for the KISMIF summer school) on our first day at the conference, there was not a suit in sight, and in its place, an assembly of individuals clothed in band shirts, quirky 1950's dresses and brightly died hair. If there was a briefcase it was "vintage", and if there was a tie, it was patterned with psychedelic flowers. KISMIF might be an outlier, and other international conferences might abide more along the lines of our initial presumption, but until our next conference, this is the norm.
KIFMIF – an abbreviation for keep it simple make it fast –focusses on underground culture and this year dived into themes such as gender, differences and identities. Even though our research only partially related to the topics of the conference (the consumers of “illegitimate” culture and the careers of beginning pop artists, both not very underground, punk or DIY), this turned out not to be a problem. Due to the inclusive and the DIY nature of the conference, we saw an incredibly wide range of research topics (some might say too wide) being discussed. As a pro, it meant you could be surprised by an interesting topic that you otherwise might not have come across (say female graffiti artists in São Paulo), but as a con, the quality of the presentations did vary very heavily (who says you need research questions and methods?). In saying this, the fluctuating quality of presentations did take the pressure of us rookies and our fear of only presenting works in progress.
The ESHCC was represented excellently here: besides our presentations, Niels van Poecke presented about poly-purism in indie-folk, Pauwke Berkers talked about the POPLIVE project, Julian Schaap presented a paper about masculinity and whiteness in rock music and together with Pauwke their book on gender inequality in metal. In addition, students Eefje Smeulders and Chiara Modugno presented their thesis projects. So it’s fair to say that the Erasmus University managed to leave a mark.
The support of colleagues at a conference is great. With a group this size, you are at least guaranteed to have a few people watching your presentation. You are also guaranteed, with this bunch anyway, to get asked a good insightful question; smart bunch of cookies, these scholars from ESHCC. Also, a great bunch to hang with, because as we found out, conferences are just as much about the social aspect (meeting new people and old friends, babbling over beers about research ideas and topical events) as the academic part. KISMIF provided a vast spectrum of non-conventional academic activities. On top of the traditional presentations, keynotes, book launches and lectures there was a host of lively events ranging from cine-ethnographic documentaries to live music.
After being deflowered by KISMIF, what did we learn? Well, conferences are great places to meet new people who are working on similar things as you. To chat with colleagues long into the night about research and non-research related topics. We learned that academics too like to experiment with funky haircuts and eccentric clothing. That there is A LOT of research going on at the moment about punk in all its forms. We learned that in Portugal people think that eggs are vegan, that at conference lunch packages might not be worth your money, that the Francesinha is a typical yet not very tasteful dish in Porto, its basically just a sandwich covered with melted cheese and floating in a tomato sauce that is not dissimilar to that which baked beans come in (Google it!). But most importantly, that an international conference such as KISMIF provides the opportunity for starting PhD’s like ourselves to take their first steps into the academic world, learn about the latest scientific trends, build a network of like-minded researchers and all of this in a setting where mohawks and band shirts are the norm.