From Music City to the Métropole francophone des Amériques

The first half of 2023 has kept me very occupied. From finishing my Master of Planning thesis, to submitting articles, to preparing for my upcoming PhD studies, there hasn’t been a dull moment so far. The most memorable and exciting part of the last few months was presenting the findings of my thesis at multiple conferences. In March, I was a virtual speaker at the American Association of Geographers (AAG) conference. At the end of April, I had the pleasure of speaking at the Urban Affairs Association (UAA) conference in Nashville, TN. Just two weeks later, I found myself in Montréal, QC, presenting at the Canadian Association of Geographers (CAG) conference. In this blog post, I will share and compare my experience at my first two in-person academic conferences.

Urban Affairs Association Conference – April 25-29, 2023

I was so excited to hear my presentation abstract was accepted for UAA last November. I had only travelled to the United States once before (a lovely vacation in Louisiana) and was looking forward to not only discovering another part of the US, but to have the chance to experience Nashville for the first time. Being a singer-songwriter myself, I know the impact Nashville can have on bolstering music careers – I actually have many friends and acquaintances that have lived in Nashville to either record music or gain exposure. Speaking at UAA meant I could also quench my curiosity surrounding Music City.

However, leading up to the conference, it became clear that I wouldn’t know anyone once I got there. I was the only person attending from Queen’s University and had yet to be acquainted with anyone else attending the conference. I reached out to a PhD Candidate from the University of Toronto, who I noticed would be speaking at both UAA and CAG. We later connected at the conference, and he introduced me to other students from U of T, helping me to feel a little less alone in a sea of 600 conference attendees.

The conference itself was a fantastic experience. My presentation went well, and attending other sessions on similar research topics to my own felt similarly rewarding. One of my favourite sessions was “Small Cities Across the U.S.: An Economic and Community Development Perspective”, which discussed economic development and typologies of American neighbourhoods in small cities, as well as the entrepreneurial ecosystem of Dayton, Ohio. While I would’ve appreciated more socializing opportunities for all conference attendees (as breakfast and reception tickets had to be purchased separately), I still had the opportunity to connect with many people, including attendees from Czechia and Belgium. I even had the chance to meet a professor who’s work I had cited previously.

I really enjoyed sharing my research findings and engaging in further discussion with the other speakers in my session!

As for Nashville, I had the opportunity to explore the downtown core with some (new) friends. The main attraction, Broadway, lives up to its hype, especially at night: bright neon signs, music coming from every direction, bachelorette parties, and sidewalks densely packed with honky-tonk enthusiasts. While I’m happy to have had the chance to experience it once, one experience was probably enough for a lifetime. If I were to return to Nashville, I would want to venture past the downtown core and explore residential neighbourhoods and resident-favourite cafes and restaurants. Though, the party atmosphere in downtown Nashville was the perfect place to find out I’m the recipient of a major doctoral-level scholarship (to be announced later this year)!

A few photos from my visit:

Canadian Association of Geographers Conference – May 8-12, 2023

Only 9 days after returning home from Nashville, 8 days after moving to a new apartment, and 3 days after successfully defending my thesis, I hopped on a train to Montréal to attend the Canadian Association of Geographers conference. Despite it not being as big as the UAA conference, I was really looking forward to this conference for one major reason: I would be presenting in French. Translating findings to a different language and later presenting them is no easy feat – even as someone who holds a French-language undergraduate degree – as urban planning terminology is quite different in both languages. However, I was excited to tackle this challenge, and to share my research as a proud franco-ontarienne at a Québécois venue.

I got to Montréal a day before my presentation and decided to take advantage of the beautiful evening to visit Vieux-Montréal. I picked up some Ben & Jerry’s ice cream, and enjoyed it on the riverfront, which has become a tradition whenever I visit Montréal. With several hours left in the day, I decided to go to a café to work on my laptop. I ended up finding an incredible study spot called Milton B, which is open 24 hours a day, has plenty of indoor and outdoor seating, and a very large selection of drinks, warm meals, and pastries.

The next day, I presented my research to a small group at CAG. The one thing I hadn’t anticipated while preparing my presentation was the fact that not everyone at the conference would understand French. With 2/3 of my audience being English speakers, I found myself translating parts of my presentation to English on the fly. If I were to present at CAG again (or at any conference with English and French as presentation languages), I would make sure to have notes prepared in both languages in case a question is asked in the language I didn’t present in.

My favourite session of the conference was “Mapping Accessible Mobilities”. The last two presentations showcased new accessibility maps at McGill University and Vancouver Island University. These were followed by a workshop on how to create accessibility maps for our own universities. This exercise made me realize that Queen’s University’s campus maps can be substantially improved, which is something I would like to explore further.

A crucial part of my experience at CAG was running into my friend who attended UAA, who then proceeded to introduce me to even more students from U of T. For the rest of my time in Montréal, the small group of us encouraged each other, learned from one another, went on many adventures and ate too much ice cream. I experienced many “firsts” with them, including eating Venezuelan food and going to a cat café. While we hope to see each other again soon, I really look forward to attending more conferences with them – some of us will be at the Association of Collegiate Schools of Planning conference in Miami in October, and others expect to attend next year’s AAG conference in Hawaii and UAA conference in New York – to continue sharing our passion for various geographic topics with one another.

Exploring Vieux-Montréal with my friends from U of T!

Here are a handful of the hundreds of photos I took in Montréal:

Two Unique Experiences

Looking back at both conferences, I feel as though my priorities were different for each of them. For UAA, once I had the opportunity to explore downtown Nashville, I was looking forward to what I would learn at the conference itself, and to the connections I would make throughout the week. For CAG, I quickly discovered that Montréal was a place I wanted to thoroughly explore, and while I still attended the conference, the thought of strolling through the city took precedence. In my opinion, that’s one of the great things about conferences – the ability to choose your own adventure and decide what sessions to attend, what to see in the city, what to eat, and who to share those memories with.