The AERA conference schedule is finally up, and am I disappointed!
One thing you need to know about AERA is that it is huge, because it covers every aspect of education - financing public universities, teaching reading to autistic children, improving principal education, the state of access to education for girls in Uganda. So even though 13,000 people attend, there still aren't that many sessions in any one area.
In my area of higher education philanthropy, in fact, there is one session. (It's being put on by my colleague Noah Drezner.) Naturally, this would be at the top of my must-attend list.
Except, really it's second. The number-one session for me is, of course, the session I'm presenting in (it's a poster session and thus a pretty mixed bag). Guess what time it is? Hint: I won't be attending Noah's symposium.
But, you say, surely it's not the ONLY session you are interested in. Well, no. There's a paper about boards of trustees being presented at a roundtable which sounds quite interesting. I could go to that, surely ... if it weren't at the very same time. Then my colleague David Weerts is doing a roundtable, and there's a paper on the effect of prestige on alumni giving.
So out of four sessions (excluding mine) I'd like to attend, there are only two I can make, through no fault of my own. This also means that the people who are interested in my poster aren't likely to make it to my session - they're going to be at Noah's symposium.
Yes, there are a lot of sessions to organize. But most people tend to stick within one division, and the number of presentations for Division J (higher education) this year looks something like this*: 20 symposia; 230 papers in sessions of 4 each, or 56 paper sessions; 70 roundtables; and 134 posters. They run a lot of posters and roundtables at the same time, so let's say there are 2 sessions of each. That's 80 sessions overall, out of about 25 time slots. So there's three Division J sessions at any given time - it shouldn't be hard to avoid topic overlap.
Except, if you're astute, you'll notice that of my three overlapping sessions, one is a poster session and one is a roundtable. Problem: these sessions cover so many topics, there is bound to be overlap. For example, at 10:35 on May 1, there are 19 roundtable sessions of about five thematically-grouped papers each (not all are higher education). But this is fixable, too, with one of two solutions: 1) Run posters (and possibly roundtables) at their own time, like ASHE does. 2) Instead of running 19 roundtables at once, get a smaller freaking room and run only a few at a time, but ensure their topics don't overlap with paper sessions in the same division at the same time.
I know, I've never been in the no-doubt difficult position of having to arrange sessions, so there are undoubtedly subtleties I am missing. But this is one of the reasons I find attending AERA so frustrating, and one reason I'm likely to stop attending once I'm out of graduate school.
*based on accepted proposals. If there's something wrong with my math, correct me.