One of the things associated with being an academic is the constant travel to conferences.  As publishing is the lifeblood of what we do, conferences are a chance to meet new colleagues, dialogue with potential collaborators, gather feedback on research-in-progress, relate new ideas to our own subjects-of-interest, and just get a chance to generally socialize with others in our field who may not teach/research at our own institutions.

Within marketing academia, there are several conferences a year, ranging from broad subject matter to special topics.  Of maybe four or five major conferences a year, the American Marketing Association puts on two major semi-annual educators conferences.  This year, the summer conference was held at the Boston Marriott Copley Square and UMass-Amherst, along with UConn were conference co-chairs.  Thus, as UMass students, we were allotted money to attend the conference at no cost.  Given the cost of conferences, PhD students typically don’t attend unless they have work to present.

However, with no papers to present and no job interviews this year (typically the Summer Educators’ conference is where the university interview process takes place), I had the good fortune to attend my first conference early on in my PhD student career — without any of the added pressures conferences tend to bring.  As the two-hour drive to Boston was essentially “in my backyard,” I decided to make the most of the opportunity and stay the entire weekend to partake in as much of the conference as I could absorb……

I came into Brighton on Thursday evening, since I decided to stay at my cousin Seth’s apartment in Brighton — about a 20 minute T ride to the conference hotel.  We went out for dinner around the corner and then more or less hit the sack, since we had to leave the house Friday by 7:45am.

For me, the conference kicked off  Friday at 8:30 with a DocSIG pre-conference symposium, comprised of various marketing PhD students from around the globe.  I sat at a table with Aaron Ward (Lincoln Univ, N.Z.), Chelsea Wise (Univ of Tech., Sydney, AUS), Dan Friesen (Wayne State), and Bill Cleveland (Indiana).  So we got to talking about our research interests and introducing each other to everyone else in the room.  Then we had a roundtable discussion, where each table of 4 had a professor and a question and then the professors went from table to table — speeddating-like.   A lot of good perspective on the field, on academic careers, on research, etc.  My favourites were Ray Fisk (TSU-San Marcos), Manjit Yadav (Texas A&M), and Julie Ozanne (Virginia Tech).

From there, we had a luncheon and kind of switched up and met some other people.  After lunch, we got to listen to another panel of editors (Tomas Hult – JAMS, Greg Marshall – JMTP, and Kay Lemon – JSR), where we got to hear what different types of journals were looking for, submissions, etc.   By that time, it was about 2, so I decided to walk around a little bit of Boston before heading back to the opening reception at 5.

Going to the reception was a bit unnerving for me, a person who has a hard time meeting people in new social environments.  So I first saw my advisor, George, but went to get a drink and met a few different people as I made my way back.  Got to start talking about this year’s [marketing academic] job market, interviews, etc and even bounced off some ideas.  And somewhat starstruck by names like Roland Rust (Maryland), Shelby Hunt (Texas Tech), Robert Palmatier (Univ of Washington), etc…  All this, before heading back to Brighton.

Saturday kicked off the “real” sessions, were papers were being presented.  I decided to go to as many sessions as I could during the weekend, so I was into the Marriott at 8:30 for my first session on branding issues.  Of the four papers presented in that session, one of the more interesting ones was done by Chelsea Wise about esoteric specifications and how customers try to re-frame their purchase behaviours based on those specs (i.e., a camera is marketed at “8MP” instead of “3072 x 2048 pixels”).  At 10:30, my classmate, Shabnam, was presenting at the internationalization and foreign market entry strategy session, so I decided to go support.  Regrettably, I realized that “international” marketing  and “cross-cultural” marketing are two different fields; international marketing is actually not something that I’m interested in.  So after the second presentation, I decided to leave the session.

At noon was the awards luncheon, in which awards are presented for the best track papers, the best overall conference paper, and the best doctoral dissertation.  I sat with Brooke Malinowski (Drexel), and we got to talk quite a bit about our research interests.  At the 1:30 session on brand personality, Rick Klink (Loyola Univ Maryland) gave a really interesting talk on brand names and brand personality — looking through the lens of linguistics.  After that, I was going to go to a CSR session at 3:30, but ended up doing some socializing instead until the DocSIG/Global Marketing reception at 5pm.  I hung out with Jun and Shabham at the reception until 6pm, when we headed over to the UMass reception.

