Saturday, August 27, 2011

FIT Conference Redux

Last month, I wrote about how I was looking forward to the FIT translation conference in San Francisco. Unfortunately, I must report back that it was probably the worst conference I ever attended. Were any of you there? What did you think?

Here are a few of the reasons why I was disappointed:

--The organization of the conference was very poor. For example, no lunch was provided. Although many attendees had breakfast at their own hotels, the organizers chose to provide a continental breakfast at the conference. Presumably the cost of this is why they did not offer lunch. Instead, we had one and a half hours to find a reasonably priced lunch in the neighborhood, which created a stressful lunch time when we could have been networking and discussing. Considering the cost of the conference ($500), lunch really should have been included. I have never attended a full-day conference that did not include lunch.

--Another organizational issue is in regard to technology. I gave a presentation and was shocked to learn that laptops were not provided. When I complained, I was told that this was because it was “too expensive” to rent laptops and that it was already costly enough for the organizers to rent the screens. Again, given the high price of this conference, I was stunned that such basic amenities were not provided. I was told to borrow a laptop from someone in the audience. Obviously, this is not appropriate, especially given that many attendees brought their computers with the aim of taking notes on them.

--This was also the first conference I attended where there were no chairs for the sessions. Chairs are essential parts of talks, I believe, because they ensure that everything goes smoothly. They introduce the speakers, help run question sessions, and ensure that the audience does not get out of control. I was in talks where speakers never bothered to say who they were or where they were from, where audience members simply shouted out questions or comments in the middle of the presentations, and where questions were posed rudely or in the form of a boastful monologue. All of this could have been avoided by the simple organizational tool of having chairs.

--Similarly, there were a number of talks that had no question sessions at all, including the keynote lectures. We attend conferences to learn and part of the learning process is dialogue. It is very unusual to attend a talk that does not include time for questions. This, too, was an organizational issue that could have been rectified.

--The keynotes were distinctly lacking in import and relevance. I got the impression that the speakers had been invited for reasons other than their expertise in translation, because they did not have much to say about translation. It is unacceptable to attend a major international conference and to feel that attending keynote talks was actually a waste of time.

--Quite a few of the sessions were cancelled, sometimes five or ten minutes after they were due to start. While it is not the fault of the organizers that people were unable or unwilling to attend the conference, it is rather suspect, and it shows poor organization that the audience was not informed of the cancellation until it was too late to slip into another session.

--There were scarcely any exhibitions and there were no poster presentations. Along with all the other lacks, this contributed to an overall feeling of a weak conference with little to offer attendees.

--When I asked for an evaluation form, so I could offer some of this feedback immediately after the conference, I was told that the organizers had “decided [they] didn’t want any feedback”. Again, this is a rather odd decision, and suggests a deep sense of apathy in regard to the conference and no concern about the attendees.

--I emailed some feedback to the organizers and got a response that suggested that they had scarcely read my email and didn’t really care what anyone thought anyway. My impression was that they had gotten their money and that was all that mattered.

So while I really enjoyed the FIT congress in Shanghai in 2008, I was deeply disappointed in the FIT congress in San Francisco in 2011. Given the lack of concern on the part of the organizers, this has made me decide that I won’t attend another FIT event again, and that’s pretty sad, since FIT is supposed to be an umbrella organization that really looks out for translators and promotes our translation work.

Incidentally, I’m not the only one to feel this way – many people I spoke to during the conference expressed these disappointments and a few said they were going to write letters to the organizers too. It’s just too bad that the organizers show no remorse or concern.

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