The conference hangover


This week I definitely had a ‘hangover’. Two weeks of meetings* left me a strange mixture of excited, enthusiastic, invigorated and completely drained. I have lots of new ideas and enjoyed both making new connections and reconnecting with others. But I can forget how drained I can feel after such intense social activity, even if I don’t travel far.

So earlier this week, I was doing data entry and manipulation instead of the writing I also need to get to. It is kind of the academic equivalent of hanging out in your pjs (something you should definitely not do while blogging) and watching bad tv. Data entry is relatively brainless and not demanding of me socially.

While I had planned to get some writing done this week, I should really know better. This isn’t the first conference I’ve attended and the last two weeks have been intense. I tried easing into waking up my writing brain with this piece but that was earlier this week…apparently I didn’t have the stamina to finish it then! And although I have been able to get some of the writing done that I needed to, it hasn’t been completely efficient.

I’ve been thinking that in the future, I should be more aware of my tendencies and think about planning my work accordingly. That is, I should really plan for a conference hangover.

The conference hangover depends a lot on the type of conference. For me, smaller meetings are much more draining than large ones because I tend to be at every talk. Especially meetings where meals are shared, the science never stops but flows from seeing talks to having conversations about them and other things. It is what I love about these meetings but also why I need a bit of downtime afterwards. Conversely, with large/long meetings I tend to take breaks during the days (from talks and/or people) and then I’m not quite so drained at the end.

Your personality plays a large role in the hangover intensity as well. For me, I sit smack in the middle of those personality scales that range from introvert to extrovert. Whenever I’ve taken those tests, that result of neither an introvert or extrovert seems like a reasonable reflection of my personality. I love talking with lots of people and meeting new ones, and although I used to define myself as shy when I was a kid I’m not sure I really am that anymore. But as much as I enjoy the social aspects of conferences while I’m there, I do always need some quiet time afterwards to regain my balance.

When I travel for conferences, there is often a built-in recovery time. If the conference is in an interesting place, many people stay on to sight see and I’m beginning to see the value of that beyond fun. Time to recharge can be really useful for productivity and not jumping straight back into work can give your brain some time to process all the information you just received. But if you don’t have a chance to take a little time off after an intense conference, planning for productive but not mentally challenging work when you get back can also function as a sort of a break.

I think I’m going to be more conscious for the next conference I attend to allow myself a hangover cure. Not sure whether that will be time to travel for a couple of days or tackling those relatively brainless activities on my to do list but I’m thinking it is better to plan for my brain shutting down for a bit rather than hoping it does not.


*for those curious about the SCAPE meeting, Jeff Ollerton wrote two great summaries of the meeting (part 1, part 2). If there are any pollination scientists reading this, definitely consider coming to the meeting! Barely half of the attendees are based in Scandinavia these days (ie you don’t have to work here to be welcome) and it is really a fabulous meeting. Causal but intense at the same time: where else can you present a talk in your slippers/sock feet to a crowd of high quality and interested researchers? The organisation is rather informal but there is a Facebook group with posts about pollination and meeting details or an email list that sends out details on the meeting place/dates every year (send me your info if you want to be added). Maybe see you next year!

4 thoughts on “The conference hangover

  1. My hangover on the last day was a very real one in the traditional sense….. But yes, meetings are both exhausting and invigorating in equal proportions! And I love the idea of a meeting that is “Causal but intense” – presumably it deserves analysis with regression :-)

  2. I’m strongly introverted and agree with your suggestion of building in recovery time. I haven’t been the best about it in the past and I think my productivity suffers for it. Giving our brains rest (true for anyone!) is important to not only process things, but to actually function well on tasks requiring more mental effort.

    I haven’t always been the best about it in the past, thinking something was fundamentally wrong with me for needing so much downtime to recover, but now I accept a lot more that I’m introverted and that’s OK.

  3. It has been especially interesting to see the commonality of the response to the conference in our department this week. Maybe a little extra recovery was need because we were the organizers this year but I realised I was not alone in feeling drained. Comforting to know to that we all need downtime, regardless of our level of introversion.

  4. Good conferences are always draining because of the level of brain effort they require, engaging the attendees with interesting science. Poor conferences are less exhausting because there’s a temptation to skip talks.

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