by Steve Peters
One aspect in particular has taken me by surprise at Professional Issues Meetings (PIMs) and academic conferences. This is how others’ work can be joined up by a whole other set of dots to the ones I might use to map my own understanding of the field of EAP and Applied Linguistics. Attending presentations, responding to questions, striking up conversations have all provided the chance to reveal other horizon(s).
Arguably, exploring in conversation how others make sense of the field is central to the value of such events. There are, however, other benefits. Perhaps, one of the greatest of these is navigating the academic practices that are a real part of successful engagement in academic communities. These are the challenges EAP learners face. Attending such events can provide those essential experiences that other areas of our work do not.
The night before I attended a BALEAP PIM for the first time (SHU, 2014), I sat on the bed in the hotel room on the other side of a wet, dark and unfamiliar city from where most attendees were staying (I was on a smaller, self-financing budget) and edited my presentation into the small hours as the immediacy of the event and the chance to focus without distraction helped to crystalise my ideas. While adapting for audience awareness and editing content for presenting data and findings effectively is a common focus in EAP learning, working in such contexts as mentioned here has been enlightening. Such ‘backstage’ dimensions of academic discourse work and community engagement are not always brought to the fore in EAP learning.
During conference (usually) weekends, I have found a mixture of buzz and isolation, a kind of other-worldly carnival atmosphere; the usual order is shaken up, there is a distance created from the day job. Conversations in corridors, light-hearted or intense exchanges juggled with food balanced on paper plates, introductions and catching up over drinks in a crowded pub, the recognition of names and discovery of the person behind each are all a part of these itinerant gatherings. I have thrown myself into all of these and reminded myself, when it has seemed obscure, inspiring, overwhelming, rewarding or plain tiring on the feet, that I am there to learn about how colleagues make sense of their EAP and other worlds: that mastery comes with time and mixed experience (among other things) seems a useful way to reflect on it.