April 08, 2014

Dispatch from a Professional Sociology Conference

RaskoffBy Sally Raskoff

Oh, the anticipation of a professional meeting! As Im walking into to the airport to fly away to the conference, I think of all the times I have done this. I found sociology in 1981 and it quickly became my major. Its been twenty years since Ive been out of grad school and Ive been teaching full time--and going to conferences--ever since.

My first meeting was in the late 1980s in Las Vegas. That first meeting, I gave my first conference presentation. It was terrible. (My presentation, not the meeting.) I was terrified and practiced my talk over and over. Then when the time came to present my paper, I stayed seated and read my paper. By the end I was boring both myself and the audience. Many people were encouraging, supportive, patting me on the back, but, oh, it was so bad.

I got over  that first presentation. I figured it out. I think my more recent presentations have been much better as I do what I do in the classroom, walk around a bit, engage with people in the room, talk about the important stuff, interesting stuff. Ive relaxed into it, particularly since Ive done it enough to have it feel normal and even fun.

At this meeting, I have a council meeting and a panel session on how to get a job in academia. No research presentations for me this year.

When you join an academic professional association, its important to attend the meetings. There are other perks to membership such as journals and virtual resources. However, attending the meetings is useful since this is where you meet people who are interested in similar things. Youre in a room with people who also have sociological imaginations.

The meeting consists of different sessions all throughout the day, typically more than one at the same time, thus you have to choose what you want to see. There are also academic publishers with tables and tables of their sociological books. People come and go for meals with each other. In the evenings, there are usually gatherings both formal and informal where people mingle and chat over drinks and food.

New sociologists generally start participating by attending and giving research papers. That process usually involves sending an abstract (or the completed paper) to the session organizer when the Call for papersis issued. This typically happens months before the conference takes place. If its accepted, you have to register and attend the conference to give that paper. (If not, try again!)

Later, you may volunteer to organize a session, which means that people are sending you their papers. You then are the go-between for the paper submitters and the conference organizers as you let each know what will happen in your session.

You may also get involved in the associationby helping out at the registration table (and maybe getting free registration) or other events. Most meetings include a student gathering which include free food and freebies. The freebies are typically books from the academic publishers who are also at the meeting.

You can also volunteer for a committee or run for a position on a committee or the council. If elected, you attend those meetings at the conference and sometimes communicate about issues via email during the year. The council meetings and committee meetings are about running the organization and ensuring the current and next conference will be robust.

Another perk of conference attendance is keeping in touch with grad school colleagues. While people may have dispersed across the nation and world after graduate school, conferences bring us all back together. We also meet people at these conferences who become new colleagues and possibly friends. Building that social network and cultural capital is key to conference participation.

If youre interested in talking to academic publishers about projects you may want to do, this is the place to get started!

Non-academic or professional perks include the opportunity to visit interesting cities and sample food in some amazing restaurants.

So, my plane lands, and I head for ground transportation. I decide to take a shuttle rather than the train and light rail and walking. (Its colder than Im used to.)

As I get on the shuttle, a person already on board lets me know shes going to the same destination and we both identify ourselves as going to the same conference. We had a nice but brief chat on the ride into the downtown area to our hotel. We share our names as we get off the shuttle. A new friend made. Chances are, well see each other again as we pass through the conference, going to sessions or hanging out in the lobby. The same goes when walking outside the conference hotel - you see people with badges or bags with the conference logo. Striking up a conversation will a fellow attendee is easy and even expected.

Oh, the anticipation of a great conference. Chatting with other sociologists about issues we think about daily, hearing about new research, talking about teaching with other teachers. Its all good.

I encourage you to check out the professional sociological associations.

There is the national group, the American Sociological Association (www.asanet.org).

Find the regional groups in your area: the Pacific Sociological Association (www.pacificsoc.org), the Midwest Sociological Society (http://www.themss.org/), the North Central Sociological Association (www.ncsanet.org), the Southern Sociological Society (www.southernsociologicalsociety.org), the Mid-South Sociological Society (www.midsouthsoc.org), the Eastern Sociological Society (www.essnet.org). And theres the International Sociological Association (www.isa-sociology.org). Or the Canadian Sociological Society (https://www.csa-scs.ca).

There are also more topically focused associations such as Sociologists for Women in Society (www.socwomen.org) and the Society for the Study of Social Problems (www.sssp1.org).



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