Is this seat taken?

Mini-column ‘Alison in Wonderland’, published in the Observant, Maastricht

Giving a presentation is not the scariest part of an academic conference. Far more frightening is deciding where to sit at the conference banquet. Either you want to climb the professional ladder by manoeuvring yourself next to the keynote speakers, or – if you can’t navigate a plate of wonton noodles with chopsticks (because ‘conference dinner’ is inevitably synonymous with ‘Chinese banquet’) while maintaining intelligent conversation – you want to avoid them like the plague. At my first ever conference I landed unwittingly next to the keynote speaker, his name tag hidden unluckily beneath his tie. I babbled on happily for an hour about penguins (my favourite animal) and three-ring binders (my favourite paper-storage solution) before asking if he were presenting that week. To which he replied, “Actually I’m giving the plenary tomorrow”, and I crawled under the table to die.

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