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The Conference Shuffle | Tampa, FL

Tote bag? Check. Sexy lanyard, name tag, and meal tickets? Check. Conference schedule (also known as the binder resembling in thickness nothing shy of my senior thesis)? Check. Room key? Check. I'm off.

Smile politely at group of geeky academics already clustered in elevator, identifiable by identical totes and lanyards. Engage in awkward conversation. Try to remember woman's name who of course remembers me and I know that I know from the conference last year. And the year before. Tell everyone, but no one by name, that I'll see them around and yes, definitely find me at lunch and we'll continue this completely one-sided conversation about your dissertation and the humidity.

Meander past "breakfast" table. Debate between strawberry NutriGrain bar or Nature's Valley oats & honey. Take one of each. And an apple.

Glance at conference schedule. Shuffle to Grand Salon A. Classroom style. Secure favorite seat: second row, outer isle, left side. Reach for complimentary hotel notepad and pen. Note date and session title on top of said notepad. Pour water and move candy to my side of the table. Begin session.

60-90 minutes later, leave Grand Salon A. Shuffle into the hallway. Wait in long line in women's restroom. Engage in more awkward conversation about someone else's dissertation and the weather. Leave restroom. Check the schedule. Note the next session I marked as one-to-attend. Doh! Shuffle back into Grand Salon A. Sit in row three, inner isle, right side. Keep it exciting.

Repeat. Repeat.

Shuffle into Great Ballroom. Locate friends. Sit and wait for Mystery Meal #1 to be served. Remind waiter, again, as you reminded the nice man at registration who doles out meal tickets, no red meat. Wait for Oops Mystery Meal Plan B to be served. Hope for the best.

Two hours later, glance at conference schedule. Shuffle to Grand Salon D. Round tables. Someone in my favorite seat. Pick random seat at different table. Reach for complimentary hotel notepad and pen. Note date and session title on top of said notepad. Pour water and move candy to my side of the table. Begin session.

60-90 minutes later, leave Grand Salon D. Shuffle into the hallway. Wait in long line in women's restroom. Engage in more awkward conversation about yet another dissertation. Leave restroom. Check the schedule. Note the next session marked as one-to-attend.

Repeat. Repeat.

By the end of one day I have no less than five notepads full of things-to-do, things-to-study, ways-to-better-research-xyz...and a stack of PowerPoint handouts that now rival the thesis-esque conference schedule. Smile politely at group of geeky academics clustered in upward-bound elevator, identifiable, again, by identical totes and lanyards and the fact that the man on the left was the person in my favorite seat. Engage in awkward conversation and tell everyone, but no one by name, that I'll see them around and yes, definitely find me at dinner and we'll continue this conversation. Unload tote in hotel room.

Shuffle back to Grand Ballroom. Locate friends. Sit and wait for Mystery Meal #2 to be served. Remind waiter, again, as you reminded the nice man at registration, no shellfish. Wait for Mystery Meal Plan B to be served. Keep hoping for the best.

All in a days work.

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