In this blog, I would like to look back at the European Conference for Educational Research 2023, in Glasgow. Specifically, I want to reflect on the way the conference is organized, how I related to that, and how this impacted me, regarding my physical, and mental wellbeing, and my ability to comprehend knowledge.
I was very much looking forward to the conference, and in the days before the start, I looked into the programme. And the range of sessions planned at every slot. I first became very enthusiastic about all the interesting topics of the presentations. Soon this enthusiasm mixed with anxiety and the feeling of being overwhelmed by the huge offering of presentations. I had to choose between, sometimes, multi equal interesting sessions. This resulted in a very packed program in which I often could not choose jet. With a few of the slots left, being still open.
The conference started for me with the second anniversary meeting of network 30 on ESE (Environmental and Sustainability Education). This was a very inspiring meeting, which made me feel at the right place within network 30. In the afternoon, the presentations started. This was the first moment I was again confronted with the cognitive nature of most research conferences. In the programme, I had difficulty choosing between equally attractive subjects, but in reality, this was different. About one third of the presenters read the presentation from paper, another third read the presentation from the PowerPoint, and the last forty percent had a more embodied presentation, that was easy to listen to. Although most presentation were presented in a way that makes listening to them very tiering for me. My conviction that I should be engaged with that talks to be able to give constructive feedback won from my bodily need to drop out. I used a lot of cognitive energy in my attempt to listen, which I could not do without getting tensed in my head. With often a not very satisfying result, I felt I had missed half at the end of some presentations.
At the end of the first day, I was already pretty tired. Thus, I decided to stay at home Wednesday morning, to prepare my own presentation I had to give Wednesday at the end of the day. I skipped the first slot and the keynote. This gave me the time until one o clock to meditate, do Taiji and practise the presentation. After two slots of listening to presentations, I still had enough energy to present, and was happy with the result. In the evening, we had the network dinner, with music and dance, that lasted until late in the evening. I slept around midnight. On Thursday, I wanted to be present at the first slot, as one of my direct colleagues. Presented there, and had a very interesting presentation about the systemic nature of the educational culture, also when doing education in challenge-based setting, outside the classroom. Thereafter, I had a private meeting with a colleague from Scotland. This break in the programme was very welcome. In the afternoon, I felt the fatigue rapidly increasing again. Late in the afternoon, I had difficulty keeping my eyes open. Especially the sessions that were read from paper were exhausting. I decided to provide feedback here and there also at this point. Unfortunately, the presenters did not take my feedback very seriously. In the evening, I had a meeting about affect and emotions in ESE. That was the highlight of the week. We shared personal stories and decided to stay in contact during the year. This evening was a big source of energy for me, although the late night and not so much sleep did not help. I had a short night sleep and woke up early. In the morning I felt my head was still tensed. This worried me a bit, as the conference was not over jet, and I had a busy week directly after the conference. But I put the worries aside with the thought that I had the whole weekend to rest.
On Friday, I noticed, there was not much left of my concentration. But I was stubborn, and wanted to stay until the end, also because there were some interesting topics at the end of the day. During the day, I felt a bit left alone. I did not really know why. I had so many colleagues around me with whom I could have captivating and engaging conversations. Yet, I noticed, I fell back a bit into old patterns where I go out of touch. This awakened my need to be connected, and made me a bit uncomfortable that last day. I choose to spend the evening alone and went to my Airbnb after a dinner in the city. Although that was not an easy decision, I was glad I made it.
My train to Hull, where I would take the boot to Rotterdam, was leaving early on Saturday, 6.18 am. I choose this connection because of the expectation of crowded trains due to strikes and the festivities in Edinburgh. During the day I tried to work on my latest article but had not so much energy to do so. I tried to sleep, but that was not a success either. I was happy being at the boot, and meeting my Arjen again, my promotor.
When finally at home, I first cleaned up my travel stuff, and then went to bed early in the afternoon. It was hard to sleep, like I was too awake, still tensed in my head from all the presentations. Moreover, in the nights thereafter, I had difficulty relaxing and had a good night’s sleep.
Now, after the conference, I wonder: What made me transgress my borders? Why didn’t I listen to myself? These questions still grab me. Knowing I have a sensitive body, and my head with quite a history at the dentist, it is difficult to relax. But I seemed to have forgotten these lessons, when feeling completely relaxed at the start of the conference, after a good holiday in Scotland. Resulting in not listening enough to the signs that were there! The greed for content was apparently stronger than my need to take care. Near the end of the week, my need for real contact reinforced my behaviour of not wanting to miss something. This only led to a downwards spiral, as for real contact, I needed to relax, which I couldn’t do that just like that any more. I had locked myself in my tense head.
When looking at the system we are in, this tension between greed and care looks like a familiar or even central tension in ESE. The world is dying because of our feelings like greed, instead of taking care for ourselves and for nature. Why then do we have a system that stimulates greed? Even greed for knowledge is not helpful. More knowledge is not always better. Especially if you are not able to embody the knowledge and enact the knowledge. I would say this is the case when talking about ESE, while reading from paper. I think it is time for new ways of sharing our research with each other at conferences. A way that is more embodied, and in which we also take the challenge of walking our talk.
I would like to invite People of NW30 to react on my post. It would be wonderful if we could have some constructive remarks regarding this theme. Of course, others are also welcome to give a reaction. Only constructive feedback, questions, and remarks will be posted.