Saturday, June 25, 2016

Institutes vs. Conferences

Samford University

I’m still working on recovering from last week and the IGHR institute. A long trip down and back- it takes almost 2 full days of driving each way, but is well worth it. Then there are all the little things at home that were neglected for a little over a week. But things are starting to slide back into place and return to normal around here.

In talking with a couple different people in the last week, I’ve realized that many don’t know what the difference is between an institute and a conference. There may be differences in other disciplines, but I suspect that for most endeavors there are two different types of gatherings that are very similar. They might go by different names and they might have a little different slant on education, but there are more similarities than differences. These are institutes and conferences.

A quick and easy way to explain the difference is to think of food, or more specifically two types of meals. One is a multi-course meal where everything is planned out and goes together, the other is a huge buffet with all different types of food from various cuisines that you can pick whatever you want in whatever combination fits your whim. The first is an institute and the second is a conference.

Thus when you attend an institute you choose one class or track of study. During the institute, which usually lasts about a week, you attend classes in this one area of study with the same group of people. There are usually either one or two coordinators that oversee the entire week. However, many different people are likely to present to you on topics surrounding that one area that you’ve chosen to learn about. All of these presentations are planned out to give you a good background in this area. It is much like a course you might take in college in this aspect, although there are usually no papers due or big final at the end.
Legal Research Class @ IGHR

At a conference on the other hand, you can pick and choose from a wide variety of topics. Although there are usually tracks available on one area that you could attend, many people will attend only one or two in a given area and others in various other areas. A conference also tends to last for anywhere between two and four days. You will see some of the same people in the audience at various presentations, but many will change from one presentation to another. Everybody goes their own way and hears a wide variety of speakers on a wide variety of topics.

Which one is better? Well, it depends. I enjoy attending both, but for different reasons. A conference is a good chance to learn a little about many things. Mostly, however, I enjoy going to the vendor hall and networking with like-minded people. At an institute, I feel I learn a lot more. There is more emphasis on learning and many of the courses are designed to build upon skills as the week goes by. Although there is often a book vendor there, you won’t find a vendor hall at an institute. Networking is also different in that you’re with the same people throughout the week and so get to know them better than the chance meetings for a few moments at a conference. One is in-depth within a narrow area while the other is shallow and wide with the information.

I guess to return to our food comparisons, it is like chocolate and vanilla ice cream. Both are delicious, but for different reasons!

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