I came across this post at Daily Nous today on the value of academic conferences, and had some thoughts that I thought might be worth sharing. Justin's focus in the post was on the overall costs and benefits of conferences themselves, focusing in part on matters of fairness, which I return to below.
One interesting issue that came up in the comments section concerned those who work in small departments. I myself very much identified with Robert Noggle's comment:
Conferences can also rekindle one’s enthusiasm for the field. This is especially important for people in smaller departments and at schools where most of the teaching consists of introductory and service courses. Many people work in departments where they don’t routinely interact with people working in their own specialization, and where they seldom get to teach anything beyond the rudiments of their specialties. For people in such positions, conferences can play a valuable role in keeping them connected with–and enthusiastic about–their fields. And greater enthusiasm carries over into both research and teaching.
Also, going to conferences can also expose you to work that you might not hear about otherwise. I’ve often had the experience of going to a session to hear a paper I probably never would have gotten around to reading simply because it’s on the program and I don’t feel right about skipping sessions, only to find the topic and paper so fascinating and thought-provoking that I want to know more, and perhaps even try to write something about it myself someday.