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Archive for August, 2013

As Stephanie Medley-Rath warns at Sociology in Focus, thousands of sociologists are about to descend on New York City. I’ve written quite a bit about attending conferences in the past, covering submission types, tag-checking, dealing with the status of my institution, and the ASA’s continuing efforts to provide unisex restrooms, but Medley-Rath’s post, along with Eric Grollman’s advice at Conditionally Accepted (which is a great blog name) for attending academic conferences, reminded me of my first conference experience.

I was fortunate to be involved in research as an undergraduate and in my senior year of college my faculty mentor and I submitted a paper to ASA that we had worked on together. ASA that year was being held within driving distance of my undergraduate institution and with my undergraduate mentor there to show me the ropes I figured that the experience would not be too bad, even if a poster presentation at a regional conference would have been less intimidating. We were accepted to a roundtable session, which lowered the stakes a bit, and prepared for our presentation over the summer.

Everything was looking good until two weeks before the conference when my mentor called me and told me that he would not be able to attend and that I would have to present our paper on my own. No longer would there be somebody to show me the ropes, I was going to have to find the ropes on my own. The fact that this news coincided with my move to the location of my new graduate program did not help relieve the stress.

Eventually, the time for the conference came and I drove to the big city, where I checked in to the slightly-cheaper graduate student hotel (do they even have designated graduate student hotels anymore?). I have very few memories of the conference itself, which means either that the experience was traumatic and I have blocked it out or, more likely, that I didn’t experience much of note because I was at a conference where I knew almost nobody. I do remember going to my roundtable presentation in a suit and tie, which was the last time that I’ve worn a tie at a conference, and that another professor from my undergraduate institution was there to offer her support during my presentation. I also remember attending my graduate institution’s party where I spoke awkwardly with some of the students I had met during my recruitment visit.

More than anything else, I remember finding the ropes. Because I had no idea what to wear, I paid particular attention to what other people were wearing. It seemed that with a few notable exceptions, the older people were, the more poorly they were dressed (although the setting probably prevented me from thinking they were homeless). I went to presentations, was surprised by how boring some of them were, and generally felt better about my own presentation. As a pseudo-outsider, I got to see how others did sociology.

In the end, I returned to my new apartment having learned a lot about the academic side of conference attendance and starved for social interaction. It was years before I attended ASA again. What originally served as an intimidating introduction to the discipline now serves as a chance to reconnect with friends and colleagues and recharge my academic batteries. This will be my eighth year in a row.

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Fabio’s post at Orgtheory today about academic phase transition, in which academics go from being in low demand to being in high demand very quickly, made me think about the experiences of one of my acquaintances from grad school in the publication gauntlet and, to a lesser extent, my own recent experiences.

Quite a few years ago at ASA I was talking to an acquaintance who had graduated and started working at a liberal arts school where he was about to go up for tenure. He was somewhat concerned because the school did not clearly define what the publication expectation was for junior faculty. At the time, he had published one peer reviewed article since starting his job and the official word of the administration was that junior faculty did not need at least two publications but that they did need more than one.

A few years later I was wondering if he had been able to get the necessary (but not required) second publication and checked his profile on the school’s web page. He had published two papers in the year he went up for tenure and two more in the year after receiving tenure. Checking his profile today he has published at least one paper in every year since.

As much as we like to think that we come out of graduate school as fully-formed academics, I suspect that for most people this process is not complete when they receive their Ph.D.s. Personally, it took years before I was able to settle into my current position where I am able to balance teaching and service with getting a bit of research done.  Although my publication productivity has been relatively low up to this point, I hope that I am on the cusp of an academic phase transition of my own.

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