The UMass reception was open to current faculty/students as well as PhD alumni, so I ultimately got to listen to perspectives from several alumni who graduated several years ago.  Was very interesting to hear comparisons of how the program was and how it still is.  Two awards were presented though – one to Roger Calantone (PhD, UMass 1976, now at Michigan State), who does a lot of work on innovation) and one to Ed Shirley (B.S.B.A., 1977), Vice Chair of the Global Beauty and Grooming Business Unit of Procter & Gamble.  So Ed Shirley gave a presentation on how P&G brands itself through consumer engagement.  I thought it was an excellent presentation for more practical perspective (and we even got to hear some about the recent Old Spice YouTube campaign!).  After that, I got to talk to some more alumni before heading out…

On Sunday am, I went to a session on CSR and citizenship.  It was a pretty good session; my favourite paper out of that was on excessive buying, though most all of the papers helped me to piece together some of my own research puzzles.  I met up with my classmate, Delancy, for the 10:30 session on person and celebrity brands.  The session was dominated by a highly interesting presentation by Mark Rosenbaum (Northern Illinois) essentially on internet-mediated hookups on craigslist.  The theory and public policy implications made the research findings a lot more compelling than I would have otherwise expected.

Delancy and I then went with Christina Kowalcyzk (Univ of Memphis) to a DocSIG luncheon featuring Gerry Tellis (USC-Marshall).  Gerry Tellis is a highly-cited researcher, so to get some perspective from him was really amazing stuff.  He was talking about a paper he was working on that took 17 years to get accepted!

After lunch, I went to a session on sustainability and consumer empowerment.  It was an alright session, but I found that some of the concepts were a little too… puffery?  I also learned how a seemingly interesting subject can be completely ruined by a poor presentation.  However, it did seem to inform my own work a little bit better.  We skipped the 3:30 session, but introduced ourselves to Dip Biswas (Bentley) and one of Bentley marketing’s first PhD students, Ekin Pehlivan.  As Jason started to finish up his interviews for the day, we started to make dinner plans at California Pizza Kitchen.  After dinner, Delancy, Nicole, and Kaylee headed up, and Jason, Ekin, and I met Ekin’s fiancé, Taylan (also a marketing PhD student at Harvard), then one of their friends from UConn, Maxim, who is also on the job market.  Jason and I then stuck around talking for a bit before I headed back…

Monday morning, I packed up the car and headed downtown, but was late for the advances in measurement and sampling session, so skipped it altogether.  For the last session of the conference, I went to “Putting values, consistency, and power to the test: challenging assumptions about cultural differences.”  It was a surprisingly good session, reinforcing my interest in cross-cultural marketing/branding, but even moreso, building into some of the work I’ve already done for myself.  The very last presentation dealt with a 2×2 of collective vs. individuals by hierarchical vs. egalitarian societies.  Indeed, Carlos Torelli (Wisconsin) (who presented the paper) linked it to prosocial products and brands, so I met up with him after the presentation and started to discuss my interests.  It would be excellent if, during my schooling, I could start networking for collaborations with people at other institutions.

Suffice to say, there was a lot I learned from this first conference — about how AMA interviewing proceeds, how stressful the interview process is, how social dynamics play out between academics, what makes a good presentation, how to network… The conference tracks also helped me to better define what my research interests are and are not.  I saw some presentations I thought would be better than they were, and some presentations that were more interesting than initially thought.

Most of all though, the weekend helped me refine my objective: “I’m interested in studying prosocial behaviors — specifically egoism — and how they relate to CSR and consumer behaviour. More directly, I’m interested in seeing how egoism affects both sustainable/socially responsible consumption and excessive/moderate consumption.”

For a second-year student to be able to say that, I guess it’s not half bad… The opportunity to go to a conference so early on (and have no pressures on me) was a most beneficial opportunity. Now, it makes me look forward to all the conferences to come…