Why go to real live conferences and events when there are so many means of communication? There are some obvious drawbacks to such travel. First of all one has to raise money for the trip. Then one has to arrange for the time off regular work, and if one is not yet the boss then one has to ask the boss’s permission. Traveling may be quite exhausting and involve several kinds of transportation, not to mention the attendant visa problems and changing time zones which result in severe jet lag both ways. And of course one has to prepare a presentation, quite often in a foreign language (usually English). Conference food may leave much to be desired, ditto accommodation. Even if all goes well and one can sincerely thank the organizing committee any business trip also often means separation from one’s family. Many people experience a sort of stage fright before their oral,presentation. As I’ve discovered this last one is due not to the lack of knowledge in their field of research but rather to their anxiety about the language they need to use. “Oh why did I agree to an oral report, i should have stuck to a poster presentation! ” one of the participants almost wails. I know they will be fine, it is just the usual pre-performance jitters.
Once in front of their audience presenters of any age get a grip and make their wonderful reports. Questions and discussions follow. Nobody pays attention to an occasional grammar mistake, to various accents, to a lost article in front of a singular noun. The terms are used correctly, the slides show the necessary information about the research. During every break one can observe self-forming groups of participants continue their discussions and questions while grabbing a cup of tea or coffee, or at a lunch and dinner table. No formal introductions are made, people just come up to each other, join any group, exchange contact information. This is the real reason why conferences are so important. Nothing can substitute human contact. In one week it is possible to get more data, to see and hear more than one can do in a year of reading scientific journals. Agreements are reached, future collaboration is arranged, perspectives for joint projects are broadly drawn. Eminent professors talk about their students visiting a university or a lab in another country and quickly arrange the conditions, the timelines. Young participants become friends and keep up communication via social media. Any conference also shows that human beings can work together regardless of nationality and race, the country of origin is not an issue. There are no language barriers. Great minds indeed think alike. Like finds like easily.
As a teacher I could not but help thinking about the working language. It is amazing that while educated people understand that nobody else will do their research for them, they sometimes cannot seem to be able to apply the same attitude towards language. In truth it is very simple. You want to communicate with your peers, with your colleagues, you want to have more opportunities for research, why you are the one who has to study the means of communication, to overcome your barriers. Most of them are only in the mind. Just start speaking. Remember that your colleagues do not pay attention to your possible mistakes, do not care about your grammar, do not expect perfect pronunciation. English is not their native language either most often than not. You cannot speak their language and they cannot speak yours. But both of you can use the same language as a communication tool.